AG says DPI violated open records law by not sharing emails with blogger
BISMARCK – The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction violated the state’s open records law when a spokesman failed to share emails that were sent from his personal account but pertained to public business, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem stated in an opinion released Friday.
Rob Port, author of the Say Anything Blog, made a request May 8 for copies of the last 30 days of emails from an address used by DPI spokesman Dale Wetzel.
DPI Superintendent Kirsten Baesler informed Port that the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, was Wetzel’s personal address and wasn’t set up to do DPI work, but she directed Wetzel to comply with the request.
Wetzel also told Port that the address wasn’t used for DPI business but was created to provide background to the press and lawmakers about an anti-Common Core speaker from Wisconsin who presented himself as an expert on the Common Core standards adopted by DPI, according to the opinion.
Wetzel produced three emails in response to Port’s request, assuring him that those were the only emails sent to or from the account in the last 30 days. However, Port later received six emails from exchanges May 5 between Wetzel and WDAY talk radio host Jay Thomas in Fargo.
According to the opinion, Wetzel explained that he didn’t provide those emails to Port because he believed that as a guest host of Thomas’ show, Port would have access to the emails. But Stenehjem noted that Port isn’t a WDAY employee and doesn’t have access to the WDAY account.
“Mr. Port is a separate requestor who is entitled to his own copy of the emails subject to his request under open records law. DPI therefore violated open records law when it failed to produce copies of all records responsive to a records request,” the opinion stated.
Because the emails addressed Common Core, “a topic that unquestionably relates to the public business of DPI,” they were subject to the open records law, the opinion stated.
Stenehjem ordered DPI to forward to Port all of the May 5 emails subject to his request free of charge.
WDAY radio is owned by Forum Communications Co., which also owns Forum News Service.