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North Dakota land commissioner leaves 5 months into 2nd term

October 12, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The head of the agency that handles land rights for some of North Dakota’s largest industries has resigned less than five months into her second term, the governor’s office said Tuesday.

Department of Trust Lands Commissioner Jodi Smith is stepping down Oct. 28. She was appointed by the state Board of University and School Lands, known as the Land Board, in 2017 and was reappointed to a second term in June.

The Land Department leases rights for grazing and rights to produce oil, coal and gravel from state lands. It manages several state trust funds, including the common schools trust fund that benefits public schools.

It’s unclear why Smith decided to take an early exit. She said in a statement that she will remember her time as commissioner with “great fondness” and has offered to act as a consultant after she steps down.

“I am exceptionally proud of our accomplishments, proud of my team for their tireless dedication and I am looking forward to my next steps in my own career after these significant accomplishments,” she said.

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The Land Board has come under fire from the oil and gas industry for trying to collect unpaid royalties. It led to a law passed earlier this year that limits how much interest companies have to pay for unpaid oil and gas royalties and sets a statute of limitations on how far back they have to pay.

At the Land Board meeting when Smith was confirmed for a second term, some members complained about the way the issue was being publicly portrayed and directed Smith to craft a media policy spelling out guidelines for interacting with reporters.

The five-member Land Board consists of Gov. Doug Burgum as chair and Superintendent of Schools Kirsten Baesler, Treasurer Thomas Beadle, Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem as members.

In announcing her resignation, Burgum said under Smith the agency modernized its technology, grew its managed assets by $3 billion and increased its managed oil and gas leases by more than 1,500.