Spokeswoman resigns over deletion of late North Dakota AG's email account
A chain of emails released by North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley on Monday revealed that office spokeswoman Liz Brocker asked the office's information technology director to delete former Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's email on Jan. 29.
BISMARCK — A longtime spokeswoman and assistant for late North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem asked an information technology employee to delete her former boss's email account a day after his death.
The spokeswoman, Liz Brocker, resigned her post with the office on Friday, July 15. Forum News Service obtained her resignation letter on Monday, July 18.
Attorney General Drew Wrigley told Forum News Service on Friday a "nonsupervisory, non-attorney employee" was responsible for deleting state email accounts belonging to Stenehjem and former Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel. At the time, Wrigley declined to name the employee who deleted the accounts.
A chain of emails released by Wrigley on Monday revealed that spokeswoman Liz Brocker asked the office's IT director to delete Stenehjem's email on Jan. 29.
"(First) thing Monday, could you have Wayne's nd.gov email account shut down and the emails in his in box, in box folders, sent items - deleted," Brocker wrote in the Jan. 29 email.
"We want to make sure no one has an opportunity to make an Open Record request for his emails, especially as he (Stenehjem) kept EVERYTHING," she added.
Stenehjem's account was wiped on Jan. 31, three days after his death. Brocker noted in the email that Seibel had approved the action.
Wrigley took office in February, and Seibel's account was eliminated in May, two months after his resignation. Wrigley said Seibel's account was deleted without Wrigley's authorization.
A voicemail left at a phone number believed to be Brocker's was not returned Monday.
In her resignation letter, Brocker said, "I believe we both recognize that we will not achieve the close working relationship that is vital between the Attorney General and his Executive Assistant."
Brocker worked in the attorney general's office for 21 years.
Wrigley would not directly confirm Brocker had ordered the deletion of the accounts, saying, "I'll let the emails speak for themselves." He also declined to comment on her resignation.
Seibel told Forum News Service last week he does not recall having any conversation or sending any email about Stenehjem's email account after the attorney general died. Seibel also said he did not have any authority or ability to delete his email account after he resigned in March.
Wrigley said he became aware of the deleted accounts while responding to Forum News Service's records request about a $1.8 million budget overrun taken on by the office under Stenehjem's leadership.
The email accounts have since been deemed irretrievable by state IT employees, but some of Seibel's emails have been located in a file on his old laptop. Other emails sent by Stenehjem or Seibel still exist in the inboxes of state employees who received them.
Wrigley said deleting the email accounts was "obviously concerning" and "a bad call," but it did not violate state law or any internal rule because there were no pending records requests asking for the emails.
However, Wrigley told Forum News Service on Monday he is designing a new policy that would require the indefinite retention of emails sent or received by the attorney general and the deputy attorney general.
The Republican officeholder said some emails are an important "record of the state's work" and should be preserved.
Democratic-NPL Party Chairman Patrick Hart railed against Brocker and the state GOP in a statement, saying the "blatant disregard for transparency is beyond unacceptable."
Hart said the deletion of the email accounts reeks of a cover-up and "makes one wonder what else is being hidden."
“This isn’t a surprise to anyone who has made an Open Records request from Ms. Brocker in the past, so much so she’s earned the nickname ‘Liz Blocker,'" Hart said.
Forum News Service requested correspondence from Stenehjem and Seibel about the $1.8 million cost overrun associated with a leased office building.
Wrigley told lawmakers in June his predecessors racked up the unanticipated costs while making specifications to a leased building and waited six months to tell their office's budgeting wing about the problem. Seibel disputes Wrigley's characterization of the budgetary matter and said the office did nothing wrong.
Two legislative panels are now investigating the budget overrun.