Time for North Dakota’s Land Board to stop hiding behind its commissioner


North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, right, talks with Doug Burgum, left, during a campaign kick-off event at the North Dakota State University Alumni Center in Fargo, N.D. on Tuesday, November 24, 2015. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — Land Board Commissioner Jodi Smith was a bad hire for the State of North Dakota.

At least some members of the state’s Land Board seem to know this.

Her hire a few years ago resulted from a sharply divided vote, and she just barely held on to her job after a review earlier this year.

I wrote last year that Smith needs to be replaced, and nothing has happened since then to change my opinion.

The Land Board — made up of Gov. Doug BurgumAttorney General Wayne StenehjemSec. of State Al JaegerTreasurer Thomas Beadle, and Superintendent Kirsten Baesler —oversees the management of lands and minerals owned by the state.

These lands generate revenue in various ways — oil and gas development, agriculture, etc. — which, in turn, benefits the Common Schools Trust Fund. You don’t typically hear a lot about this particular facet of state government, but lately, there’s been much controversy around the board.

Specifically having to do with a massive (and in some cases decades-long) error in how royalty payments for some oil leases were calculated. This was the State of North Dakota’s error. Still, Smith has taken a combative tone with the oil industry, demanding payment on a short timeline with threats of exorbitant interest rates and working the news media to make it seem like these companies were trying to shortchange school children.

Smith’s approach troubled some members of the board.

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