Stark County’s questionable quorumThree Stark County commissioners allegedly were present during discussions about zoning issues outside of an announced public meeting, which attorneys said would be a violation of open meeting laws.
By: Klark Byrd, The Dickinson Press
Three Stark County commissioners allegedly were present during discussions about zoning issues outside of an announced public meeting, which attorneys said would be a violation of open meeting laws.
In the law, a meeting is defined as a gathering of the majority of the members of a governing body regarding public business, and all meetings require prior public notice.
The majority of the county commission, defined as a quorum, is at least three officials. The only time a quorum can gather outside a meeting is at a purely social event.
Commissioner Russ Hoff said he attended a social gathering with Chairman Ken Zander on Tuesday night and then got a ride from him to Perkin’s restaurant, where he had an arranged meeting with Commissioner Jay Elkin. Hoff and Elkin were getting together to give information to Dan Webster about zoning regulations.
Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning said that Webster was seeking information about how to extend a temporary permit issued to his lesser and whether the county was open to a less demanding crew camp ordinance than the city has adopted.
Zander said he decided to join Hoff and Elkin for a piece of pie and coffee.
Hoff and Elkin said Zander left before discussion commenced about the zoning ordinance, but Zander said he was there for at least part of the discussion.
“There were discussions that had something to do with temporary housing that evidently there was an expiration date on,” he said, adding that he did not participate in the discussion.
Henning said the discussion would be a quorum.
Zander said he finished the cup of coffee and pie and then left the other commissioners to continue the discussion with the constituent.
Attorney Jack McDonald, who represents North Dakota media, said the gathering would constitute a meeting.
“If the third one was there, it doesn’t matter if he said anything or not, it makes three county commissioners,” he said. “He could have been reading his newspaper the whole time, but as long as he is in the same group, the same table, then it looks like to me it would be an apparent meeting.”
Henning said it is something the commissioners knew should be avoided.
“He (Zander) should have dropped off Commissioner Hoff and gone on his merry way,” he said. “If it was brought as a complaint to the Attorney General, would there be some chastisement or something? Probably.”
The Attorney General can issue an advisory opinion for an alleged infringement if a formal complaint is made, Henning said. The Attorney General could issue a warning, require full public disclosure or a formal reprimand.
“It is not a law without teeth,” Henning said.
The Attorney General was not available for comment on whether an issue has been raised.