Ryan Taylor, the endorsed Democrat candidate for Agriculture Commission, has filed an open meetings complaint with the North Dakota Attorney General over North Dakota Industrial Commission meeting minutes requested by Ellen Chaffee, his running mate when he ran for governor in 2012.
The request arises out of an open records request sent to the Industrial Commission on March 5, 2014 by former Valley City State University President Dr. Ellen Chaffee, who is a volunteer for Taylor’s campaign. She requested copies of the minutes of the Industrial Commission for the years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and through March 1, 2014. Dr. Chaffee sent two follow-up requests asking for the status of the minutes. She did not receive the 2009 minutes until April 4, 2014. The minutes for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 have yet to be received.
“I don’t make this request lightly,” said Taylor. “But the Industrial Commission oversees many aspects of our state’s economy. It has direct oversight over oil and gas development and it is unacceptable that five years of its minutes are not readily available to all North Dakotans. It’s especially unacceptable when you consider the scope of oil and gas development during this period.”
Chaffee, I should mention, was Taylor’s running mate when he was on the ballot for governor in 2012. She must have been doing some research for his campaign with these requests. The State Industrial Commission is made up of the Governor, the Attorney General and the Agriculture Commissioner, the last being the seat Taylor is now running for.
Demcorats want a seat on the commission desperately since it oversees oil and gas development in North Dakota. Taylor’s goal is to paint the commission as out of touch and incompetent. If what he says of this open records request is true, the Republicans currently on the commission may have given him a powerful talking point.
It’s worth noting that the North Dakota Industrial Commission website is an embarrassment. It looks like something a middle schooler would have slapped together circa 1996. Not that you need a lot of elaborate web development to post meeting minutes online.
Meeting minutes are readily available online for most state boards and commissions, but for some reason the NDIC doesn’t seem to be posting their minutes. And if Taylor’s press release can be trusted, it doesn’t seem they’re quick on the draw with distributing those minutes when requested. Which, if true, is unacceptable.
By comparison, the Public Service Commission has their meeting minutes going back all the way to 2004 posted online.
It’s hard to imagine what reasoning the NDIC could have for not making good on a request for as simple a public document as meeting minutes. I mean, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem who oversees North Dakota open records laws sits on the commission. And it’s not like making an open records request is complicated stuff. Under North Dakota state law, all it takes is an email or a phone call saying you want the records, and according to the open records standards circulated by Stenehjem’s office, public officials should respond in hours or days, not “several days or weeks.”
I’ve put in a call to the NDIC staff to see what’s up with the minutes. I’ll update when/if I get a response.
Here’s the emails sent to the NDIC by Chaffee requesting records. You can read Taylor’s letter requesting on opinion here.