The Dickinson Public School Board voted unanimously Monday, June 15, to continue publishing its meeting minutes in The Dickinson Press after language in a ballot measure was called into question.
Every two years, requires that school districts put to a vote whether its citizens want their district to continue to publish school board minutes in the newspaper of record. In Dickinson's case, that's The Dickinson Press.
This year, the ballot included this additional wording: “Dickinson Public Schools has been publishing the Board meeting minutes in the official newspaper at a significant cost to the taxpayers. Additionally, Dickinson Public Schools has been posting the meeting minutes on the District’s website and will continue to post them."
North Dakota's top election official, Secretary of State Al Jaeger, said after the ballot wording had already been approved that includingthe term "significant cost" raised the possibility of contesting the election results based on a previous opinion from North Dakota's attorney general.
In 2002, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote an opinion on the legality of a similar issue concerning “extraneous or surplus language appearing on some city and school district election ballots.” In this case, the ballot had included the cost to publish the minutes.
Stenehjem argued that the estimated costs of publishing the minutes, when added to the ballot, could sway voters one way or the other.
Of the 5,065 votes cast, the majority — 2,956 — were in favor of discontinuing to publish the minutes in the paper. Of the 16 school districts in the state having listed the same measure, all but Dickinson voted to continue publishing minutes.
Forum Communications, parent company of The Dickinson Press, was in discussions about contesting the results due to the language.
"Newspapers publish legal notices from government, school boards, and a variety of other legal entities as required by law. We believe this practice is essential to provide transparency in the local communities we serve through the newspaper, e-editions, and our website," said Aaron Becher, vice president of newspaper operations for Forum Communications.
With the possibility of Forum Communications contesting the results, the school board chose to ignore the outcome and continue to publish the minutes.
"With the weigh-in of the attorney general with respect to the question, it seems that's the prudent thing to do and certainly the high road. Obviously, it will be our intent to make sure that when that question comes again, it will be worded appropriately," said Brent Seaks, school board president.
The Press was unable to verify the legality of the school board decision by the time of publication.
In other news, the board also canvassed the election results for the school board election. Both Seaks and board member David Wilkie ran unopposed and retained a seat on the board.