November 2, 2010
It's only day two, but one juror has already been excused from the whistleblower trial against the state of North Dakota. Judge Ronald Goodman told the jury to take their vitamins and stay healthy. "We need you, we need you," he said.
James Long took the stand this morning. 41 and greying, but still boyish, Long is a portrait of a self made man who worked his way through high school, college, and two master degrees, all in the state of North Dakota. He obtained a PhD from Capell College, and has been married more than twenty years.
Attorney Tom Tuntland focused more heavily on Long's record as a United States Marine. Long was deployed during Desert Storm/ Desert Shield, but for security reasons could ot say where. There was a big emphasis on the importanace of chain of command. Long said it was not only the right way to do things, but it would keep you alive, and said he learned supervisors are there to help you and do the right thing.
Tuntland established that Long's military discharge papers were part of Long's Workforce Safety and Insurance personnel file.
He then took us through Long's employment record, a few years at Midwest Business Systems, one at Contract America, and then back to Midwest Business Systems. He then interviewed at WSI with Blunt, Sonja Nallie, and Amy Klein. Long says that Blunt asked him directly in the interview what Long would do were he aware of any illegal or unethical activity at WSI, what would he do? Long says he remembers word for word his answer (but I am paraphrasing:) This position pays a lot of money. Part of that compensation is to stick your neck out and do the right thing. It would have to be reported, and I would go through the chain of command. I would go to you, if you didn;t act it would fall on me, and I would have to take it up as far as it would take.
Long's position paid $80,000 per year plus benefits.
(Note: There are no tape recorders or laptops allowed in this courtroom, so I am taking notes by hand and later writing the events of the day. When I write something in quotes, it will be the exact language used in court. But I am not a transcriber, I am just relaying what was said in the best way I can... but it's not word for word.)
Tuntland established that WSI had its own personnel system independent of ND Civil Services, and that Long was an "at will employee." That means the employer or the employee could terminate employment for any reason that was nondiscriminatory (like race or religion) or illegal. One could be fired because they don't like you, and one could quit without a two week notice.
Long then detailed his duties in managing Support and Administrative functions and functions and the many departments he oversaw: HR, IT, Quality, Finance, Training, Facilities Management. He said his management style was "transformational," and he would work wherever there was the most need.
He said he admired Sandy Blunt, he really wanted to work for him. He described the Executive team.
There was a discussion about promotional expenses , that Blunt would question what was or was not promotional expenses.
Long described the difference between internal and external audits and quality assessments: Internal audits are conducted by internal staff inside WSI, they look for fraud and both fiscal and performance irregularities. External audits supplement those audits by looking at problems from the outside, as there could be bias with an employee auditing their own employer, and Quality Assessment recommends changes to implement based on the spirit of the audit.
Long said they had to widen their search for a new Human Resources director, and eventually hired Bille Peltz. He said the Internal Audit job description says they must go by the highest professional ethical standards and a code of ethics is included in the WSI Internal Audit charter. He also said a group called IIAC governs ethical standards for auditors. Kay Grinsteinn was eventually hired as Internal Auditor.
Long testified he had a good deal of Information Technology experience (IT) and that at Blunt's direction, he headed up a more than $8 million dollar project to overhaul WSI's software, and detailed his IT knowledge and the many offices and vendors he had to coordinate to bring the project in on time and on budget, and how he also had to report to an outside agency, the state's Information Techology Department.
Tuntland then brought up the 2005 legislation which gave all state employees a 4% pay increase. Long initially thought WSI was exempt as they had their own pay for performance system. But the State Auditor's office told WSI management they must give out the 4% pay raises. Blunt challenged the conclusion, and the WSI Director of Finance Dave Sandy told Long they had to get it right or they would be in trouble.
Long testified he talked with Jodi Bjornson first about it (said he always talked with Jodi first,) and she said bring it to Blunt. He says Blunt told him this was not how private business is done, and they can "stick it." Long says he advised Blunt the agency was in the middle of an audit, and they should get ir right. He says Blunt told him to call the Attorney General; AG's Tog Anderson advised Long that WSI would have to give the pay raises.
Long says that when he reported this to Blunt, Blunt said he didn't care what the AG said, he was going to go with Halvorson's plan, which was to prorate the pay raises in order to save money.
An audit was going on at the time. Eventually Attorney General Stenehjem called a meeting and "called us on the carpet." Halvorson, Bjornson, Blunt were present. He said Stenejhem said it couldn't be clearer WSI had to go by the statute, and was not happy.