FARGO — The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office ruled on Wednesday, Aug. 14, that the Fargo Park Board gave inadequate notice of what it intended to talk about at a meeting earlier this summer during which the district executive director resigned, a severance package was discussed and an interim director was appointed.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a request from The Forum that the park board did indeed violate the state's open meetings law.
Stenehjem wrote that the park board commissioners must review the July 2 special meeting minutes and provide further details of what was specifically discussed during the meeting.
The board has seven days to comply with the ruling or face penalties.
In response to the ruling, the new president of the board, Jerry Rostad, said in a statement the board "will comply with the ruling."
He added that steps have already been initiated to add further details to the meeting minutes.
Stenehjem said the park board had only used the "vague topic" of "HR/Staff Review" when notifying the public of the special meeting. He said that phrase "could have multiple meanings and does not sufficiently describe the specific topic the Commission clearly knew it would be discussing at the special meeting."
Even though the original purpose was to discuss former director Joel Vettel's job performance, his resignation received by the board prior to the meeting was discussed as well as the hiring of interim executive director Dave Leker, who had been the deputy director.
The ruling stated that "general terms or phrases" such as the "HR/Staff Review" lack the specificity required to give the public meaningful notice of what would be discussed during a special meeting.
Vettel resigned his job for reasons that remain largely undefined; through a separation agreement with the park board, he is being paid $75,000, plus benefits, which include health insurance and retirement contributions, through 2019. A job review at the end of 2018 pointed to his management style and how the administration had been divided into "two camps."
The park district has the equivalent of about 700 full-time employees and an annual budget of about $37 million.