In my investigation into how Minot does municipal government, I uncovered an interesting and possibly even disturbing fact.
Nowhere in Minot’s easily accessible governing documents, i.e., our home rule charter, and our published code of ordinances, is there any written, legal foundation for our present Ward-based system or the establishment of 14 Alderman.
It’s not the first time I’ve run across this issue in Minot. During my research into Minot’s sales tax history, I discovered the ordinance that gives the city authority to collect a second penny of sales tax also exists as an ‘unpublished’ ordinance.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying City Council has no legal authority to govern Minot — that is clearly there in Article II of the home rule charter. And when asked, City Clerk Lisa Jundt kindly went back into the archives and found some historical justification for our Ward system — it was initially established in the year 1932. And I’m not saying our city’s second-penny sales tax is illegal. The City Auditor quickly produced copies of ordinance 3560 and ordinance 4380.
What I am saying is this: I don’t like the fact that I have to call the city auditor to get a copy of a law. I don’t like the fact that when I read the online code of ordinances, there is no reference to the size and makeup of our City Council. I’m a believer in open government and transparency, and when I hear about ‘unpublished’ laws, I have to admit, my next line of thought is ‘secret’ law.
Now, calling these laws ‘secret’ is a step too far, but in both cases they are a long ways from being open and accessible. Perhaps as we have the discussion about the size of City Council, there are a few other conversations that should be taking place as well — like are we doing everything possible to ensure that City of Minot’s government is operating in a way that makes it as open and accessible as possible?
My contention, unpublished laws are bad policy. We should be going out of our way to make things public and overtly accessible — especially in a culture of distrust that I believe has taken root in Minot.
If you want to look for yourself, here’s the link to Minot’s online ordinances and here’s the link to our home rule charter. If you can find where the number of Wards and Alderman is established, please let me know and I’ll reconsider this entire editorial.
And with all that said, kudos to Bob Lindee, the City’s Public Information Officer. The City’s new website is up and running, and when all the bugs are worked out, it is sure to be a tool that will make accessing our local government better than it has ever been. If you haven’t checked it out yet, take some to time to do some old-school Internet exploring — there’s a lot on the site worth learning about.