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Health Dept. spokeswoman resigns over 'rather inappropriate' tweets posted during presidential debate

BISMARCK - The North Dakota Department of Health's top spokeswoman has resigned over comments she inadvertently posted from the department's official Twitter account during Monday's first U.S. presidential debate, calling it a "dreadful mistake."...

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BISMARCK – The North Dakota Department of Health’s top spokeswoman has resigned over comments she inadvertently posted from the department’s official Twitter account during Monday’s first U.S. presidential debate, calling it a “dreadful mistake.”

“It’s inconvenienced and hurt people, and I’m really sorry about it,” Public Information Director Colleen Reinke said in a phone interview Wednesday, Sept. 28.

Reinke offered her resignation immediately after the incident Monday, and it was accepted as of 8 a.m. Wednesday, according to emails provided by Human Resources Director Dirk Wilke in response to an open records request.

Reinke’s tweets during the Monday night debate included “Grow a pair Lester,” an apparent reference to debate moderator Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News, and a comment that Republican candidate Donald Trump’s hair “is weirder than usual.”

The debate was referenced heavily on Twitter, with the social networking platform announcing a record number of tweets during the 90-minute debate.

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Reinke explained in emails that she had grabbed her work phone instead of her personal phone.

“I am in big trouble. During the debate I was tweeting rather inappropriate comments accidentally on my work phone,” she wrote in an email to her bosses, State Health Officer Terry Dwelle and Deputy State Health Officer Arvy Smith, at 9:05 p.m. Monday.

About an hour later, Reinke emailed Dwelle and Smith a statement, which had not been sent out by the department as of Wednesday morning.

“This was a dreadful mistake. The tweets were deleted when the mistake was discovered but not before a great deal of damage was done,” she wrote. “I am sincerely sorry for my actions and have resigned my position effective immediately. The tweets in no way reflect the policies or positions of the department of health and reflect only my own personal views. I apologize to all of my wonderful co-workers … I am so very sorry for causing this mess.”

Reinke was hired as a public information officer on Aug. 12, 2013, and promoted to public information director on March 3, 2014. She was making an annual salary of $59,196 in the director’s role. She was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday while the department reviewed the situation, according an email from Smith.  

Wilke said he believes it was “an honest mistake.”

“I think due to the nature of her position, she kind of understood the impact of her mistake, and that’s why she made the decision she made to resign,” he said.

Reinke, who tweeted Wednesday that her resignation was accepted and “#twittercide complete,” said even if the department had tried to make arrangements for her to stay, she would have refused.

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“I’m the communications director, and this is a communications disaster,” she said, citing the social media users who called for her firing or resignation Monday night. “If I stayed, that would get riled up again and it would be very difficult for me to do my job and for the department to rely on me. That just wasn’t an option.”

The department conducts annual training on appropriate use of social media, Wilke said.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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