Cass County commissioners violated open meetings law in White House briefing

An exterior view of the White House on Sept. 8, 2007. Forum file photo
An exterior view of the White House on Sept. 8, 2007. Forum file photo

FARGO — The North Dakota attorney general has determined that Cass County commissioners violated the open meetings law when a quorum of members met with senior White House leaders this summer.

Cass County commissioners were invited to the White House State Leadership Conference on Aug. 30, along with other county officials from elsewhere in North Dakota as well as South Dakota and Wyoming.

Three of the five county commissioners attended, constituting a quorum. The public was notified that a quorum of commissioners would attend the meeting in a press release issued on Aug. 8.

Forum reporters asked whether they would be able to attend the meeting. That request wasn’t granted, but White House representatives said they could wait outside and ask questions after the meeting.

“A quorum of the Commission’s participation in various meetings in Washington, D.C., violated open meetings law when notice was not published and the public was not allowed to attend,” Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote in an opinion issued on Monday, Dec. 10. The opinion had been requested by The Forum.

To remedy the violation, Stenehjem directed commission members to brief Forum reporters on “the substance of the briefing and meetings,” which has been done.

In earlier interviews, commissioners said the briefing dealt with a variety of issues, including the opioid crisis, workforce development and health insurance.

Commissioner Mary Scherling attended the briefing, along with Commissioners Chad Peterson and Rick Steen. Scherling said the briefing was about relationship building more than anything else, and said commissioners were given a list of administration contacts.