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Published April 22 2013

Forum editorial: It’s now matter of credibility

The president of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education tried to explain the board’s Jan. 16 violation of the state’s open meetings law, but Duaine Espegard was not convincing or credible.

In responding to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s finding that the board violated the law by convening for a “dinner” at the home of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, Espegard said: “The state’s open meeting laws are complex, but the (board) is committed to following them at all times.” Unbelievable.

First, the board’s former attorney, Pat Seaworth, warned Espegard and board members that much of what they had been doing or were contemplating in the past few months were violations of the open meetings law. For his trouble, Seaworth was shown the door.

Second, board members had confronted the open meetings and open records laws in the past, and had, for the most part, complied. Their failure to do so in recent months, whether a purposeful decision to violate or not, fractures their credibility.

Espegard framed the board’s behavior in the context of Stenehjem’s findings. “Now that we know how the AG views these meetings, we will change our process in the future,” he said.

Again, unbelievable.

It is curious, to say the least, that board members suddenly had an epiphany about open meetings because the attorney general spanked them. None of them is unfamiliar with the open meetings law. Some of them have deep experience with it. Yet, apparently no one spoke up when their “meeting(s)” were questioned. No one apparently was concerned when Espegard and Shirvani pushed board attorney Seaworth out for doing his job. And to further underscore the board’s arrogance, the new attorney gave them an all-clear on the open meetings question.

Had they heeded Seaworth’s counsel, there would have been no need for an attorney general’s opinion, and the board would have avoided obvious embarrassment that came with the opinion. (The opinion was sought by Forum Communications.)

Some legislators and others would like to overhaul the entire North Dakota University System. But the problem is not with the structure of the system. The problem is with people at the top who are trying to manage the system.


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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.