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Development board violated open meetings law, attorney general rules

JAMESTOWN - A Jan. 30 meeting of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. Executive Board violated the open records and meetings law, according to an opinion issued Friday by the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office.

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The Jamestown Sun had requested the opinion Feb. 28 on four issues:

- Whether the JSDC is a public entity subject to open records and meeting laws.

- Whether the JSDC Executive Board made decisions during an executive session Jan. 30.

- Whether a personnel evaluation for Connie Ova, CEO of the JSDC, conducted in executive session violated open meeting laws.

- Whether the JSDC violated open records laws by not furnishing the salary information for Ova to The Jamestown Sun.

The Jan. 30 executive board meeting was conducted in an executive session that excluded the public and press. Executive session meetings can be used to discuss proprietary information, but the board can vote only in sessions open to the public and press.

The opinion, issued by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, ruled that the JSDC is a public entity because it receives public tax funds.

The opinion said the “JSDC admits, and a review of the tape of the executive session confirms, final action was taken by the Executive Committee during executive session.” This is in violation of North Dakota open meeting laws.

The attorney general also ruled that performing an employee evaluation during an executive session and withholding salary information violated open meeting and record laws.

The attorney general’s office ordered the JSDC to amend its minutes of the Jan. 30 meeting to reflect all actions taken during the executive session and to furnish The Jamestown Sun a copy of Ova’s employee evaluation along with a salary figure at no cost.

“We have already changed our procedures,” said Gary Riffe, president of the JSDC. “The last meeting and the employee evaluations conducted in an open meeting are an example of that.”

Riffe said the JSDC would comply with the attorney general’s requests by Monday.

The topic of the complaint was discussed during the JSDC board of directors’ November meeting as part of an amendment to the 2013 JSDC budget. The board noted the organization’s legal expenses were over budget in part because of $4,000 spent in researching and presenting the JSDC response to The Jamestown Sun’s complaint.