UPDATE as of 10/17/19 at 6:02 p.m.:
The City of Minot said they are “discouraged” by the opinion handed down by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
“Today’s Attorney General opinion sets a precedent in the state because nowhere in state law does it say a municipality cannot have a meeting outside its jurisdiction,” Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma said.
“It was never our intention to hold a City meeting that was inaccessible to the public, and we believed we were operating in compliance with the open meeting laws. We have every intention of fully complying with the Attorney General’s corrective measures.”
According to Sipma, the intent of the two-day meeting held July 31 through Aug. 1 in Washburn was to allow council members and the city manager to focus on the agenda and on team-building, bonding and brainstorming away from the normal daily distractions and interruptions.
Sipma also said the Washburn location was selected because it was easily accessible and within approximately an hour’s drive from Minot.
Stenehjem said that while the city’s reasons for holding the meeting in Washburn were reasonable, they did not outweigh the public’s right to accessibility and therefore the meeting was in violation of North Dakota Century Code 44-04-19.
New today, North Dakota’s top law enforcement official said the City of Minot violated the state’s open meetings law when they held a retreat 70 miles outside city limits.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued an opinion stating that though reasonable arguments were made to hold their annual retreat in the City of Washburn, Minot City officials violated state law by not providing people with access to the remote meeting.
No transportation options were arranged or offered for people to attend, and there was no compelling reason for the meeting to be held in Washburn.
The opinion said even though no decisions were made, discussions had during the retreat affect the citizens of Minot, and it was that lack of access that ultimately violated state law.
In order to remedy the situation, Minot City Council must review their meeting minutes for the retreat, add more information and provide it to interested parties free of charge.