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Attorney general determines Lake Region District Health Board violated open meetings law

The board failed to properly provide notice of a special committee meeting in March.

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A sign welcomes guests to Devils Lake, N.D. (Grand Forks Herald)
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DEVILS LAKE — The Lake Region District Health Board violated a North Dakota open meetings law by failing to post a meeting notice, properly include meeting information in its notice and notify the newspaper of a special committee meeting, wrote Attorney General Drew Wrigley in a July 1 opinion.

The Lake Region District Health Unit oversees public health in Pierce, Benson, Ramsey and Eddy Counties in North Dakota.

On March 31 at 9 a.m., a board hiring committee held a special meeting, by phone, to discuss an applicant for an open administrator position at the Lake Region District Health Unit. According to the opinion, all five people appointed to the committee were members of the Lake Region District Health Board.

A notice for the meeting was posted on the Lake Region District Health Unit’s Facebook page at 8:29 a.m. and then on its website. The notice included the date and time of the meeting, and said the meeting was to be held “Regarding Administrator Position @ Lake Region District Health Office”

For a meeting to be in compliance with North Dakota Century Code’s open meeting laws, meeting notices must include the date, time and location of the meeting. It must also list the topics considered, and if the meeting will be held through electronic means, the information to join or view the meeting must be included.

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Notices must also be posted at the office of the governing body holding the meeting and at the location of the meeting on the day of the meeting. For special meetings, the notice must be provided to the official newspaper and to any representatives of the media who have requested to be notified of special meetings and others who have asked to be notified of upcoming meetings.

The board did not post the meeting notice at its office, or the location of the meeting. The online notice did not include necessary information for the public to join the call where the meeting took place. The newspaper was also not notified of the special meeting. Wrigley determined the board violated North Dakota open meetings laws for failing to properly notice the meeting.

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In a letter to the Attorney General’s Office in regards to the newspaper notification, Allen McKay, administrator for the Lake Region Health District, said the newspaper is “unable to print last minute notices.” Wrigley, however, said in the law, there is no legal requirement for public entities to cause a newspaper to print meeting notices. The law only calls for public entities to notify the newspaper of special meetings, which can happen on short notice.

To remedy the violation, says Wrigley, the board must provide copies of the March 31 special meeting minutes to Eric Ardnt, KZZY Radio news director, who filed the request for opinion, and any others who request them, free of charge.

Related Topics: DREW WRIGLEYDEVILS LAKE
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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