A North Dakota public meeting at a Florida resort? It's legal.
FARGO — Anyone hoping to attend this week's public meetings of the executive governing board of the North Dakota State University Foundation and Alumni Association will need to travel over 1,900 miles.
The board is gathering Thursday and Friday, Feb. 8 and 9, in Florida for a retreat that will include strategic planning sessions and a meeting to address regular business. The retreat is being held at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.
Jack McDonald, a lawyer who represents North Dakota newspapers and broadcasters, said holding the meeting out of state will make it difficult or impossible for most members of the public to attend.
"It kind of violates the spirit of the open meetings law," he said. "It's legal. They can meet wherever they want."
The board's strategy discussions are likely to include the foundation's long-range plans regarding properties near the perimeter of campus, strategic relationships and investment goals, said Steve Swiontek, chairman of the executive governing board, the steering board for the board of trustees.
The foundation is developing a $23 million housing and retail complex on the 1600 block of North University Drive, which has sparked concerns from neighbors.
"It's just talking about what we need to do in the future strategically for the next five to 10 years," Swiontek said. "It's not to try to avoid public meetings; absolutely not."
An opinion by the North Dakota attorney general several years ago determined it was legal for public boards to meet out of state, but the boards must allow interested members of the public to listen to the meeting via phone or other electronic means, McDonald said.
Arrangements can be made to listen to the NDSU Foundation board's meeting via phone, Swiontek said.
Except for a vote to approve or reject recommended salary increases for four or five employees, "It's not finalizing anything," he said. "It's looking at various concepts. It's more of the over-5,000-foot level," he added. "What type of needs are out there for the foundation?"
John Glover, president and CEO of the NDSU Foundation and Alumni Association, said the board once commonly held an annual meeting outside Fargo, but stopped the practice five or seven years ago.
The 11 board members are responsible for paying their own airfare and lodging costs, Swiontek said.
The foundation is paying an estimated $4,000 to rent meeting space and provide meals during the meeting, Swiontek said.
"When we factored that in, we decided it was very beneficial to do," he said. The executive governing board meeting coincides with other meetings with alumni and financial supporters who live in Florida.
Also, Swiontek said, two board members live in Florida and four others have to travel to Fargo, where meetings customarily are held at the Harry D. McGovern Alumni Center near the NDSU campus.
The foundation also is paying the expenses for NDSU President Dean Bresciani, who will provide a "university update" in a talk before the governing board.
Payment of Bresciani's expenses, Glover said in a statement, is "consistent with all development and outreach activities being conducted locally and nationally to advance NDSU and seek support."
The University of North Dakota Alumni Association & Foundation board is planning a retreat in Arizona Feb. 28 to March 2.
"We do have a lot of alumni in that area," said Milo Smith, a spokesman for the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.
"Our board members pay their own way, and their own lodging while they're there," Smith said.
The UND board schedules retreats every two years, a practice it has followed for six years, and retreat locations are selected by board members, he said.
Swiontek said it hasn't been decided yet whether the NDSU Foundation board will gather for a retreat next year. That decision, he said, will be made in the fall.