FARGO (AP) - State Rep. Bob Skarphol says he is one of the lawmakers responsible for anonymously made open records requests for North Dakota university and college presidents' emails.
"I'm not behind all of the requests that have been made. I have made a request or two. So have others," the Tioga Republican told The Forum newspaper.
Skarphol, who called a hearing last spring to highlight what he called an "effort to discredit" University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, said he and other legislators are focused on finding out what all went on leading to the ouster of Shirvani in early June after complaints about his leadership style.
The Legislative Council on behalf of unnamed lawmakers has made a dozen open records requests to the University System, including one which led to the discovery that about 40,000 emails had been deleted from North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani's account. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is investigating whether they were deliberately deleted and whether open records laws were violated.
"That's the real issue that ought to be talked about," Skarphol said.
The Legislative Council's most recent request seeks all 10 university presidents' emails since last July. It is expected to generate more than 100,000 emails and cost up to $40,000 to fulfill. University System officials have said the request is so broad that it might take until the end of the year to fulfill, prompting some legislators to wonder if it's frivolous and unnecessary.
Shirvani's opponents and supporters in the Legislature acknowledge that the battle didn't end when the state Board of Higher Education bought out the remaining two years of Shirvani's three-year contract for nearly $1 million. The fight has shifted to new ground - emails and open record requests.
"There was a yearlong fight to have the man removed, and there were sides," said Fargo Republican Rep. Kathy Hawken, a vocal Shirvani critic. "They're still there."