Did The State Board Of Higher Education Break Open Meeting Laws?


According to records from the Attorney General’s office, the North Dakota University System has broken open records and open meetings laws no fewer than 17 times since 2010. According to the AG’s office in the next few days they’ll be issuing an opinion on my complaint over a meeting earlier this year in which they sent the public out of the room to have a discussion with a consultant (apparently part of the reason why the NDUS is firing compliance officer Kirsten Franzen is because they believe she tipped me off about that meeting, which she didn’t).

Now I believe the SBHE may have broken open meetings laws again.

Yesterday Chancellor Larry Skogen delivered a report to the SBHE about the on-going fiasco at the Dickinson State University Foundation where the finances are in such disarray they represent a threat to the university’s accreditation (the NDUS is denying this, but it’s absolutely the truth). His report was met with silence by the board. According to this Dickinson Press article, that’s apparently because the board had already addressed the matter before the meeting (emphasis mine):

FARGO — The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education were publicly briefed on the Dickinson State University Foundation’s problems Thursday, but they had nothing to say about the issue on the record in a meeting in Fargo.

This was after North Dakota University System interim Chancellor Larry Skogen presented the ongoing financial and accounting problems that the foundation is dealing with to the board.

When asked if they had any questions,  board members were silent. DSU President DC Coston  was then asked to address the board, but he also declined, and members quickly moved on to another issue.

Skogen said the reason the board did not have questions was because they were also already briefed on the subject prior to the board meeting.

The purpose of the state’s open meetings laws are to require that public business, with a few exceptions, be done in public. Now, perhaps because the mess at the DSU Foundation will likely result in litigation and potentially even criminal charges, the board had reason to hold an executive session behind closed doors. But executive session meetings still must be noticed to the public (you can read the AG’s guide to open meetings practices here).

What it seems like the SBHE did was hold a meeting in private about the DSU Foundation mess, and then only go through the formality of reading a report about the mess in public. Which is exactly the sort of thing open meetings laws seek to prohibit.

I’ve filed a complaint this morning to explore whether or not the SBHE has followed open meetings laws in this instance. The way things look now, I don’t believe they did.

But hey, no big deal right? What’s another open meetings violation for a university system that has violated these laws so flagrantly, over and over again? It’s not like there are any real consequences.

UPDATE: University System spokeswoman Linda Donlin emails:

The Board did not hold a meeting to discuss the DSU Foundation before yesterday’s meeting. Chancellor Skogen briefed them through For Information Only emails to the Board on Nov. 8, 10 and 12, also informing them he would provide a full report from him at the Nov. 20 meeting, which he did.

I guess we’ll find out if they followed the law. Given the track record the university system has when it comes to ignoring transparency laws, and flat-out lying, I’m not inclined to just take their word for it.