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North Dakota land commissioner resigns; Smith to take new job

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North Dakota Land Commissioner Jodi Smith, facing, meets in June with members of the Land Board at the state Capitol in Bismarck.

North Dakota Land Commissioner Jodi Smith has resigned to take a job outside state government.

The five-member Board of University and School Lands chose Smith to lead the Department of Trust Lands in 2017, and she was appointed unanimously to another four-year term in June. She was the first woman to lead the department. She wrote in a resignation letter Monday to Land Board members that her last day will be Oct. 28 and that she will be available after that date for consultation during the transition process.

Smith has taken another job in "a public sector position outside of state government," according to a statement from the governor's office. She did not immediately respond to a Tribune request for comment.

The Department of Trust Lands manages educational trust funds and assets, including 700,000 surface acres and 2.6 million mineral acres. Revenue from oil development and livestock grazing on state-owned land benefits public education.

Gov. Doug Burgum chairs the Land Board, which oversees the department. He did not ask Smith to resign, spokesperson Mike Nowatzki said.

Smith has worked to resolve a dispute with the oil and gas industry over royalties from the development of state-owned minerals ever since she started the job. The dispute has garnered numerous headlines, and the governor earlier this year raised the idea of creating a "media policy" for Smith and the department. He took issue with how reporters have described the state's effort to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid royalties from oil and gas companies, including stories for which Smith was interviewed.

Part of the problem, Burgum said, is that Smith was in a difficult position trying to portray the views of all five members of the board, who do not always agree on issues. The policy was finalized this summer.

Smith told the Tribune when she was reappointed in June that she was glad to be able to provide continuity in leadership to her department. She said she looked forward to seeing through the implementation of new technology within the agency that would lead to efficiencies for her staff and make it easier for the public to interact with the agency online. She added that she would like to reach a resolution in the ongoing royalty dispute and finish work on an acreage adjustment project concerning minerals below the historic Missouri River channel under Lake Sakakawea.

"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," she said in her resignation letter, adding that the team at the department "is full of talent and fortitude" and that she was "exceptionally proud" of their accomplishments.

The governor's office on Tuesday praised her work to modernize the department's technology, grow the assets it manages by $3 billion and increase the number of oil and gas leases it manages by more than 1,500. The department has fulfilled more than $13 million in unclaimed property claims over the past two years under Smith.

The governor's office said the Land Board will appoint a commissioner to fill the rest of Smith's term, which expires June 30, 2025. The board next meets Oct. 28.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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