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Originally published: 2014-03-15 15:38:13
Last modified: 2014-03-15 15:41:36

Watauga GOP chairwoman: ASU stalling on records request

by Anna Oakes

The Watauga County Republican Party chairwoman said Friday she believes Appalachian State University is stonewalling her request for a professor's email records, but ASU officials said the request has not yet been fulfilled because it involves the review of thousands of documents.

Anne-Marie Yates appealed to the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors in a letter Friday, asking for the board's assistance in obtaining public records she said she originally requested last fall and resubmitted Jan. 10.

Local conservatives (including the blog A Watauga Conservative) cried foul last fall when they alleged that ASU employees discussed via their ASU email accounts their support for retaining the Boone 2 polling place at the university's student union instead of moving it to ASU's Legends night club -- a decision enacted by the Republican-led Watauga County Board of Elections.

The employees called into question by the blog included ASU Director of Student Programs Dave Robertson and Stella Anderson, an ASU professor, Democrat and former county board of elections member. The blog -- as well as Watauga County commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller, who sent a letter to BOG Chairman Peter Hans in October -- asserted that the use of university property in drafting the emails violated state law barring political activity by state employees.

In her letter, Yates said she submitted a public records request for Anderson's emails in October 2013 and weeks later received a response from ASU general counsel Dayton Cole asking her to be more specific in her request. Yates said she reduced the scope of the request and resubmitted it on Jan. 10, but she has yet to receive the requested records.

"I can only conclude that this is an attempt to stonewall my efforts to gain information in either an attempt to erase any damaging content in Ms. Anderson's email account or in the hopes I will abandon my request," Yates wrote.

Yates said she did not wish to pursue legal action against the state, but noted that the court system is her only remaining option.

ASU spokesman Hank Foreman said Friday that the university fully intends to provide Yates with public records in accordance with state and federal law, but that the request, even as revised, "still requires detailed analysis of the largest number of documents of any public record request the university has received to date."

ASU, a state university, is required by state and federal laws to provide public records, but also must redact information that would breach the confidentiality of personnel and student education records, Foreman noted.

"The university categorically denies that there has been any effort to stonewall its response to Ms. Yates' request or erase any public record except in accordance with applicable law and university record retention schedules approved by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources," he said.

Anderson said that she had been informed by Cole of the public records request and of the complaint made by Miller.

"I think it's a statement that they wish to make apparently against the university as a whole (and) I think they also wish to harass and intimidate me because of my actions advocating for greater voting opportunity," Anderson said.

"But I won't be intimidated. I am acting as a private citizen; I am not acting as a university official. I have every right to act on my own time for whatever I want to advocate for," Anderson said.