Syndicated by: Montana News
The City of Minot is discouraged with an opinion issued today by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem where he determined that the City violated North Dakota open meeting laws by holding a City Council retreat outside city limits.
“Today’s Attorney General opinion sets a precedent in the state because nowhere in state law does it say a municipality cannot have a meeting outside its jurisdiction,” Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma said. “It was never our intention to hold a City meeting that was inaccessible to the public, and we believed we were operating in compliance with the open meeting laws. We have every intention of fully complying with the Attorney General’s corrective measures.”
Sipma said that, as the City included in its response to the Attorney General, the intent of the two-day meeting held July 31-Aug 1 in Washburn was to allow Council members and the City Manager to focus on the agenda and on team-building, bonding, and brainstorming away from the normal daily distractions and interruptions. The Washburn location was selected because it was easily accessible and within approximately an hour’s drive from Minot, Sipma said.
While there is no specific statutory prohibition for a municipality to have a meeting outside of its jurisdiction, in his opinion Stenehjem said that while the City’s reasons for holding the meeting in Washburn were “reasonable,” they did not outweigh the public’s right to accessibility and therefore the meeting was in violation of North Dakota Century Code 44-04-19.
“All the reasons for holding the meeting at the site in Washburn are reasonable, and I appreciate the concept of holding retreats for members of governing bodies to facilitate the free-flow of thoughts and discussion,” the Attorney General wrote in his opinion. “However, the countervailing and weighty consideration must be the right of citizens to attend the meeting.”
Stenehjem directed the City to review minutes from the meeting in question, and add further details regarding any topic and discussion that took place. The updated meeting minutes must be provided free of charge to anyone who requests them.