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Records request from Kasper could have cost nearly $440,000, required half-million papers

BISMARCK – A broad-ranging open records request by state Rep. Jim Kasper would have required gathering a half-million documents and cost $437,411 if the lawmaker had followed through, according to estimates by the Department of Public Instruction.

In addition, the Fargo Republican made an unusual request by email Jan. 24, calling on DPI spokesman Dale Wetzel to carbon-copy Kasper on all emails to and from lawmakers and other officials about North Dakota’s version of Common Core education standards. A few days later, Kasper dropped his request.

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. They are:

  • $284,550 for professional fees to redact about 500,000 sheets of paper or documents at $56.91 per hour.
  • $28,861 for 700 hours of search time by DPI employees at an average salary (with benefits) of $41.23.
  • $95,250 to provide about 381,000 copies of electronic documents at 25 cents per page.
  • $28,750 for about 115,000 paper copies at 25 cents per sheet.

Flakoll is chief sponsor of Senate Bill 2222, which would end anonymous open records requests by lawmakers, and put a $5,000 cap in a biennium on information requests lawmakers could make without being charged. After that, lawmakers would have to call on legislative management to have the Legislative Council seek the information without cost.

‘It’s news to me’

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.”

Kasper, R-Fargo, in December made a number of sweeping open records requests to Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler and Wetzel for information on the state’s development of its version of Common Core K-12 education standards.

Kasper, an avowed opponent of Common Core, calls it an attempt by the federal government and the Obama administration to control North Dakota’s education system and gather private data.

A Dec. 17 email from Kasper to Baesler included 26 separate open records requests seeking all communications between private, federal and state entities and DPI starting in most cases on Jan 1, 2009, through Dec. 17 – nearly six years.

Flakoll said the price tag that could have been laid at taxpayers’ feet for Kasper’s original request “provides good evidence why (SB 2222) is so important.”

Flakoll said such mammoth requests hamper agencies’ abilities to get their work done. Plus, requests are just “broad fishing expeditions,” he said.

In this case, Flakoll said it would take one person about six years to read all of the material.

Request withdrawn

In the Jan. 24 email to Wetzel, Kasper started by asking to receive a copy of a weekly bill report compiled by Wetzel and shared with other lawmakers. Then, Kasper continued:

“Additionally, anytime you email to any Legislator regarding HB1451 – the Common Core bill, this email is to serve as an open records request that I receive copies of those emails.

“Additionally, please use this email as an open records request that you provide me copies of all of your email correspondence from you and to you, since January 1, 2015, regarding the general topic of Common Core and the particular topic of HB1461. This open records request pertains to all email correspondence between you and any and all Legislators, as well as emails between you and all other state employees and officials, including the Department of Public Instruction employees and Kirsten Baesler, and any other person or entity.”

A follow-up email from Kasper sent to Addy Schmaltz (DPI’s human resources manager) and carbon-copied to Wetzel on Jan. 27 then modifies the Jan. 24 request, calling for the withdrawal of both of the paragraphs.

“As I thought about it, I thought it was maybe a little bit unreasonable, and I withdrew it,” Kasper said.

Jack McDonald, the attorney for the North Dakota Newspaper Association, said he’d never seen a records request like it.

McDonald said the way the law is structured, Kasper can ask for emails and other documents after they’ve been received or sent, but “he doesn’t have a right to be cc’ed on stuff.”

The problem is that the emails could contain confidential information, such as student information or Social Security numbers, that must be redacted before the records request can be satisfied, McDonald said.

“Our open records law is an access law. You have the right to request items, but not have them sent to you as they are sent out,” McDonald said.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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