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Ryan Johnson, Published May 10 2013

Higher ed board dissolves committees

GRAND FORKS – The state Board of Higher Education has dissolved its three committees and will operate only as a full board, a move meant to avoid more open meeting violations following Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s findings of “pervasive” noncompliance with the laws.

University System General Counsel Claire Holloway recommended getting rid of the three committees – academic, audit and executive – during Thursday’s SBHE meeting in Grand Forks.

The committees have recently met the morning before the full board’s afternoon meetings.

Holloway said the committees often have three or four members – a potential problem because under the state’s open meeting laws, two members who talk about committee business are technically conducting a meeting that needs to be properly noticed and must have full minutes available to the public.

Holloway said board member Kari Reichert previously suggested the board simply comply with the rules. But she said it’s not that easy, and said all members have been briefed on the laws through multiple presentations, one-on-one meetings, emails and letters.

“It’s still a very, very difficult thing to manage when you have a requirement that any conversation among two people has to be an open meeting,” Holloway said. “So, my recommendation is to make your lives easier and to avoid that situation, that you would dissolve the committee structure.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the change, with little conversation before the vote other than President Duaine Espegard saying he believed the board needed to dissolve the committees.

Holloway also updated the board on her work to bring the group back into compliance with the state’s open meeting laws following Stenehjem’s two written opinions in recent weeks that found several compliance problems, including during Jan. 16 and March 6 dinner events.

In response to a March 9 request from The Forum to investigate rumors of open meeting law violations, Stenehjem also found the board met in Fargo illegally on Feb. 26 and suffered from “widespread” issues with a quorum of members discussing board business through email exchanges.

Espegard said the illegal meetings were “certainly not intentional,” and Holloway said she was waiting to get final responses from board members to provide full minutes of these previous meetings to meet Stenehjem’s requirements to remedy the problems.

All members also will meet in Bismarck on May 31 for a two-hour training session on the state’s open meeting laws, another requirement imposed by Stenehjem to get the board back into compliance.

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