Friday, November 16, 2007


In a Fargo Forum commentary on November 1 and Grand Forks Herald on November 4, I wrote about the seizure of a personal journal from the desk of WSI executive Mark Armstrong on the same day that a criminal charge against WSI (Workforce Safety and Insurance) Executive Director Sandy Blunt was dropped by the prosecutor.

I asked, “What was the probable cause to seize a personal and private journal?”

On November 15, The Forum obtained the transcript of Special Agent Mike Quinn’s (NDBCI) testimony used to establish probable cause for the warrant.

Quinn testified obtusely that he received copies of journal pages from James Long, WSI’s chief of support services who said he got the “notebook” from Armstrong’s office. Long said the notebook was in the center desk drawer of Armstrong’s desk.

The judge asked Quinn bluntly, “And did this person say that he had gone into someone’s private desk and taken something out and photocopied it?” Quinn responded, “Yes, ma’am.”

Quinn testified that two isolated sentences in the journal, open to interpretations bound only by one’s imagination, justified the warrant: “Got the secret documents out. Lengenfelder (friend of Armstrong) did the deed but ran into Dave Thompson (a reporter with North Dakota Public Radio) in the press room.”

Quinn testified, apparently referring to the two sentences: “…there is a notation in here that Mark Armstrong was involved with removing secret documents from Workforce Safety….” I think that interesting paraphrase of “Got the secret documents out,” which assumed illegal activity, and the prosecutor’s leading questions to a befuddled Quinn to try to establish a conspiracy theory that connected suspicions about earlier missing emails (said not missing by Bob Indvik, chairman of the WSI board) to the “secret documents” entry reflected the prosecution’s pre-existing mindset and wishful thinking, not the context of the entire journal. The journal contains several references to a media campaign to exonerate Blunt. I understood “out” to mean distributed, not taken from WSI, when I read the journal because of those references and the mention of the “press room.”

Mark Armstrong on November 15:

Q. Getting secret documents "out" could mean "out" of WSI or "out" as in "distributed." Which did you mean?
A. This was a joke reference. Sandy Blunt wanted the media to report on this story from his perspective. As a WSI employee I was prevented from discussing his case. So, I could not directly assist him in getting his story out. As a result, my good friend Kris Lengenfelder…agreed to deliver Sandy's documents that he created on his home computer about why the charges against him were bogus to the local media. We joked that he was like "Deep Throat" and the "carrying secret documents"...they were in no way anything created from WSI. When I saw the journal after it was seized and thankfully photo-copied to me by Detective Quinn I knew that reference was going to be misinterpreted. That's why I wanted to call a news conference about it.

Q Why do you think they needed a warrant to get the journal if they already had a copy?
A That a good question. I think because they knew they got it violating company policy and thought it best to get it "legally….”

Q As they had a copy of your journal, why do you think the officer didn't simply come and interview you about the passage in question?
A Good question.

Q Now that Mr. Long admits rifling your desk, what will happen from a disciplinary perspective? A He is not the one who admitted to doing that in our internal investigation, which was completed on Wednesday. Someone else said they did that, Kay Grinsteinner, the Internal Auditor. She said she entered my office without permission, took the journal, photo copied it and gave it to Jim Long.

Q I read the transcript again and it seems clear that Quinn identifies Long as the person who took the journal from your desk? Why the difference between his testimony and the internal report?
A. Good question.

The findings of the WSI report of investigation prepared by Rob Forward, WSI staff attorney say, in part:

“Kay Grinsteinner entered Mark Armstrong’s office without permission on the evening of October 15 or 16, 2007, and searched it for specific items. She found his journal, which she was not searching for, in his desk drawer. She was concerned about its contents so she ran a copy of it and returned the journal to Mark’s desk. Kay gave a copy of the journal to Jim Long. On the day that Kay searched Mark’s office, she went home at the end of her regular work-day and later returned around 7pm with the specific intent of entering Mark’s office when no one was around.”

Grinsteinner admitted the above in a signed summary of her interview with Forward dated November 13, 2007. No concerns on her part justify her actions, which destroyed her credibility as a whistleblower.

Long told Forward he got the journal from Grinsteinner—documented and signed in his summary of interview. That is not what agent Quinn testified to. Did Long lie to Quinn?

