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Forum staff reports, Published June 25 2013

AG: ND University System Foundation broke open records law

BISMARCK – Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Tuesday that the North Dakota University System Foundation violated the state’s open records laws when it refused to provide a copy of revenue and expenditure reports upon request.

North Dakota blogger Rob Port on Jan. 9 contacted NDUS spokeswoman Linda Donlin and requested the documents. He was told Jan. 11 that Donlin had checked with legal counsel and the foundation was not a public entity because it’s a private, nonprofit foundation funded by private contributions.

Port disagreed and requested an opinion from Stenehjem. NDUS counsel provided him with the information he requested on March 23.

In a written opinion released Tuesday, Stenehjem said the foundation is in fact a public entity that’s subject to the state’s open records laws because it’s “completely dependent on the NDUS for its operation and administration.”

Stenehjem said the foundation doesn’t have its own staff, a quorum of state Board of Higher Education members serve as trustees and the trustees do not appear to have any authority over the university system’s use of its funds.

“Because of the use of public funds to administer the foundation and because of the NDUS’s unrestricted use of and access to the Foundation’s funds, it is further my opinion that the Foundation records, specifically the revenue and expense records at issue here, relate to the public business of the NDUS,” he wrote.

Stenehjem said the foundation initially violated open records laws when it refused to provide the information. But the situation has already been remedied with the university system’s March 23 decision to give Port the records he requested.