BISMARCK — A committee charged with selecting members of North Dakota's new state government ethics commission finalized its picks Thursday, Aug. 8, marking a major step toward implementing voter-approved rules against corruption.
The selection committee picked Ron Goodman, a retired North Dakota district judge; Ward Koeser, the former mayor of Williston; Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College; Paul Richard, a former Sanford Health executive and David Anderson, a former high-ranking official in the North Dakota National Guard who's now coordinator of military student services at the University of Mary.
The candidates verbally accepted their appointment after the meeting Thursday, Gov. Doug Burgum's office said. Their terms will begin Sept. 1.
The selection committee chose Goodman as chairman to convene the commission's first meeting. In an interview, he said he hoped to do so in the first half of September.
Goodman and Lindquist will each serve a four-year term, Anderson will serve a three-year term and Koeser and Richard were each assigned a two-year term.
Ellen Chaffee, who helped lead the campaign to pass Measure 1 last year and attended Thursday's meeting, welcomed the committee's picks.
"We came today to be witnesses to history," she said. "This is the beginning of an extremely important evolution in North Dakota state government."
The three-member selection committee, composed of Burgum and Senate leaders from both parties, had most recently narrowed its list of favored candidates to 12 people with varying backgrounds. Nearly 70 people applied for the commission, and Thursday marked the committee's fourth meeting in less than two months.
Burgum, a Republican, said they aimed to form a "nonpartisan group of people with life experiences from across the state that would help guide the startup." While he and Senate leaders praised the quality of the applicants, Burgum called for "building a stronger pool" for future appointments and noted that only a quarter of the initial candidates were women.
The constitution requires the governor and Senate leaders to pick five ethics commissioners by consensus, and the three debated the qualifications of the final round of candidates during a meeting at the state Capitol Thursday.
Burgum argued Marilyn Foss, a semi-retired attorney and former state official, shouldn't be on the commission because she was recently lobbying in the nation's capital. The state constitution bars lobbyists, political party officials and people who hold or are running for public office from serving on the ethics commission.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, fought for Shirley Meyer, a former Democratic state lawmaker who worked as regional director for then-Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat. Heckaman said her experience in state government should trump her political affiliation, but the two Republicans on the committee resisted.
"I think selecting someone who's clearly identified with a party ... would be hard for me to support," Burgum said, noting the committee eliminated former Republican lawmakers as well.
Voters created the commission through a constitutional amendment last year. Despite criticisms of a Republican-backed implementation bill approved by state lawmakers this year, the commission will be able to write rules on transparency, corruption, elections and lobbying as well as investigate allegations of wrongdoing.
State lawmakers budgeted about $517,000 and two full-time positions for the commission in the 2019-21 biennium. Under state law, the commissioners are entitled to about $180 per day spent conducting business as well as travel expenses.
Only a handful of other states lack an ethics commission, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Lawmakers have invited the commissioners to participate in a study of the constitution's new ethics requirements ahead of the 2021 session. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said that examination will help determine if the Legislature needs to make any adjustments next session.
Several new ethics commissioners contacted by Forum News Service on Thursday said they were coming into the role with an open mind. Richard couldn't cite any specific ethical concerns in state government that drove him to apply.
"It really is about trying to establish standards," he said. "And the guiding post is what the voters approved and the Legislature adopted."