State Water Commission May Have Flubbed Meeting Where Drought Relief Was Approved

Doug Burgum, winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary, holds a press conference with running mate Brent Sanford on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

Yesterday, acting on a reader tip, I sent in an open records request to Governor Doug Burgum’s office. What I was looking for was evidence that the commission had held an illegal meeting.

This afternoon Burgum’s office sent out a press release headlined, “Newly appointed State Water Commission to meet next week, address issue raised by attorney general’s office.”

I’m not sure if my requested prompted the release, but this is a clear acknowledgement of the problem. Here’s how Burgum’s office describe’s the issue:

Gov. Doug Burgum, who chairs the commission, appointed seven new members last Thursday. He expressed his gratitude to the seven outgoing members for their more than 100 years of combined service on the nine-member commission.

The following day, Burgum, State Engineer Garland Erbele and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who serves as an ex-officio member of the commission, received a memo from an assistant attorney general regarding the appointment process.

Under state law, all seven appointed members of the State Water Commission are considered to have resigned effective Jan. 1 of the first year of each four-year term of the governor. Burgum accepted the members’ statutorily triggered resignations on June 22.

To maintain continuity on the board, per state law Burgum reappointed three members to continue serving until the governor’s new appointments had been named and qualified.

The assistant attorney general asserts that because the terms of the reappointed members expired on June 30, the commission’s July 20 special meeting lacked a quorum, and therefore the $500,000 approved for the livestock water supply program on a 5-0 vote during that meeting wasn’t properly approved.

Burgum’s legal counsel is asserting that the process was handled appropriate. But for the sake of addressing the difference of opinion between the Governor and Attorney General offices – headed by two men who faced each other in a bitterly contested Republican primary just last year – the incoming water commission members are going to re-approve the funding.

That’s to happen at their August 23 meeting. The money hasn’t been disbursed yet, so once it’s authorized again that’s probably that.

The worst, I suppose, is some possible delay in the funds flowing out. Still, kind of a big mistake (if you side with the AG’s take on this), all the more so when you consider that Burgum himself chairs this commission.

Here’s the full release:

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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