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Published June 24, 2013, 02:56 PM

NDSU president denies deleting 45,000 emails subject to open records request; state AG investigating

The North Dakota Legislative Council is asking the state attorney general for an opinion on whether North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani broke the law by deleting more than 45,000 emails that may have been subject to an open records request.

By: Kyle Potter and Helmut Schmidt, Forum News Service

The North Dakota Legislative Council is asking the state attorney general for an opinion on whether North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani broke the law by deleting more than 45,000 emails that may have been subject to an open records request. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the office had received the June 20 letter from Legislative Council attorney John Bjornson requesting an opinion on whether Bresciani failed to provide public records.

North Dakota’s open records law states that “an electronic copy of a record must be provided upon request.” A public official found guilty of destroying public records could be charged with a felony.

NDSU spokeswoman Laura McDaniel wrote in an email that the school has not received an official request for information about the alleged deleted emails, but will cooperate with any investigation. “President Bresciani did not delete 45,000 emails on April 29. We are looking into the matter,” McDaniel wrote.

On April 29, the Legislative Council, on behalf of an unnamed legislator, requested emails from a number of State Board of Higher Education officials – including each university president – from July 1, 2012, to April 28, according to the letter. The time window for that request was later narrowed – from Nov. 1, 2012, to May 1.

When that request only resulted in about 900 pages of emails from Bresciani’s account, the Legislative Council asked the North Dakota University System – rather than NDSU officials – to look into it, and whether any emails were deleted.

Information technology personnel from the University System confirmed that an estimated 45,375 emails were deleted from Bresciani’s account on April 29 – the same day the state made its open records request and a day after The Forum newspaper wrote a story from other emails it had gleaned through its own university presidential open records requests. The Forum requested emails that Bresciani sent or received from Sept. 25, 2012, to March 25, 2013, that mentioned State Board of Higher Education Chancellor Hamid Shirvani. Among the emails received in that request, Bresciani referred to the chancellor’s “objectionable way of doing business.” The Forum published a story April 28 detailing Bresciani and other university presidents’ correspondence about the embattled chancellor.

After months of turmoil, Shirvani was ousted as chancellor June 3.

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