The Power of 'May'

BISMARCK, N.D. - With the first full meeting of the Ethics Commission finished, there are plenty of initial steps remaining, including developing investigation rules to finding office space.

One word. "MAY." That was the center point for Friday's conclusion to the first Ethics Commission meeting.

"I found it interesting that they used the word 'may'. The Commission MAY adopt rules and the Commission MAY investigate. Allows us the latitude as to how to approach our work," said Commissioner Paul Richard

Not fully understanding the commission's role and procedure was a theme; one commissioner saying 'if we received a complaint tomorrow, we wouldn't have rules to investigate it.'

But the group remains confident in the development process.

"I think the citizens have spoken. I think they've looked at this; they've heard and it's taken several years to get where we are today. And I'm looking forward to citizen input that the public lets us know their feelings and concerns," said Vice Chair Dr. Cynthia Lindquist

However, one issue discussed is how citizens can tell them how they feel. The group is mandated to have a confidential whistleblower hotline. The problem being that a statute passed this year allows the State to not investigate complaints made without a name nor address.

To help with development, the commission has considered joining the Council on Government Ethics; a coalition of similar commissions in other states.

"People have done the work that we're doing in other states already, so we're looking to what they have learned, the best practices for the work that we're doing. What's the staffing? What's the best way we can move forward with this," said Commissioner David Anderson.

While they are to remain allegiant to no other branch of government, they have in the past and said they will continue to seek formal opinions for the Attorney General as to which rules to follow until they can form their own.

The next meeting of the Ethics Commission is on Oct. 23 and 24.

Members say they want to define their work more clearly as well as the term "lobbyist."