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Workforce Safety and Insurance panel: Let auditor do her job

BISMARCK -- A tense and, at one point, angry meeting Thursday at Workforce Safety and Insurance ended on an upbeat note with its board of directors' Audit Committee voicing support for their internal auditor.

BISMARCK -- A tense and, at one point, angry meeting Thursday at Workforce Safety and Insurance ended on an upbeat note with its board of directors' Audit Committee voicing support for their internal auditor.

"What I see here is this entire group of people needs to work together and we haven't been," said Audit Committee Member Brad Ballweber of Dickinson, referring to the committee, board, senior WSI senior management and employees.

Ballweber said he wanted to see the committee, board and agency move forward to correct any problems, not continue to point fingers.

"It amazes me we can still function," he said.

His statement was a turning point in the meeting, coming after nearly two hours. Others eventually echoed his plea that Internal Audit Manager Kay Grinsteinner be allowed to conduct her auditing duties.

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The committee met to grill Grinsteinner about a memo she wrote spanning four months this year in which she broached questions about whether favoritism and board member involvement wrongly influenced premium rates and safety grants.

The committee had in hand Thursday a separate internal review of the issues she had raised that concluded that none could be substantiated.

Grinsteinner explained several times at Thursday's meeting that her memo was made up of working notes and was not a finished report. She also said it was never meant to be released to the public and that WSI officials released it before she was allowed to finish her inquiries on the topics she raised.

"I was gathering information," she said.

WSI officials released it last week when they determined it was a public record because it had been distributed at a board meeting Nov. 13 that was mistakenly held in private.

"This is not an audit report," Grinsteinner said. "It's more of a brainstorming process to determine risk. I'm in the prevention business here."

Grinsteinner said she attempted to go through the correct channels by giving her working notes to the former Audit Committee chairman, Evan Mandigo of Bismarck for review. Mandigo gave them to WSI Board Chairman Bob Indvik because he was retired from his job and the board. Indvik gave them to board member Mark Gjovig of Williston after naming Gjovig the new Audit Committee chairman.

Gjovig wondered why Grinsteinner would question some of the issues in her memo, including how employers' premiums are figured.

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"Do you not understand this system?" he asked.

Others at the meeting asked why she had not simply settled some of her questions with a phone call instead of a memo that has sparked a storm of publicity and the need for Thursday's meeting. Grinsteinner said she was not responsible for the memo being made public.

"This would not be here today if it had stayed between me and Evan," she said. "These documents should never have been released to management" because some senior managers' work is questioned.

Grinsteinner's lawyer, Mike Geiermann, said later they don't know who gave the notes to WSI managers, and then distributed them to the full board last month

Grinsteinner asked the attorney general early last month for whistleblower protection, fearing that her bringing forward questions about the agency would result in retaliation. She is still working there, but two others who sought protection have been fired or put on suspension.

The tension in the room boiled over after WSI staff counsel Anne Greene reported that Grinsteinner's questions about favoritism in safety grant awards were unfounded and Gjovig and others continued to question Grinsteinner's motives.

Terry Curl, organized labor's representative on the board, erupted, criticizing how Gjovig had been addressing Grinsteinner.

"You've been so disrespectful," he said. "She's told you three or four times those (notes) were private." The AFL-CIO's education organization did not get a grant renewed and Curl felt that decision had never been explained.

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Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Dickinson Press.

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