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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum discusses applicants for the state's new ethics commission, who were listed on a whiteboard behind him during a meeting at the state Capitol Friday, June 21, 2019. John Hageman / Forum News Service

Panel advances two dozen candidates for North Dakota's first ethics commission

BISMARCK — A panel charged with selecting members of North Dakota's new state government ethics commission identified two dozen candidates for further consideration during a meeting at the state Capitol Friday, June 21.

Members of the selection committee, composed of Gov. Doug Burgum and the Senate's majority and minority leaders, each brought their own list of preferred applicants to the meeting. There were three candidates that each panel member included on their list: Ronald Goodman, a retired district judge from Oakes; Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten; and Jonathan Sickler, chief legal officer of Grand Forks-based Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services.

Nearly 70 people applied to serve on the commission by a late May deadline, and the selection panel advanced 25 applicants Friday. But Burgum cautioned that people who weren't initially identified may still be in the mix.

The selection committee plans to meet again Wednesday, and its members hope to have the five commissioners in place by July 1. But Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said they may "take a little extra time."

The bipartisan selection committee must make its picks by a consensus agreement. Burgum, a Republican, said he was "encouraged" by the amount of common ground they found in their first meeting.

Selection committee members identified integrity and trustworthiness as attributes they sought from candidates. The panel also indicated it would consider geographic and gender diversity.

"We had so many great applicants. This has been really hard," Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, said.

Burgum said he was looking for commissioners with "some experience in creating something from scratch."

"I think these first five are going to kind of set the tone for the direction of this thing," he said.

Voters created the ethics commission by passing a constitutional amendment known as Measure 1 last year. The panel will be able to write rules on transparency, corruption, elections and lobbying as well as investigate allegations of wrongdoing.

The constitution bars certain people from serving on the commission, including lobbyists, political party officials and those who hold statewide elected or appointed office.

A top backer of last year's measure previously said the selection of ethics commissioners represented a crucial phase of the process because they'll "be creating their own culture from nothing."

Though the ballot measure campaign and the legislative process to implement it were contentious, no lobbyists or measure supporters attended Friday's meeting.

Lawmakers this year budgeted about $517,000 and two-full-time positions for the commission during the 2019-21 biennium. They will also undertake a study of the constitution's new ethics requirements before the 2021 session.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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