NDSU President Used Girlfriend's Email Account To Avoid Open Records Requests?
NDSU President Dean Bresciani is rather famously hostile to government transparency.
“Either Dean Bresciani went to the Lois Lerner school of email management, or she went to the Dean Bresciani school, but either way they’re both honored graduates,” Rep. Bob Martinson, a Republican from Bismarck, told me earlier this year referring to infamous former IRS boss Lois Lerner who has been accused of hiding emails from Congress.
Martinson and other lawmakers are upset at what they feel is Bresciani’s efforts to hide public records from them. “There’s no doubt in my mind that those emails were deleted on purpose,” Martinson said of a scandal during the summer of 2013 where tens of thousands of Bresciani’s emails were purged from his account rather than turned over to lawmakers.
When Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem investigated the matter he couldn’t conclude whether or not NDSU deleted the emails on purpose. But as I was combing back through some of my past open records requests, I stumbled across an email that seems to be much more concrete evidence that Bresciani is actively seeking to hide public business from the public.
In the spring of 2013, before the deleted email scandal, prominent NDSU Alumni Steve Scheel (of Scheels sporting goods fame) emailed Bresciani telling him that he’d written an opinion piece for the state’s newspapers (embattled former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, whom Bresciani was instrumental in pushing out, was much in the news at the time) but wanted the NDSU President to look it over. He also didn’t want his op/ed susceptible to open records requests, and so offered to email it to “Kristy” so that Bresciani could respond to it “in that manner.”
Bresciani responds…very carefully telling Scheel that anything sent directly to him is public record but not dissuading his friend from avoiding open records requests by sending it to Hanson.
“Kristy” is apparently a reference to Kristi Hanson who is on the NDSU Development Foundation’s Board of Trustees (worth mentioning here that Bresciani has said he spends most of his time on the taxpayer payroll raising millions for the supposedly private Development Foundation).
Bresciani is (or at least was) in a relationship with Hanson as evidenced by this March 2013 email in which Bresciani invites Scheel and his wife on an overnight double date trip to see an NCAA tournament game with himself and Kristi.
(I should note here that a university system source had previously identified Hanson to me as Bresciani’s wife who was enjoying use of the NDSU President’s private chauffeur. That was an error as Bresciani is not married. NDSU refused to answer questions about whether or not Hanson has been allowed use of the chauffeur).
Roughly a month later Scheel is offering to send information related to university business to Hanson’s private email address for the explicitly stated purpose of avoid open records requests.
On its own this might be seen as small potatoes. In the context of NDSU’s horrendous track record on open records violations, and the utter lack of trust of Bresciani from some lawmakers who feel he’s actively avoiding open records requests, it becomes a much bigger deal.
In fact, it may rise to the level of a criminal violation. Section 12.1-11-05 of the North Dakota Century Code makes it illegal to, among other things, “conceal” or “impair the ability” of the public to access public records. Which includes, of course, emails pertaining to official government business.
Here’s the law:
12.1-11-05. Tampering with public records.
1. A person is guilty of an offense if he:
a. Knowingly makes a false entry in or false alteration of a government record; or
b. Knowingly, without lawful authority, destroys, conceals, removes, or otherwise impairs the verity or availability of a government record.
2. The offense is:
a. A class C felony if committed by a public servant who has custody of the government record.
b. A class A misdemeanor if committed by any other person.
3. In this section “government record” means:
a. Any record, document, or thing belonging to, or received or kept by the government for information or record.
b. Any other record, document, or thing required to be kept by law, pursuant, in fact, to a statute which expressly invokes the sanctions of this section.
A public official using a girlfriend’s private email to conduct public business is at the very least acting in bad faith, if not outright criminally.
It makes me wonder what other sort communications Bresciani used this subterfuge for.
Here’s the full email exchange.