Attorney General rules Divide County Ambulance District violated open meetings
CROSBY, N.D. --The board of the Divide County Ambulance District appeared to have a "widespread practice of holding 'meetings' without providing notice," according to a recent open meetings opinion issued by the North Dakota Attorney General's Of...
CROSBY, N.D. -The board of the Divide County Ambulance District appeared to have a "widespread practice of holding 'meetings' without providing notice," according to a recent open meetings opinion issued by the North Dakota Attorney General's Office.
Ken Rensch, the president of the ambulance company previously contracted to provide services in Divide County, which is in the far northwestern corner of the state, asked for the opinion and also filed complaints with the State Health Department over patient care at the Crosby hospital, which came after more than a year of disputes with the local board and hospital.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem determined the ambulance board violated the open meetings law when it failed to provide adequate notice of its annual meeting and subsequent discussion by the board. Regarding the discussion, Stenehjem wrote it could be argued the board had not adjourned the annual meeting but was continuing it. However, he determined the annual meeting, although advertised, was not properly noticed because the agenda had not been provided.
The attorney general also sought information from board directors regarding conversations through any means, including electronic, since the annual meeting last March.
"Although I am unable to confirm how many violations occurred, the widespread practice of meetings by various means without notice shows the DCAD Board of Directors continually violated open meetings law," Stenehjem wrote in the Oct. 11 opinion.
"I appreciate that at the time at issue in this opinion, the DCAD was scrambling to provide staffing to ensure ongoing operation of the ambulance service after its contractor, who is the requestor for this opinion, terminated services with the county. However, the DCAD nonetheless has a duty and responsibility to comply with open meetings law requirements," he added.
Rensch, president of Ambulance Resources, discontinued service to Divide County at the end of April. The company still provides service to Parshall and Stanley.
Rensch said he had filed complaints with the state Emergency Medical Services/Trauma division and Health Facilities division in the health department regarding the Crosby hospital. That action escalated tensions between his company and the hospital and ambulance boards prior to the annual meeting, he said.
He said the EMS/Trauma division since has responded to his patient concern to note the issue is common across the state and would be addressed statewide. The Health Facilities division referred him to the nursing board to file his other patient care concerns there instead.
The attorney general directed the DCAD board to update or create meeting minutes and make them available to the public.