MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota's Land Commissioner Jodi Smith has resigned, according to sources aware of the situation, as well as a news release from Gov. Doug Burgum's office.
The timing is interesting.
Smith had just been appointed to a second term by the Board of University and School Lands in June.
Under Smith's leadership, the Land Board, which oversees state-owned land and mineral assets, found itself in a political and legal fight with the oil and gas industry over royalties. Despite ongoing legal disputes, Smith's office demanded payment of what were sometimes decades worth of allegedly delinquent royalties on a short timeline with the threat of draconian interest rates if the companies pay up.
This prompted the Legislature to act earlier this year, limiting both the look-back window for unpaid royalties and the interest rates that could be charged.
The Land Board asked the courts to declare that law unconstitutional, but the courts sided with the oil and gas industry on all counts.
It was a legal challenge as odd as it was unsuccessful given that Burgum, who signed the law the Land Board challenged, also sits on the Land Board.
Smith's unfortunate handling of the royalties situation has been discussed publicly at Land Board meetings.
"During the most recent meeting of the Board of University and School Lands on May 25, Gov. Doug Burgum cited perceptions about the panel's relationship with the North Dakota oil and gas industry in a suggestion that the five-member board develop a more tightly defined media policy, seemingly in response to statements made by Land Commissioner Jodi Smith to reporters," Adam Willis reported in June.
Everyone was playing nice, though, in the news release from Burgum's office announcing Smith's resignation.
“I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude for the support and opportunities you have provided me during my time as the Commissioner and Secretary for the Board,” Smith stated in her resignation to the Land Board. “I will always remember my time as the leader of the Department of Trust Lands with great fondness. The team working at the Department is full of talent and fortitude. I am exceptionally proud of our accomplishments, proud of my team for their tireless dedication and I am looking forward to my next steps in my own career after these significant accomplishments.”
“We thank Commissioner Smith for her service to the State of North Dakota and the Department of Trust Lands over the past four years as the agency saw significant growth in assets and leases,” Burgum said in his release about the resignation. “Jodi and the Trust Lands team oversaw multiple IT system upgrades related to financial management, unclaimed property and citizen-facing websites to better serve the public.”
Smith was not a good fit for the Land Commissioner job, but her failure in that position was not entirely her fault.
North Dakota's leaders who serve on these state boards have fallen into the unfortunate habit of thinking their boards must speak with a unified voice, and that dissent and debate must be hidden from the public's eye. At times that put Smith in the position of having to present the public a unified message from a divided board.
Not an enviable or easy task even for someone better at the job than Smith was.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.