After call for less secrecy, reporter kicked out of Fargo meeting

State and county officials in Minnesota and North Dakota have issued their reply to a Fargo Forum editorial calling for a more open process when discussing the $2.2 billion flood diversion project on the Red River. They kicked a reporter out of a meeting yesterday, the Fargo Forum reports.

The massive project, aimed at preventing flooding in Fargo and Moorhead, has been stalled because the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has refused to issue a permit.

In its editorial on Sunday, the Forum called for less privacy and more public inspection.

Let’s remember what’s at stake here. This task force, a creature of government, could very well determine the fate of the diversion, the only viable option for protection against catastrophic flooding. The massive project is massively expensive, paid for by tax dollars contributed by the state of North Dakota and, through local sales taxes, by Cass County and the city of Fargo, as well as federal help. (The state of Minnesota as well as Moorhead and Clay County have yet to pledge any financial support.) As taxpayers and as residents whose property is at stake, the public has a clear and compelling right to be able to attend the task force’s meetings as well as follow news reports of those meetings and proceedings.

Before the task force, technical experts had been discussing possible diversion modifications to enable the project to get a Minnesota permit. What are those options? We don’t know. Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, who also serves as chairman of the Diversion Authority, has said engineers and technical experts have come up with a slate of 20 alternatives. What are they? What tradeoffs do they entail? We don’t know, because they haven’t been discussed publicly.

At a meeting yesterday, a reporter was escorted out of the meeting by officials who later claimed open meeting laws allowed a closed meeting when litigation is involved.

But North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also revealed another reason.

“The primary reason is,” Burgum said, “we want to make sure everybody in the room feels comfortable sharing their concerns.”

That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

“Whether permitted or not by law to hold these meetings in private is not really the point,” Forum Editor Matthew Von Pinnon said Wednesday. “This is a massively expensive project, with massive public expense and impact. The people should know what is happening and their elected leaders should want them to know.”

Burgum later tweeted what he thinks people need to know about what happened at the meeting.