Here they go again. Governor Doug Burgum and Senator John Hoeven hosted a meeting in North Dakota and then closed the doors behind them. They banned the public and press from attending. The meeting was about the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion which happens to be the largest and most expensive infrastructure project in the state. Not only are we paying their salaries as public officials, we’re paying a large share of the $2.2 billion project. A bit of irony, the closed-to-the-public meeting was at the Fargo Public Library. We deserved access.
This isn’t the first time these two have been pressed on their closed-door policy toward the public. You’ll recall in August, ND xPlains broke the news that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was baring the public from attending his two meetings in the state. Other media outlets caught on and joined our public calls for transparency. Feeling the heat, Burgum, Hoeven, and Congressman Kevin Cramer said the closed-door policy was requested by Pruitt and that all three of them felt the meetings should have been open to the press and public. All three deferred responsibility for the debacle after publicly claiming Pruitt was here on their invite. They seemed embarrassed for fumbling the opportunity at the time. Yet, they didn’t learn.
Apparently, that sentiment and embarrassment were short-lived or outright disingenuous at the time. Two months later – almost to the day – Burgum and Hoeven took a page out of Scott Pruitt’s play book and barred the public. There is not some outsider like Pruitt to blame this one on. This troubling trend is hitting too close to home and will continue unless the press and public speak up. By some accounts, I’ve seen the traditional press speaking out. Now, it’s your turn as the public.
Not only does this lack of transparency look bad for a project that has been criticized for its secrecy, but it may have violated Fargo Public Library policy. I began my show, “Afternoons Live” on KFGO talking about this. A caller came on air and pointed out the library policy on meetings. Here is what it says: “all meetings must be open to the public. Meetings may not be restricted to any particular group or individuals.” Not only has secrecy been a criticism of this project, but so has arrogance. If they knew closing the door on this meeting violated the policy of the public library, then they succeeded in fulfilling both stereotypes opponents have characterized them as having as they push the multi-billion dollar project.
The excuse being used that a federal lawsuit was being discussed doesn’t hold with me. Discuss that portion away from the public if you must, but don’t keep them away from the whole meeting. Also, now it is on them to explain how every single person allowed to stay in that room was a party to the lawsuit being discussed. We better see a list of who was in attendance.
I’ve said time and again, public work should be done publicly. This cannot be allowed to be the new norm of doing business in politics. I do not want a bunch of Scott Pruitt’s running our state government or sitting in our federal delegation. If they’re afraid of the public, they should step aside and let someone who wants to serve. We deserve answers. We deserve access.