GRAND FORKS — The State Board of Higher Education changed its conflict of interest policy, a move recommended by a critical audit that alleged a North Dakota State College of Science executive did not properly disclose his connection to a company hired by the school.

There was no discussion on the policy that passed 5-1 on Tuesday, Dec. 12. The changes update a policy last touched in 1993 and clarifies what North Dakota University System employees and SBHE members must do to properly disclose conflicts of interest.

NDUS staff have worked on the policy for months at the request of the State Auditor's Office, which found NDSCS Vice President of Workforce Affairs Tony Grindberg did not disclose on paper that his wife, Karen, is the chief financial officer for the Flint Group. The company was hired to promote a proposed career workforce academy.

The audit found other problems with NDSCS, including allegations the school withheld hundreds of emails from the auditor sought in an open records request. The college denied the accusations, and the Cass County State's Attorney Office declined to pursue criminal charges in light of the audit.

An action plan to address issues brought up in the NDSCS audit was about 70% complete as of Saturday, Nov. 30, NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott said.

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SBHE member Dan Traynor previously voiced concerns the policy could force him and his colleagues to break ethical obligations to clients. As an attorney, Traynor sometimes is required to keep the identity of his clients confidential.

The policy changes put board members in “a very difficult spot,” he previously said.

Traynor cast the lone dissenting vote. SBHE Chair Nick Hacker was absent for that vote, though he was in attendance for other parts of the roughly seven-hour meeting dedicated mostly to picking a president for University of North Dakota.