Three whistleblowers axed at WSIThree Workforce Safety and Insurance employees who’d sought whistle-blower protection last fall were fired this morning.
By: Janell Cole and Patrick Springer, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Three Workforce Safety and Insurance employees who’d sought whistle-blower protection last fall were fired this morning.
A statement from WSI management and board members said the actions were due to recommendations in a consultants’ report last week
The three are Internal Audit Manager Kay Grinsteinner, Chief of Support Services Jim Long and Human Resources Manager Billi Peltz.
The agency also announced this morning other personnel changes the consultant had recommended, including the demotion of Communications Executive Mark Armstrong and transfer of three other existing positions to its medical case management section.
Long said he would sue the agency and predicted Grinsteinner will, as well.
Long has been on suspension since November and said months ago that he expected to eventually be fired.
He called today’s actions “a clear act of retaliation … for cooperation with law enforcement.” He said it sent a troubling message to all state employees that if they witness illegal or unethical acts, “They had better keep quiet or risk losing their job.”
The WSI board’s Audit Committee terminated Grinsteinner in an 8:30 a.m. meeting, citing a sharply worded recommendation in a report Conolly and Associates presented last week to the WSI board and a legislative committee.
The Conolly report (www.workforcesafety.com/library/documents/reports/ConollyFinalReport.pdf) said in a seven-page section that Grinsteinner’s actions in the past several months “have alienated her from much of the WSI workforce and management (and) … have divested her of the kind of perceived trustworthiness, objectivity and organizational stature necessary to perform effectively.”
Board and Audit Committee member Mark Jackson of Fargo said that conclusion is “crystal clear… and we need to find somebody else.”
Board Chairman and former Audit Committee Chairman Mark Gjovig of Williston said, “I agree. I don’t see any way we can work with her.”
Long and Grinsteinner were both involved in one of what Conolly called “two well-publicized actions” in recent months that were inappropriate for an internal auditor.
Grinsteinner went to the WSI offices after hours last fall and rifled through Communications Executive Mark Armstrong’s desk for a journal he kept after Blunt was charged with crimes in April. She copied it and Long took the copy to the state Crime Bureau and Burleigh County prosecutors, alleging the journal described possible illegal acts. BCI obtained a search warrant but no charges or other actions have ever resulted.
Long claimed the journal hinted at violations of the state open records law and an improper “plot” to remove Burleigh County State’s Attorney Richard Riha for prosecuting Blunt. Armstrong is a Burleigh County commissioner.
Grinsteinner’s other act was to send a memo the state Auditor’s Office alleging that the agency had a pattern of denying or discouraging injured workers’ claims. The action was in violation of the The document became public. Conolly and Associates was hired to study WSI as a direct result of that memo and concluded there was no such pattern.
In both cases, Conolly wrote, Grinsteinner violated her professional obligation to work through the board’s Audit committee.
The Conolly report also criticized WSI’s human resources officials for helping create a sense of fear and mistrust at the agency during a tumultuous period of management reorganization in the first two years of former Executive Director Sandy Blunt’s tenure, 2004-2006. The board fired Blunt in December.
The report said employees “explicitly believe that HR (human resources) and some of the current senior managers were in a position to stop what was happening … but would not confront the CEO.”
Long, whose job as chief of support services included oversight of human resources, said today the criticism wasn’t warranted and that HR workers were powerless to step in when those events were going on.
Cole and Springer work for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Jamestown Sun