Grand Forks arts group broke the law, attorney general says
The North Dakota Attorney General's Office says a Grand Forks arts group broke the law after a Herald reporter was barred from attending one of its meetings.
The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office says a Grand Forks arts group broke the law after a Herald reporter was barred from attending one of its meetings.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem released an opinion Dec. 29 that states that the North Valley Arts Council violated open meeting laws when a reporter was asked to leave a meeting in which members of its leadership were present.
The meeting took place on Sept. 23 and was hosted by the Public Art Commission with two members of the North Valley Arts Council present. The two groups had been in talks concerning a merger, with NoVAC previously voting in favor of a merger. PAC board members voted to do so during the meeting .
Prior to the meeting taking place, Mike Kuntz, president of PAC’s Board of Directors, asked a Herald reporter to leave the room. He later said it was to protect the privacy of donors discussed during the meeting, but noted that the Herald would not have been allowed to re-enter until the merger vote had concluded.
The Herald sought Stenehjem’s opinion on whether the meeting should have been open to the public, and on Thursday, Stenehjem said yes, pointing out that NoVAC is considered a public entity.
“During the meeting, the merger was discussed at length and a motion was made to accept NoVAC as a partner and merge the organizations. The ‘public business’ of NoVAC was therefore considered and discussed during the PAC meeting,” he wrote. “Attendance by two of the four members of the NoVAC Board … constituted a ‘meeting’ of NovAC … and public business was discussed. It was a violation of open meeting laws to deny public access.”
NoVAC is now required to provide “detailed meeting minutes” regarding the public business that occurred at the meeting and make them available to the Herald and the public at no cost within the next seven days.
The opinion explores a request about NoVAC asking a reporter to leave the meeting, despite the request coming from Kuntz, who was not a NoVAC member. Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, directed inquiries back to the document itself, and said that regardless of who asked a reporter to leave, the public entity involved violated the law.
“The opinion is the attorney general’s, and that’s what I have to follow,” said Bryan Hoime, president of NoVAC’s board of directors. He said that the merger with PAC, which he called the end of NoVAC and the continuation of PAC, is not yet complete.
Kuntz said he wasn’t immediately aware of any of the contents of the opinion, but said he expects 2017 to be a bright year for PAC and for arts in the community.