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Hostile work environment declared: Investigation of DOT calls for new division director, policy changes

BISMARCK -- An independent investigation of the North Dakota Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Division office recently concluded that a hostile work environment exists -- one generated by stressful conditions and an "overbearing director.

BISMARCK -- An independent investigation of the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Division office recently concluded that a hostile work environment exists - one generated by stressful conditions and an "overbearing director."

The external investigation has resulted in a review of policies and a search for a new director of the Motor Vehicle Division. Prior to the conclusion of the investigation, Linda Sitz, former director of the Motor Vehicle Division, accepted a position in DOT's planning department.

As a result of interviews with 51 current and past motor vehicle division and motor carrier staff as well as management and human resources staff, the investigation, which began in late September, revealed low morale throughout the department caused by rigid policies that were inconsistently applied.

Darcy Rosendahl, deputy director of the DOT, said the morale issue caught him off guard.

“The only really surprising thing was the extent of the morale. We didn’t know that,” Rosendahl said.

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The external investigation, conducted by the North Dakota Human Resource Management Service, not only characterized the agency's work environment as hostile but stressful with high volumes of precise information to process, daily customer interaction and pressure to increase efficiencies.

“There are many state agencies that are experiencing some of these issues due to increased public service demands brought about by the sustained boom in the oilfield,” the HRMS investigation report said. “However, the intense work environment coupled with what appears to be a demanding and overbearing director led to the frustrations, perceptions and problems reported.”

The external investigation stems from a dispute between an employee in the DOT’s Motor Vehicle Division and her supervisor, Tammy St. Vincent, the manager of the Motor Carrier Section.

“We’ve done internal investigations before, this is the first time it’s gone external,” Rosendahl said.

In June 2015, the employee, who was at the time a licensing specialist in the Motor Vehicle Division, was fired following a month-long dispute with St. Vincent over work performance.

Following an internal investigation and subsequent additional evidence provided, the employee was offered and accepted a new position within the DOT in September. At that time, an external investigation was begun to determine whether the Motor Vehicle Division has a hostile work environment as well as what role Sitz had in the employee’s firing.

The HRMS report recommended that Sitz not remain as Motor Vehicle Division director and St. Vincent could return to her role, if given additional training. St. Vincent returned to her position after working on another assignment for the past few months. Neither have returned multiple calls for comment.

Recommendations on policy changes including overtime, breaks and visitors to the work area have been reviewed and addressed by Mark Nelson, the deputy director for Driver Vehicle Services, Rosendahl said.

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“Mark Nelson has been providing leadership to the Motor Vehicle Division during this investigation period. He has changed or modified all of the policies mentioned,” Rosendahl said.

Rosendahl said a large DOT software upgrade is being completed and work on distributing new license plates to motorists will be completed within the next several months. Nelson will continue providing oversight of the Motor Vehicle Division director until these projects are done, said Rosendahl, adding that he expects a new division director to be hired in the coming months as these projects are nearing completion.

Policies on employment practices are regularly reviewed, but Rosendahl agreed with the recommendation that they should be looked at to see if improvements can be made. Recommended policy changes for human resources and disciplinary processes also can be improved, according to Rosendahl, who added that more can be done to utilize the information from exit interviews of staff to detect possible problem trends.

“We will work with HRMS in this area and look at what other agencies have in place to see where we can strengthen and improve,” Rosendahl said.


The Bismarck Tribune is in a media partnership with Forum News Service.

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