November 10, 2010
Ripplinger is the current HR Director for the City of Minot and was appointed to the WSI Board by Governor Hoeven in 2004. Ripplinger stated that she was unaware Long had taped their conversation about Long's problems with Halvorson and felt that it was hurtful as she gave information regarding her husband's health. She said she had listened to that taped conversation just yesterday. She said that she'd asked Long whether he had recorded everybody regarding the pre-investigation notifications because it's important to treat everyone the same way, but if it were learned that he taped only the only two African-Americans at WSI, it showed poor judgment. Bakke noted that within the conversation Long had said that Halvorson was putting his career in jeopardy, was hostile, intimidating, was invovled in stinky stuff, and needed to not be the CEO. He asked Ripplinger's reaction. She said that she felt Long was upset and had a problem with Halvorson. Bakke asked whether his comments suggested illegality or violations of the law. Ripplinger replied, no.
She recalled Long did say he had filed a whistleblower complaint, that that came of no surprise because he was having a one on one with Halvorson, felt that his reprimand had not been deserved, and disagreed with Halvorson's management style. Ripplinger felt that Halvorson's reaction was appropriate as the taping of two African-Americans created another issue WSI did not need.
Ripplinger said Long needed to work it out with the CEO as that was his chain of command, that she did not wish for him to upset the apple cart, meaning you go above your boss' head as a last resort. She said she did recommend Long talk with board chair Indvik because as he'd already come to her she didn't think he should go to other board members, but going to the chair would be appropriate.
Bakke referred to Long's question as to whether he could trust Bob with this information and she said Invik had never shown her a reason not to trust him. She also said that from an HR standpoint, Long having contacted her directly was insubordinate conduct. Bakke pointed out that Long had said, about Halvorson, that he was outwardly hostile and sees me as a threat, and that he went to Risk Management and filled out a report under the whistleblower act. He asked Ripplinger if being openly hostile is a basis for filing a whistleblower complaint. She replied, she did not think that was illegal activity and also that as being seen as a threat was not a basis for a whistleblower complaint.
Long attorney Tom Tuntland then questioned Ripplinger. He established that when Long called her, it was clear he was looking for advice from her because of her HR knowledge.
Ripplinger said that the pre-investigation notification process was generally less formal then what Long had done, but did concede that Long told her there had been previous investigations of one of the subjects. She said tape recording to protect oneself was legally correct.
With regard to Halvorson's reprimand, a written reprimand would go into the personnel file whereas an oral may not.
Tuntland established that if a WSI executive who reported to the CEO was having difficulty with the CEO there was no procedure in the employee handbook regarding that. Ripplinger did say that the executive would risk his job if he went over the CEO's head.
Tuntland: We had Blunt charged with crimes. If an executive suspects the CEO of criminal activity, do they go to the board, the police, or what?
Ripplinger: If he's sure of his facts, he should go to the chairman of the board.
Tuntland: But the board passed a resolution supporting Sandy, saying the prosecution was political, right?
Tuntland: Without any investigation as to whether he was guilty or innocent?
Tuntland established there was a "no retaliation policy" against investigators at WSI.
Ripplinger stated she had never tape recorded anything, but was aware others do, and that she was not aware that North Dakota is a one person consent state until Long told her. She said she was aware the police would record interviews.
Defense attorney Bakke asked whether when tape recording is used the parties would be so advised. She said that most people did not know they could be recorded and she would be concerned about one sided recording.
Attorney Tuntland then clarified that the Minot police have an interrogation room with a video camera, and that people are not being told that they are being recorded.