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Brock: Remember who violates open meeting laws when you vote

There are few things that get this old fat guy hopping mad, largely because I don’t hop near as well as I did 30 years ago.

Lately, what has me contemplating leaving the ground is when universities, school boards, city and county governments violate open meeting and record laws. What really is upsetting and becoming common is when violators claim they didn’t know the meeting or record should be open to the public. To make matters even worse, attorneys are often involved in the violations.

You would think lawyers would better understand what are the North Dakota open records and meeting laws.

The attorney general has published two manuals to explain what records and meetings are open. The open meetings manual is 31 pages long and the open records manual is 46 pages. The first paragraph in the open records manual states, “Unless otherwise provided by law, all meetings of public or governmental bodies, boards bureaus, commissions or agencies supported in whole or part by public funds, or expending public funds, shall be open to the public.” The open records manual is the same, except the word “records” replaces “meetings.”

The rest of the pages in both manuals explain in layman terms what few things are exempt, and even for the novice, it is easy to understand the difference. Especially if you realize that the manual begins with everything is open unless otherwise provided by law.

Still recently the attorney general issued opinions against Belfield and Crosby city commissions that had violated the open meeting laws. Perhaps even worse was the North Dakota Board of Higher Education closed a public meeting by asking the audience to leave but insisted they weren’t closing the meeting. They claimed it was merely a courtesy to the board when a consultant asking the audience to leave. The board is waiting for an attorney general’s opinion if they were once again guilty of closing a meeting that should have been open.

You would think educated people, like attorneys and boards of higher education, would be able to understand the laws, unless of course they do and just don’t want to abide by them. Up for public vote is Measure 3, which would abolish the state Board of Higher Education and replace it with a three-person commission. I don’t know if Measure 3 will pass or should, but I don’t think the board is doing much good to insure that it doesn’t pass.

Constant violations of open meetings and records by government corrode any trust it has with the people who elected them and pay taxes. I hope folks remember, when they vote, who couldn’t or wouldn’t adhere to the open meeting and record laws. I know I will.

Brock is the publisher of The Dickinson Press. Email him at and call him at 701-456-1201.