Newly appointed State Water Commission to meet next week, address issue raised by attorney general’s office

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 - 2:30pm

BISMARCK, N.D. – Newly appointed members of the State Water Commission will meet for the first time next week and are expected to address an issue raised about the appointment process and recent action to help drought-stricken ranchers.

Gov. Doug Burgum, who chairs the commission, appointed seven new members last Thursday. He expressed his gratitude to the seven outgoing members for their more than 100 years of combined service on the nine-member commission.

The following day, Burgum, State Engineer Garland Erbele and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who serves as an ex-officio member of the commission, received a memo from an assistant attorney general regarding the appointment process.

Under state law, all seven appointed members of the State Water Commission are considered to have resigned effective Jan. 1 of the first year of each four-year term of the governor. Burgum accepted the members’ statutorily triggered resignations on June 22.

To maintain continuity on the board, per state law Burgum reappointed three members to continue serving until the governor’s new appointments had been named and qualified.

The assistant attorney general asserts that because the terms of the reappointed members expired on June 30, the commission’s July 20 special meeting lacked a quorum, and therefore the $500,000 approved for the livestock water supply program on a 5-0 vote during that meeting wasn’t properly approved.

The governor’s general counsel, Leslie Bakken Oliver, said the appointment process was done carefully and is consistent with the requirements set forth in North Dakota law, which states, “in all cases the members of boards and commissions shall continue to serve until their successors have been named and qualified.” She noted the requirement that members remain in place beyond their appointed term, until a successor has been named and qualified, is commonplace under state law.

To move past their differing interpretations of the law, Oliver has suggested following the assistant attorney general’s recommendation that actions taken during the July 20 meeting be ratified by the commission at its Aug. 23 meeting. The $500,000 has not yet been disbursed through the livestock water supply program, which provides eligible livestock producers with 50 percent cost-share assistance of up to $3,500 per project, with a maximum of three projects per applicant.

The seven new commission members are Jason Zimmerman of Minot, Mark Owan of Williston, Leander “Russ” McDonald of Bismarck, Richard Johnson of Devils Lake, Katie Andersen of Jamestown, Michael Anderson of Hillsboro and Matthew Pedersen of Valley City.

The State Water Commission has the authority to investigate, plan, construct and develop water-related projects, and serves as a mechanism to financially support those efforts throughout North Dakota. The State Engineer serves as the commission’s executive officer, overseeing the staff who carry out the commission’s work.