In a 3-to-1 vote, Stark County Commissioners formally accepted the investigation findings clearing one of their own, Ken Zander, of the 19 allegations of sexual harassment, unlawful harassment, workplace harassment, electonric tools policy violations and payroll policy violations which were filed against him this summer.
According to the final investigation report, a probe conducted by investigator KrisAnn Norby-Jahner, of the Vogel Law Firm, found that the allegations levied against Zander lacked sufficient evidence to support a conclusive finding of wrongdoing. Of the 19 allegations, only one was found to have been substantiated — that Zander violated the electronic tools policy.
The identity of the employee who filed the complaint had not been known by the public until Thursday when before a packed crowd at a special meeting of the Stark County Commission, Lisa Heiser, the Stark County Fairgrounds director, calmly approached the podium before speaking.
“I’m standing before this commission and the Stark County residents as the accuser of Commissioner Zander for multiple sexual, verbal and retaliatory acts against me,” Heiser began. “I absolutely have nothing to gain by making this complaint against Commissioner Zander, and really, everything to lose.”
In an address lasting more than five minutes, Heiser called on the commission to reopen the matter following what she considered a poorly conducted investigation. Heiser raised multiple issues with the investigator’s conduct, citing a lack of evidence gathering and witness interviews. Heiser claimed to have in her possession critical evidence that was not used in the investigation, specifically video evidence she claims directly contradicts Zander’s responses to the investigator — chiefly that he was out of the state at the time of one of the incidents.
Heiser said that after she was notified of the findings she decided to come forward publicly and make her identity known. According to Heiser, she was denied a fair, impartial and thorough investigation as provided by law.
Among the complaints levied by Heiser were that the investigator failed to review all the allegations levied; failed to interview several key witnesses to the incidents and did not provide Heiser an opportunity to respond to the responses Zander provided relating to the allegations.
Concerning why she filed the complaints so long after some of the alleged incidents, Heiser said that she followed the county manual on how to properly handle unwanted sexual advances.
“I did this by the book...Mr. Zander’s only words to me was that it must not bother me because I have not done anything about it. That is why I filed my complaint,” Heiser said. “If this was my employee, he would be fired for the things that he’s done to me. The text messages, the statements on recording where he says what he’s done.
“I told him to stop, exposed his acts in front of other people and I confronted his inappropriate behavior directly to him. Then I reported him,” Heiser said. “I was assured by the State’s Attorney Office, during multiple meetings, that they would hire an investigator and that this investigator would be fair to both sides. That it would be neutral and complete. I’m telling you that it is far from complete.”
Speaking with The Press in the week leading up to the commission meeting, Heiser said she was willing to provide the videos to the media to prove alleged inaccuracies in Zander’s responses to the investigator, while highlighting the “failure” of the investigator to conduct an impartial and detailed investigation. According to Heiser, she filed a criminal complaint of sexual assault against Zander with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations on Sept. 30, and that the matter is being independently investigated to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant charges being filed against Zander criminally.
Once Heiser returned to her seat, Zander’s attorney Mike Geiermann, of Geiermann Bergeson & Guler Law Offices in Bismarck, next addressed the commission on behalf of his client.
“I’m from Bismarck and I don’t understand all the local politics of Stark County, and I don’t want to get into the local politics of Stark County. What I want to do is talk about facts, and I want to talk about the procedures that were undertaken to get to the place where we are today,” Geiermann said. “Honestly, if we weren’t dealing with the allegations against a county commissioner we wouldn’t be here. If this was someone working for the county roads department, the auditor's office or the Sheriff’s Department, or just a regular employee, we would not have this crowd, we would not have the press and we would not have you sitting here.”
Geiermann proceeded to defend the investigation and its findings as conducted, citing that it adhered to and went beyond the requirements of Chapter 14 of the employee handbook. Geiermann further commended the State’s Attorney personally for going above the requirements outlined in his securing an independent investigator.
“He went out and got the Vogel law firm, the biggest law firm in North Dakota, they do workplace harassment investigations all the time. They assigned it to KrisAnn Norby-Jahner and she came out and interviewed Mrs. Heiser, witnesses and Mr. Zander...She did an investigation that fulfills the policy and the county is doing exactly what it is supposed to do,” Geierman said. “When you go to the nature and the scope of the investigation, it says that it shall be limited to the inquiry as to the truth or falsity of the specific complaint. Anything after July 6th violates the policy.”
Geiermann then pointed that the investigator and county went above the scope of the investigation and allowed Heiser to bring in other allegations beyond the original July 6 complaint — noting that various allegations were raised after the complaint was filed.
“The investigator that you hired, did a report that went to me and it’s 24 pages long. It includes her analysis of each and every complaint, and I’m not going to stand up here and divide them up, but I am going to say that all these complaints, except one, come from one source, that’s Lisa Heiser,” Geiermann said. “Up to this point the county has followed its policy...when you go to the policy it talks about what you do if an employee is found to have done this and is subject to disciplinary conduct. What can this commission do? Ms. Heiser has asked you to reopen the investigation because she doesn’t like it. I can stand here and tell you that there are portions of that report that Ken Zander doesn’t like either. But he’s willing to live with the results, and what were those results? That he didn’t violate the policies and that there simply wasn’t enough evidence in certain areas to move forward.”
Geiermann argued that the policy doesn’t give the commission the authority to reopen an investigation into a complaint and that instead they should accept the findings and move on.
“If you reopen this investigation for Lisa Heiser and you get other harassment complaints, you’re going to have to open every damn one of them,” Geiermann said. “Because no one is going to be satisfied unless every allegation they make is found to be true.”
Following the conclusion of addresses, commissioners posed questions to both parties before voting 3-1 to accept the findings of the investigation and issue a ‘no contact order’ between Zander and Heiser, with exception to communication had during regular county meetings. The commission did not expressly address Zander’s violation of the electronic tools policy before adjourning.
Following the special meeting, Geiermann spoke on behalf of his client, saying: “It’s time to move forward.”