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North Dakota governor's office violated open records law, AG says

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem concluded that the governor's office did not provide easily accessible records within a reasonable timeframe and failed to communicate with the requester to explain the delay.

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Gov. Doug Burgum, left, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem listen to a presentation at a meeting of the North Dakota Industrial Commission in 2019. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — The office of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum violated open records laws by failing to fulfill a request within an acceptable timeframe last year, according to an opinion written by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

A person listed as the editor of NorthDecoder requested correspondence made by Burgum regarding a disputed vacancy in the state Legislature after the Republican governor tried to fill the spot with his own nominee.

After receiving an initial acknowledgement of the public records request from the governor's office, NorthDecoder didn't hear back until the office sent the requester 334 pages of records three weeks later, according to Stenehjem's opinion.

Mike Nowatzki, the governor's spokesman, noted that the request came in the day before Thanksgiving and the office was slammed with open records requests. Nowatzki added that the governor was preparing for the legislative organizational session at which he made a budget address.

Stenehjem concluded that the governor's office did not provide the easily accessible records within a reasonable time and failed to communicate with NorthDecoder to explain the delay. Since the records were eventually provided, Stenehjem said there was no other remedy needed to correct the violation.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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