It Is Inexcusable That the North Dakota Industrial Commission Is 8 Months Behind on Meeting Minutes

Gov. Doug Burgum, center, leads his first North Dakota Industrial Commission meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, with Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, second from left, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, right. File photo / Forum News Service

According to the Associated Press the North Dakota Industrial Commission – a powerful triumvirate consisting of the Governor, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner which regulates, among other things, oil and gas development – is eight months behind in approving meeting minutes.

This is absurd.

The excuse from the commission is that an assistant working for Commission Executive Director Karlene Fine has been out long term due to health issues, but that’s some thin gruel.

The NDIC could have hired a temp worker to get caught up on these minutes.

While we can all be sympathetic to the need to take time off to nurse a serious illness, the business of governing the state marches on. The world doesn’t stop spinning because a certain public employee had to take a leave of absence.

Keep in mind, we’re talking about public records. These are minutes of public meetings. These are not complicated documents, nor do they contain sensitive information of the sort which requires a great deal of training and experience to handle.

The NDIC could have hired a temp worker to get caught up on these minutes. The production of which, by the way, are required by law.

What’s frustrating about this is that there is a political faction here in North Dakota which wants to paint our state government as corrupt. They work very hard to manufacture a perception of state policymakers, particularly those making policy around energy development, as lackadaisical in their duties at best and wholly owned by “Big Oil” or “Big Coal” at worst.

That perception is as unfair as it is inaccurate. The State of North Dakota does a very good job of managing a balance between industrial interests, private property rights, and environmental stewardship.

But it’s hard to argue competence in the face of that sort of partisan recrimination when one of the most powerful regulatory bodies in our state can’t get something as simple as meeting minutes right.

All the more so when one of the members of the NDIC is our Attorney General, the office tasked with enforcing our state’s very strong open records laws.

This situation is an embarrassment. The elected members of the NDIC should be embarrassed.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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