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Statement from Mayor Mahoney on Attorney General's Open Records Opinion

07/17/2020

As a public entity, The City of Fargo is accountable to the people we serve. We are here to provide comprehensive, quality services each and every day to over 125,000 residents and thousands of visitors. Rest assured - we all take this commitment seriously.

As a municipal government, Team Fargo undertakes extraordinary efforts to be transparent in our processes, decisions and actions. It has always been our policy that members of the media and the public are encouraged to reach out to us and, whenever necessary, make inquiries. Our staff responds to countless telephone calls, emails and visitors every day – that’s our job and we’re proud to do it.

The City also responds to thousands of record requests each year. The City has a responsibility to produce records responsive to requests, while also redacting legally-protected information.

Earlier this week, in response to a complaint submitted by a columnist to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, an opinion was issued that stated The City of Fargo improperly redacted (or did not fully release) some portions of an internal email from Fargo Police Chief Dave Todd to members of the Fargo Police Department in early June. When this email was written, the City was in the midst of recovering from the riots in Downtown Fargo on the preceding weekend and there were threats being made against City infrastructure said to occur in the immediate future.

The City, in response to the original open record request submitted by the columnist, redacted items that it felt constituted information related to security plans and active criminal intelligence. The City and its legal counsel felt these items were redactable, particularly in light of impending threats. The City made these decisions through the lens of protecting citizens, infrastructure and private property. Please keep in mind, at this time, there were even threats to burn down City Hall.

The City of Fargo always strives to comply fully with open records laws. Many aspects and nuances of these laws are subject to interpretation; that is why the review process exists for the Attorney General’s Office to offer its decision. In this specific case, the Attorney General disagreed with the City’s opinion. While we clearly have differing views on this, we respect the decision. The City has provided the full, unredacted email to the requesting columnist and has made the email available on its website as well.

On a broader scale, I think it is important to offer the following thought. It is becoming common practice in today’s society to look at things after the fact and offer unfounded claims; this pertains to more than this email and to more than just Fargo. In the world today – dominated by the trending social media post and things designed to serve as click bait – society seems to be becoming more jaded and more distrusting. I can unequivocally say that The City of Fargo and its various departments try to do the best work possible for you. We will err on the side of caution if we feel the actions ultimately protect our citizens – every single one of you. If a legal opinion requires a remedial course of action as a result, we will undertake such work and learn from it.

The City of Fargo is here to serve you, and we will continue to work diligently to do better each day.