AG Finds Department Of Public Instruction Broke Open Records Law With Anti-Common Core Emails


I’m back from vacation (we had a lovely time in Montana, Idaho and Washington), and while I was gone Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office issued an opinion on another open records complaint I filed against the Department of Public Instruction.

You can read the full opinion below.

I had requested emails sent by DPI spokesman Dale Wetzel from an anonymous Gmail account. Lawmakers and members of the media had been receiving emails from that account that were highly critical of anti-Common Core activist Duke Pesta, as well as other anti-Common Core activists in North Dakota. It turns out the account had been sent up by Wetzel, and I requested the emails to determine the scope of what he’d been writing about Pesta.

But Wetzel didn’t turn over all the emails, as I had been forwarded some by WDAY talk radio host Jay Thomas that Wetzel didn’t send me. Clearly, Wetzel wasn’t making good on disclosing all of the emails to me, so I filed the complaint.

Turns out the Attorney General agreed with me.

Wetzel had tried to defend his actions by claiming that he assumed I had all the emails sent to WDAY since I often guest host on that station, but that’s now how open records law works, which Wetzel a long-time Associated Press reporter knows. I am not a WDAY employee. I do not have a WDAY email account, nor do I have access to any email accounts maintained by WDAY. Assuming that I already had emails sent to WDAY is a bit ridiculous, and seems more like an excuse for not divulging all the emails sent from the Gmail account (which, frankly, were not very professional in nature) than an honest mistake.

The DPI has a few more business days to make good with all the emails from the Gmail account (or they’ll confirm that they’ve already sent me everything, I suppose). I’ll update if there’s anything else interesting.

But, another day another open records complaint upheld against North Dakota government with really no repercussions (outside of some negative press) for those who violated the law.

Discussion question: How can we put some teeth in open records laws so that state agencies like DPI and the university system are prompted to, you know, start following the law and stuff?

DPI Open Records Complaint