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The North Dakota Industrial Commission is eight months behind in publishing meeting minutes, and it’s not the first time for such a delay.

Minutes for the commission that regulates oil and gas development, the Bank of North Dakota, the State Mill and Elevator and other entities have not been updated since last July.

Executive Director Karlene Fine said her assistant has been out for medical reasons for six months, which contributed to the delay.

“I’ve been having to carry the load for her and myself,” Fine said. “I haven't had a chance to get the minutes finished or up and posted. Our goal is to get them up after every meeting.”

But Sarah Vogel, who once served on the commission as former North Dakota agriculture commissioner, said the blame for the backlog ought to fall on the elected members of the Industrial Commission, not the staff.

The Industrial Commission consists of Gov. Doug Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

Vogel, a Democrat, called attention to the untimely meeting minutes at a recent event sponsored by ThinkND that focused on good government.

In an interview, Vogel said commissioners should have arranged for additional staff to keep up with the minutes.

“You have the biggest, most powerful organization in the state and they cannot keep their minutes up to date,” Vogel said. “It’s bad management. I find it extraordinarily frustrating.”

In a July 2014 opinion  written by Stenehjem, the Industrial Commission was found to be in violation of the state’s open records law for failing to provide copies of meeting minutes in a timely manner.

Ryan Taylor, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2012, requested the opinion after Ellen Chaffee, his running mate, asked for copies of meeting minutes from 2009 through March 2014.

It took nearly two months for the minutes to be provided, a timeframe Stenehjem determined was not reasonable.

A footnote in Stenehjem’s opinion states: “Although the law does not require it, if providing the records within a reasonable time is not feasible given the current workload of a public entity, consideration should be given to approving extra time or staff if resources are available.”

In 2016, the Office of the State Auditor cited the Industrial Commission for untimely approval of meeting minutes in an audit for the biennium ending June 30, 2015.

The audit said a majority of the minutes for that two-year budget cycle were not reviewed and approved until February of 2016.

“Without proper review and approval by Industrial Commission members, the meeting minutes may contain errors and inaccuracies in the official record of the Industrial Commission’s actions,” the audit stated.

The commission’s 2013 operational audit also had an “informal recommendation” that the commission review and approve the prior meeting’s minutes.

Vogel said complying with the open records law is central to the commission’s duty.

“The irony is that the chief law enforcement officer whose duty it is to enforce to open records and open meetings law is on this commission,” Vogel said.

Stenehjem said Friday the commission sought funding from the Legislature to add another staff position in the Industrial Commission to keep up with the workload. A deputy director began March 1.

“Karlene is overwhelmed,” Stenehjem said.

Burgum, who called Fine one of the state’s most dedicated, hard-working employees, said the new position should prevent the commission from falling behind.

“It’s just been a capacity issue,” Burgum said.

The commission’s goal is to catch up on meeting minutes by June, Stenehjem said.

In the meantime, the public can request to review recordings of commission meetings or request copies of meeting attachments, Stenehjem said.

Goehring did not return a message seeking comment on Friday.

The Industrial Commission, which meets monthly for several hours, also oversees the Housing Finance Agency, the Building Authority, lignite and oil and gas research programs and other state functions. The 2017 audit of the Industrial Commission is not yet complete.

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(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)

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