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DSU did not violate open records laws

DICKINSON - The North Dakota Attorney General's Office has issued an opinion stating Dickinson State University did not violate open records laws regarding a complaint from former adjunct professor James A. Woods regarding his personal file.

"Dickinson State University did not violate N.D.C.C. (North Dakota Century Code) 44-04-18(2) because the fees charged for locating, copying or mailing the records were reasonable," the attorney general's decision said. "Dickinson State University provided 213 pages from the requester's personnel file and e-mail correspondence of eight named individuals over a period of eight months within working five working days after receiving the request which was reasonable under N.D.C.C. 44-04-18(8)."

Wood's issue with the records release regarded whether or not DSU had violated open records law "by charging a fee in excess of the reasonable fee for providing a copy of public records." He also questioned if DSU violated the laws, "by failing to provide a copy of public records to a requester within a reasonable period of time."

DSU officials are happy with the opinion.

"We're delighted that we didn't violate the open records law," Human Resources Coordinator Gail Ebeltoft said. "We try really hard to comply with the open records laws."

Woods taught as an adjunct business professor at DSU from May to December 2007 when his contracted wasn't renewed. He wasn't happy with Tuesday's decision.

"Of course not," Woods said. "I've been sandbagged and delayed and delayed and delayed through the whole process."

Woods, who also worked as an office assistant with the North Dakota University System for three months in 2007, said the information is an integral part of a pending discrimination lawsuit against the NDUS. Another discrimination lawsuit against DSU was dismissed. Woods was terminated from his position at the NDUS in December 2007.

Woods said in his opinion, one governmental entity investigating another isn't the best way to do things.

"I don't think it's fair justice," Woods said.

According to the opinion, when Woods requested the information, DSU prepared his personal file along with e-mails and correspondence among himself and eight DSU and NDUS employees.

Following the preparation of the documents, DSU contacted Woods and informed him he could have the information mailed to him if he paid a fee of $95.35.

The $95.35 charge was based on a $53.25 copying charge for 213 pages at 25 cents per page, $37.50 for DSU employee time dedicated to locating the records, which excluded the first hour of time and the actual cost of postage, which was estimated at $4.60.

When asked why he didn't pay the fee if it was so integral to his case, Woods said he simply didn't have the money.

"I was broke. I just got fired. I had nothing." Woods said. "There's no way that a part-time employee, teaching one class should have 213 pages in his personnel file after six months."

Ebeltoft said Wood's personnel file was only 15 pages long, but due to the other information included in the request, the number of pages went up quickly.

"If he had just requested his personnel file that would have been 15 pages," Ebeltoft said. "It doesn't take much with e-mails and contracts and stuff like that."