An opinion issued recently by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem about a violation of state open meeting law is an excellent reminder to all government bodies about the requirements of the law.
In Arnegard, no notice was given for meetings of the city council's employment commission on not one but two occasions. Stenehjem's opinion, though short, lays out the law in a way every elected official and government employee should take to heart.
In short: When it comes to government business, secret meetings are never allowed. There are cases where governmental bodies can meet in executive sessions, but the law requires advance notice and it requires an agenda.
Most people in government understand that the notice requirements apply to every meeting of a school board, city commission, city council or county commission. Many fail to remember that it applies to every committee formed by those bodies, as well.
Stenehjem's language leaves no doubt about that.
“Committees delegated any part of public business by governing bodies are subject to the same open meetings law, including notice requirements,” he wrote.
Open meetings are a cornerstone of good government. Members of the public can see for themselves how public business is being handled. Open meetings are a safeguard against bias or misconduct by those entrusted with the public good.
When a government fails to follow the law regarding open meetings, it raises a host of questions about why and about what is being done. Stenehjem's opinion is an important reminder to everyone at every level of government that public business cannot be done behind closed doors.
We hope that every official in the region reads the opinion and grasps its importance.