By Jesse Wood
Oct. 8, 2014. On Tuesday evening, an ASU spokesman responded to the lawsuit filed Monday by Watauga GOP Chair Anne-Marie Yates against Appalachian State University because it has taken nearly a year to fulfill a public records request.
ASU spokesman Hank Foreman noted that the university takes public records request “very seriously” and its Office of General Counsel is currently in the process of hiring and training additional staff to assist in fulfilling the request that consists of nearly 20,000 emails in the school-email account of Stella Anderson, a local Democrat and former member of the Watauga County Board of Elections.
So far, Cole’s office has reviewed 6,300 emails and provided Yates with 2,110 emails while adding this duty to existing staff’s normal workloads.
“As of this writing, the university has expended more than 170 staff hours in response to the request,” Foreman wrote.
Foreman noted that Yates’ request is the largest received by the university in its history and that when ASU General Counsel Dayton Cole requested that Yates “narrow the scope of the request” to expedite the information, Yates declined – although she did modify the date.
“Appalachian State University has received multiple public records requests from Anne-Marie Yates. For the requests submitted on September 23, 2013 and October 16, 2013, the university has provided the records as requested. On October 18, 2013, Ms. Yates submitted a public record request for all emails in Dr. Stella Anderson’s university email account,” Foreman wrote in an email.
“For the time frame established in Ms. Yates’ request, that faculty account contains 19,275 records that must be reviewed individually to ensure that the submitted emails qualify as public records. The university has a legal responsibility to maintain confidentiality of personnel and student education records, so every record must be reviewed to determine whether the university may disclose it,” Foreman continued.
On Tuesday, Miller released an announcement of the lawsuit and called it a “sad day when a storied state institution such as Appalachian State University decides that it is above the law and chooses to protect the political advocacy of its professors as opposed to open and transparent government.”
The statement from Miller said that it is a “well known fact” that professors at universities are liberals and that the Watauga GOP feels “certain” that ASU has allowed its employees of the state to advocate for political causes while on the clock – spending the taxpayers’ dime.
“The emails that were given do show that this professor did participate in political advocacy at the taxpayers’ expense in violation of North Carolina law. It is anticipated that the rest of the emails will show a lot more instances of political advocacy at the taxpayers’ expense,” the statement from Miller read.
Anderson is currently involved in a lawsuit as a petitioner with other local Democrats against the State Board of Elections, which has a Republican majority and approved a one-stop voting plan for Watauga County that doesn’t include a polling place during early voting on the campus of ASU for the general election. A Wake County Superior judge recently expedited a review of the early-voting implementation plan and a hearing is set for Oct. 10 – just two weeks before early voting is set to begin.
Last December, Anderson, along with two other Democrats, filed a petition to oust Republicans Luke Eggers and Bill Aceto from the Watauga County Board of Elections. That petition was rejected by the State Board of Elections.
See the complaint Miller filed on behalf of Yates here: https://www.hcpress.com/img/Complaint.pdf