Rod St. Aubyn: As Open Records Violations Pile Up, It's Time To Tame The Beast

News about open meetings/open records violations has been reported so many times on SAB that I was somewhat hesitant to even discuss the subject again.  However after conversations with other lobbyists, my own recent experiences, and limited actions to date by the legislature made me feel compelled to address the subject again.

After recent open record requests of a regulatory board, I discovered what I believe are numerous violations of laws.  Other lobbyists expressed disbelief that several boards and commissions have held numerous executive sessions without adhering to state laws.  And of course we have seen the many situations of violations of the open records/meeting laws by the University System and the State Board of Higher Education.

And as a result of these voluminous violations, agencies, boards, and commissions continue to violate the laws.  I do believe that in some cases it could be honest mistakes, but with our current system what is the penalty?  The agency/board/commission is reminded that they broke the law, forced to comply, sometimes forced to go through training, but in the end virtually nothing is done.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]With all the education that is provided to the agencies, boards, commissions and other public entities, wouldn’t you think that violations would begin to show a reduction?[/mks_pullquote]

But the violations continue to happen – in some cases different public entities, but in some cases the same public entity.  I can’t recall even one incident that actually was prosecuted by a state’s attorney.  With all the education that is provided to the agencies, boards, commissions and other public entities, wouldn’t you think that violations would begin to show a reduction?  I had to personally chuckle that in several instances of what I think are violations of the open meeting/open records laws, the Board’s minutes from a recent meeting reflected that they had just completed an update on open meeting/open records laws.

So the training did a lot of good!

In an earlier blog story, I had advocated that the subject needed to be studied by the ND legislature next interim and they needed to develop a well thought out bill to address the issue.  Representative Randy Boehning introduced HB 1435 this session to put some teeth into our open meeting/records laws.  I assume that the House Judiciary Committee made the appropriate decision and found enough problems with the way the bill was written to unanimously recommend a Do Not Pass recommendation.  I was disappointed that they did not amend the bill to a mandatory study of the issue instead of just recommending a Do Not Pass recommendation.  I believe I recall that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem stated that he has plans to establish a task force to find some solutions.

These agencies, boards, commissions, and other public entities are “creatures of the state.”  It was previous state legislatures that established these public entities AND our open meetings/records laws.  With all due respect to our Attorney General who I admire immensely, this is something that needs to be addressed by our legislature.  When Attorney General Stenehjem was a ND Senator, he was a staunch advocate for open meeting/open records and he sponsored numerous bills on the subject that are laws today.  I do think that the Attorney General’s office has an integral role in that process, but I would hope that the legislature assumes its primary role in addressing this issue.  If there are any bills still alive that deal with Open Meeting/Open Records issues, the legislature should amend a mandatory study to one of those bills to take the lead.

As I mentioned earlier, these agencies, boards, commissions, and other public entities are “Creatures of the State.”

It is now time for the Legislature to Tame the Beasts!

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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