Diversion officials agree to open executive council meeting

FARGO – After holding its first meeting behind closed doors, the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority’s Executive Leadership Council has decided to make its second meeting open to the public today.

Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt emailed the council’s agenda and supporting materials to media outlets this morning, saying they’re welcome to attend today’s 11 a.m. meeting, a teleconference between officials at Fargo City Hall and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Paul District headquarters.

The decision comes after The Forum published a story on Wednesday raising questions about whether the council is working on behalf of the Diversion Authority and therefore should be subject to North Dakota’s open meetings law.

The Forum intends to seek an attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

“While we do not believe this meeting is required to be an open meeting by North Dakota Statute, we remain committed to conducting business in an open and transparent environment,” Berndt wrote in the email today.

Three local elected leaders sit on the council: Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland and Darrell Vanyo, a Cass County Commission member and chairman of the Diversion Authority.

Three top Army Corps officials from St. Paul also sit on the panel: District Commander Col. Michael Price, Deputy District Engineer Judy Desharnais and Michael Bart, the district’s chief for engineering and construction.

State law requires that all governing bodies of public entities – or any subcommittees of such boards – conduct their meetings in public and give notice of those meetings in advance.

Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson has said the creation of the council was not formally voted on or established by the Diversion Authority, so the council isn’t technically a “governing body” that has to comply with open meeting law.

However, authority members supported the creation of the council, an endorsement which Bismarck attorney Jack McDonald said makes the council a subcommittee of the Diversion Authority.

”The Diversion Authority has created a system of boards and councils to assist it in its work,” which makes those boards also public entities no matter who’s appointed to them, said McDonald, who represents North Dakota newspapers and broadcasters.

- Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki

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