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Published September 01, 2011, 12:05 AM

Attorney General: NDSU Violated Open Records Law

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota State University overestimated the cost of email copies a conservative blogger and radio talk show requested under the state's open records law, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says.

By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota State University overestimated the cost of email copies a conservative blogger and radio talk show requested under the state's open records law, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says.

Rob Port, a frequent critic of NDSU, complained to Stenehjem after the university said Port would have to pay $2,000 to receive copies of emails sent to school president Dean Bresciani in a 30-day period.

Stenehjem determined in an opinion released late Tuesday that the university violated the state's open records law. He said the estimate was excessive, particularly because the school included the cost of transferring the emails to a new folder.

"It is my opinion that the charge NDSU has included for 'transferring' emails to a new folder is not authorized by law," Stenehjem said.

NDSU officials did not respond to an interview request Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Port said he requested the emails in March because he wanted to know about a child care center at the school. Bresciani originally announced he was closing the center for financial reasons, then delayed the decision after he said numerous people complained.

"I thought it was a little suspicious that right before president Bresciani was supposed to testify before the Legislature he closed the center down, and afterward, he talked about opening it up again," Port said.

NDSU officials told Stenehjem that Bresciani receives and sends an average of 200 emails per day. The school estimated it would take 60 hours of administrative time and 20 hours for lawyers to review the estimated 4,000 emails, at $25 per hour.

Stenehjem said NDSU could have provided Port with the preview screens from Bresciani's inbox to help narrow the request and save time. The attorney general ordered NDSU to recalculate the estimate and include only the time for reviewing and taking out confidential information.

"My thought was they just didn't want to comply. I'm a pretty outspoken critic of higher education," Port said.

Jack McDonald, a Bismarck attorney who represents media outlets on issues regarding the state's open records and meetings laws, said figuring out expenses in the email era is an ongoing issue.

"Before, when you would ask for copies of letters or correspondence, you might get five letters that were sent between people. Now, when you say emails, they may send 50 emails," McDonald said.

McDonald believes some of the costs levied by public institutions for electronic information are "greatly inflated," but added that people making the requests need to be smarter to avoid a big estimate.

"You ask for the world, and you're going to get it," he said.

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