Armstrong calls John Halvorson


November 15, 2010

John Halvorson has worked for WSI since 1994, and haas held a variety of postions including Research Analyst, Chief of Employee Services, Interim Director (twice) and is currently the COO.

Defense attorney Mitch Armstrong asked about the 4% pay raise issue,  Halvorson said that WSI had its own pay system and that when the legislature passed a 4% pay raise for all ND employees, it was an oversight that WSI was not included.  He said that WSI had an opinion from the AG about the pay raises, and they worked with the AG to implement them.  He said that many WSI employees got double pay raises as a result.

When asked about the issue of Dave Spencer getting contact information from his computer which aided him in a new grant writing business, Halvorson said that he took over Spencer's position and forwarded his emails to him.  He testified that beyond the 11 or twelve names supplied to Spencer by Bunt and Long, there was no other issue.  he said it was illegal for employer informmation to be given, and that he did, on Blunt's request call Spencer to ask whether he had employer information. Spencer said he did not.

Halvorson acknowledged that after Blunt was charged with felonies, he was named interim CEO.  He said he was not paid extra for the position, as he advised the chair he did not want to bring more scrutiny to the agency.

As to the issue of nepotism, Halvorson said that legal vetted the issue and the Board determined it to be a non-issue.

He said as interim CEO, he had daily discussions with Board Chair Indvik to keep him in the loop as to day to day and stories which could hit the media.

As to the issue of Long and Peltz, he had notes dated May 4 2007 that there was a wdiespread perception of an innappropriate relationship between them.  He took advice of General Counsel Jodi Bjornson and advised Indvikof his plan of action.  He met with Long, with Forward as a witness, advised Long of the perception, and told him if it continued, he would have to move HR out of Long's supervision.  He saw some immediate corrective action, but said there was slippage over a few months.  This he said casued concerns, especially given the State Audit's report of perceptions of favoritism. 

He said he made notes of this and put them into a Critical Incident File, which did not go into Long's personnel file.  He said when he conducted Long's mid year review, he cited there was more time spent with some "direct reports" than others, and this referred to Peltz.

In June 2007 an ICF report was issued on the agency.  It said there were perceptions of favoritism in Support Services, the area Long oversaw.  It said 3/5 of support services employees do not think management understands employee issues and do not think unprofessional behavior was disciplined.

Halvorson talked at length about Long's tape recording of Nallie and Hutchings, both of whom lodged complaints of being the only two people who were recorded and the only two African Americans at WSI.  He said he talked with Denise ?Hallson? at the Village about her take on it. He said she said she was appalled.  Halvorson says he talked to Long, who sid he was intimidated and had recorded on the advice of Rob Forward, but Halvorson still told him it was poor judgement and said there would be no more tape recording allowed at WSI.  He said Nallie withdrew her complaint, but Hutchings did not.  He said he told Long he was trying to break down barriers at WSI, not build them.

Regarding the tape recording Long made of his conversation with Peltz, Halvorson said Long's remarks made him angry and that he felt Long's name calling was insubordinate conduct.

Halvorson talked about the ITTP project, saying he thought Doug Hintz would be a good member of the team.  He said he did not feel Long kept him in the loop on the project, and said he was the executive sponsor of the project, so the buck stopped with him.   He wrote Long a letter responding to his request for more autonomy, saying that Long's "judgment and decisions have been in question in recent months," and he was not inclined to give Long more authority.

He then said that Long sent an email to the board, attaching the Justin Data email which had expressed concerns about management of the ITTP project.  He was not copied on that email, and Long had not sent the Data email to him personally.

Halvorson then talked about Long's personnel file, saying that his annual and mid year reviews were included, but that the "critical Incident" file Halvorson had created was not.

With regard to the Chamber of Commerce meeting, Halvorson said it was to get positive things out to the press about WSI.  He denied that George Keiser had said "WSI is the Crown Jewel of the Republican Party."

He said he had the ICF report, the issue with Peltz, the ITTP project problem, and the tape recording issue, a series of events which led him to write a critical incident report, which he shared with general Counsel Jodi Bjornson.  He decided to contact an outside Human Resources specialist Hunter Lott about terminating Long.  Armstrong established the Halvorson emailed Lott October 3, 2007, and had a phone consultation with him October 4.

Armstrong established that Halvorson had a meeting with AG's employment expert Tag Anderson on October 11, 2007 to discuss terminating Long.  Anderson advised him to put down on paper an outline of Halvorson's reasons for firing Long.  He did so, and delivered the document to Anderson on October 17.  (Long filed his whistleblower protection request October 20.)

The Critical Incident document included reports of innappropriate touching, the inability to accept direction, that Long was undermining Halvorson's authority, and other items. Halvorson concluded that "for the good of the organization, the working relationship has to end."

Halvorson said after charges against Blunt had been dropped, Long filed his whistleblower protection request, and Blunt returned to WSI, he was forced to take a step back and put Long on paid administrative leave.

When asked whether the agency had investigated Long's allegations, Halvorson said that to the extent they knew law enforcement was investigating, they stayed away.

Armstrong went through Long's specific allegations.  The first was on the Spencer sick leave issue; it was established that issue had been dealt with prior to Long's complaint.  The second was about the 4% pay increases; that issue also had been resolved.  The third was the nepotism issue, which Halvorson said had been resolved. 

The fourth and fifth were a conspiracy to oust prosecutor Richard Riha, and circumvention of open records laws.  These two dealt with the Armstrong journal, and Halvorson testified that neither Long nor Grinsteinner asked his permission to conduct a search.

Halvorson talked about the Connaly and Marsh reports, saying WSI's board selected those groups in conjunction with Governor Hoeven's office.  He said they were announced before Long was put on paid leave.

He said three weeks after being put on leave, Long began contacting the media, and that WSI received Long's 30 page manifesto through Dave Wetzel of Associated Press, which he had been provided by Long's attorney Tuntland.  He said it ignited a media firestorm.

Halvorson referred to a letter sent to Long , as advised by counsel, to try to provide a way for Long to return to WSI, but at that point, he said it would have taken a lot of convincing to bring him back.  he said Long wrote back an 18 page defiant response where he mentioned injured workers claims; Halvorson said Long never worked with claims.  The document also said that, as far as Long knew, he had a good relationship with management until he went to law enforcement.  This letter was copied to legislators, including Senators Dorgan and Conrad, and the media.

Halvorson said he wrote another letter to Long, detailing several problems he'd had with Long. 

He said that he then met with his executive team to determine whether Long could return.  He said the team unanimously said no.

Armstrong then presented the Connally report, which said to restore leadership and trust to the HR function.  Long supervised HR.  It also called out CEO Blunt for failure of judgment in senior management selections.  The report was dated March 5, 2008.  

Long was terminated March 12, 2008.  Halvorson said Long's position was eliminated after that.

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