Why Is Fargo Forum Obsessing Over Common Core Request That Never Happened?

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Last month Fargo Forum publisher Matt Von Pinnon wrote a column that was little more than a litany of all the open records requests his newspaper has filed. The headline of the column was, “Forum continues to take watchdog role seriously.”

Numerous people emailed me links to the column asking the same basic question: Are these guys feeling defensive?

It sure seems that way. Maybe the column was intended as a counterbalance to the paper’s seeming support of diminishing access to public records this legislative session. Such as their obsession over an open records request for Common Core-related items filed by Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo).

The story is related to SB2222, which is legislation backed by Senator Tim Flakoll, a Republican from Fargo who also happens to work for the North Dakota University System which perhaps has the worst record on transparency in the state. That legislation would limit open records requests by lawmakers, putting a $5,000 per-biennium cap on them with all additional requests needing to either be approved by Legislative Management or paid for out of the lawmaker’s own pocket.

In support of the legislation, the Forum has published not one but two stories about Rep. Kasper’s request for open records from the Department of Public Instruction which was, admittedly, a gigantic request.

Apparently that request would have cost some $440,000 to comply with, but here’s the thing: Kasper canceled the request once it was made clear to him how large a request it really was, and that was before he was ever given a dollar amount for the request.

Flakoll apparently tipped off the Forum about a request he made for the dollar figure:

The open records cost estimate and Kasper’s emails to DPI officials were obtained by The Forum in an open records request.

The cost estimate was found in a Jan. 23 email answering a request for information by Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, seeking the itemized cost estimates gathered by DPI for Kasper’s records requests made from Dec. 15, 2014, to Jan. 14. …

Kasper said Friday that the price tag on his original DPI requests hadn’t been shared with him.

“It’s news to me. I hadn’t heard a dollar amount,” he said. “They indicated it would be quite costly and quite time-consuming.”

Kasper said cost worries brought up by DPI officials got him to agree to withdraw the records requests in return for getting more specific requests for information filled.

“I certainly don’t have any intention of having any agency spend that kind of money,” he said. “But at the same token, we have the right to get information from agencies that are important.”

So what’s really happening here? It seems Kasper acted reasonably. He put in a large request for information related to major legislation he’s sponsored, but when it was made clear that his request was overly broad he downsized it significantly.

Now Flakoll (a Common Core supporter) and the Fargo Forum (which has editorialized in favor of Common Core) are teaming up to paint Kasper’s behavior as unreasonable.

And clearly Von Pinnon has misgivings about the whole matter, given the defensive posture he’s taken on his paper’s transparency record.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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