Wrigley: City of Fargo violated Open Records and Meetings Law

(FARGO) – The North Dakota Attorney General says the City of Fargo violated North Dakota Open Records and Meetings laws.

According to an opinion issued Thursday by Attorney General Drew Wrigley, “Fargo ran afoul of the open records law by not providing requested records within a reasonable time and failing to give the requester an explanation for the nearly four-week delay.”

In a statement released to WZFG/WDAY Radio, Fargo Mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney said, “While The City of Fargo acknowledges the Attorney General Office’s opinion regarding the “reasonability of timely responsiveness” in reference to this specific open record request, it respectfully disagrees with the finding."

Wrigley said Fargo resident Christopher Coen made, on February 17, 2022, two open record request to the City for records related to Fargo’s Police Advisory and Oversight Board. The first letter requested records regarding the ordinance, and the second requested communications between the Fargo City Attorney, Assistant City Attorneys, City Attorney Staff and other staff included in the creation of the Board. The records requested were for between April 1, 2021, and November 30, 2021.

The Attorney General says Fargo Director of Communications and Government Affairs, Gregg Schildberger, confirmed the request on February 18, 2022.

On March 11, 2022, Schildberger emailed the resident and advised a response was anticipated within the next week.

The resident received the documents on March 15, 2022.

The Attorney General’s Office says no further corrective measures are required as the records have been received by the resident.

“The City of Fargo strives to provide full and complete responses to open record requests in accordance with North Dakota Century Code and oftentimes – such as in this case – exceeds the legal minimum by providing as comprehensive a response as possible.  In this instance, the time to perform such due diligence was deemed outside of the “within a reasonable time” statutory language, which is subjective and indeterminate. In reference to this specific requestor, over 200 emails were exchanged between Mr. Coen and City staff over six months regarding a number of requests submitted between September 2021 and March 2022.  City staff were responsive and collaborated across departments to provide a complete reply to the requestor on every submitted request, as expeditiously as possible," Mahoney said. “This Attorney General Office’s opinion –  issued 563 days after it was requested –  required no City action as Mr. Coen received all requested records. However, it will further inform Fargo’s operating processes. Our staff will seek additional clarity and refinement from requestors when the City receives similarly broad or unclear requests in the future.”