Jim Long Takes the Stand, Part Four

November 2, 2010

Plaintiff attorney Tom Tuntland asked Long about a 2007 Chamber of Commerce meeting he attended with WSI's Blunt and Halvorson. Long testified that Rep George Keiser was present, as was Jason Strivek, Chair of the Republican Party, among others.

The meeting was conducted by Keiser who told the gathering WSI was the "WSI is the crown jewel of the Republican Party in North Dakota," and was under attack.  He wanted to orchestrate a letter writing campaign, with WSI employees writing letters about WSI. Those letters would go unsigned to Strivek, who would have others sign them and send them to the press.

Long said after the meeting, he was confused about exactly what Strivek wanted.  He says he was walking with Blunt and Halvorson, and told them he was going to give Strivek a call to confirm his needs.  He says he reached for his WSI cell phone when Blunt said no, "If you dial that number from a state phone, we're all going to be cooked." Long testified he did not think much of it.

Long says he happened to be prepping to teach a class that evening on ethics, and read about the Hatch Act, which effectively says public property being used for private purposes is illegal.  He says he called WSI general counsel Bjornson, who he said was like his sister at the time, and asked whether what they were doing was wrong.  He says Bjornson talked with her attorney husband about it, and concurred the letter writing campaign appeared to be a violation of State law.

Long says he took up the matter with Blunt, told him letter writing campaign is in violation of the law, and someone would need to call Keiser. He says Blunt said, "Of course it is."  Long says he told Blunt, "We can't do that."  He says Blunt instantly dismissed him, saying we'll handle it, and shut the door.  Long said he felt like he stepped into something.

Long said there was no formal adverse action, but there was a change in his treatment form then on.  He said ,"it was my opportunity to be part of the good ol boys club, it was a test.  And I failed.  I was too concerned with rules to be trusted."

Next onto something called the Jan Rummings email.  That was a list of everyone's salary at WSI that was sent to all employees.  It was sent from Rumming's external email address at Hotmail.

Tuntland established that the salary information was in the public record, available for anyone who makes an open records request.

Long said Blunt was "ferociously livid" over the email, and that Bjornson told him that Blunt ordered an investigation to find out who had done it.

Tuntland established this email investigation eventually led to criminal indictments against Blunt and Romi Leingang, and the auditor's report led to an investigation of Blunt and other charges.

A representative of the Highway Patrol came into WSI to interview Blunt or Leingang.  Attorney Rob Forward was present at the meeting. 

Long said after the meeting, Blunt told him there were complaints of how poorly Forward had treated the Highway Patrol officer.  Long says Blunt asked him to contact HP and investigate.  Long said he thought Blunt wanted him to smooth things over.  In the end, HP chose to let it go.

Long said he first learned that Blunt and Leingang were charged with felonies when Blunt walked into Bjornson's office (where Long was) and slammed papers down on her desk, and flew off the handle.

Long said the Employee Morale Analysis survey was circulating at the time of Blunt's charges. The report states that "In the middle of the Survey Administration period, a significant event with the CEO took place," and that morale responses were more unfavorable after the event.

A board meeting was held, and it was determines that someone needed to fill Blunt's shoes while he was on leave.  One board member favored Halvorson or Long; Long says he favored Bjornson, and that he really didn't want to be interim CEO as he knew the shelf life of that position, but he would have taken it if asked.  He said he was opposed to Halvorson, as he had legal concerns over nepotism;  He said you can't supervise your own family members, and Halvorson's wife and brother in law both worked at WSI.

Long said he did not campaign to undermine Halvorson, that he liked him personally, but that he was forthright with the board about his concerns, and that Bjornson shared his concerns.

Halvorson was eventually named interim CEO.

Long says the board crafted a resolution in support of Blunt and Leingang, saying their prosecution was politcally motivated.

Tuntland asked whether, when Blunt was put on leave April 18 2007, there were any disciplinary actions against Long.  Long said no, , and there were no complaints in his file, and he had no reason to think he'd be fired.    

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