I believe four things:

The prosecutors try too hard to get Blunt and damage their credibility.

Some whistleblowers need to have the whistle blown on them; they must be held accountable for their actions.

I don’t want to be one of agent Quinn’s secret informants—exposed for all to see.

If Quinn’s flimsy testimony justified a search warrant, we all better clean out our offices.

PS: Jim Long was placed on administrative leave on November 15, 2007.
Investigator and whistle-blower Todd Flanagan was fired on December 5, 2007
CEO Sandy Blunt was fired on December 6, 2007
A request for services is made for organizational consultants to submit proposals to look
at WSI management, human resources, and claims processes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Nov. 14, 2007

Dear Mr. Bernstein:

Now retired, I spent about 40 years as a Secret Service agent, senior executive at the Star Tribune Newspaper in Minneapolis, and independent organizational consultant who specialized in leadership and transformational change in several markets.

Along the way I completed a Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change. I write extensively about leadership and organizations and have a large and global following of readers. My Pamphlets can be found at my site:

I've written four commentaries about WSI (Workforce Safety and Insurance) over the past year, based on what I've read in the newspapers. One was published in both The Fargo Forum and The Grand Forks Herald and another in The Grand Forks Herald. All are available at my blog:

Below is the most recent, which I sent to WSI, all state senators and representatives, and the regional newspapers. I posted it on my blog ( and on my internet site.

Based on what I wrote below, I was really pleased to see the governor's announcement last Friday (Nov. 9, 2007) "to bring in outside consultants for a comprehensive review of the troubled agency's operations...."

Spokesman Don Canton said, "It should include any and all issues, including the claims issue." He added, "The investigation needs to be thorough, it has to be transparent and it has to be inclusive."

Bringing in consultants of national repute was also mentioned--as did I in my last commentary for they will bring the credibility needed.

Since last Friday (November 9, 2007), the focus in the media has been on a consultant to review the claims process and an attorney to deal with the whistleblower issue. I think each of these important.

I imagine reasonable people can disagree about claims philosophy but serious charges have been made that cut to the core of the WSI mission and need to be taken seriously for there to be public trust.

I have concerns, as I wrote in a previous commentary, about the quality of some whistleblower claims. I think the claims and motivations of those seeking protection need to be examined closely and then they need to be protected or fired as is appropriate.

So far so good.

But, if that is all that is done, I suggest that everyone will have missed the primary question and issue and WSI will soon be in trouble again.

A leadership and cultural assessment is needed at WSI to get to the root causes that lead to the above symptoms of distress within the organization.

What in the culture and leadership of WSI (and in the political and legal communities) led the agency to this place of distress?

My experience and organizational data say a leader cannot lead an organization from decline to renewal once credibility and trust are destroyed. Is Mr. Blunt in a position to lead WSI effectively?

It is a given that serious conflict exists in the community and within WSI between employee groups. Can that be healed? A trained, experienced consultant can evaluate that situation and provide methods and facilitation to help mend relationships or tell you which ones cannot be treated.

An experienced consultant can take organizational structure and reporting relationships out of the political realm and make appropriate recommendations based on organizational effectiveness.

I've assessed organizations for about 30 years, quite effectively based on the eventual outcomes. My experience is that the problems on the surface are rarely those that the consultant finds as the true causes of the organizations distress.

Unquestionable new skills, knowledge, and talents are needed to change how the organization is led, how people follow, and how people engage together. An employment attorney and/or a claims review person cannot provide these skills, talents, and knowledge.

Employment attorneys deal with employment law and strategy; claims people examine the process of making a claim and evaluate decision-making. Talented organizational consultants evaluate organizational dynamics, leadership, and culture and provide facilitation, methods, and experience to leaders and followers. Experienced organizational consultants deal with people, leadership, and change.

This organization requires a serious, competent, and complete assessment of its leadership, followership, and culture and then professional help to change as well as help in dealing with whistleblowers and the claims allegations.

You need a team of experts to look into WSI (maybe even more than the three I've listed), guided by a credibly steering committee empowered to make decisions.

The state auditor came up with more than 200 recommendations in last year's audit. But that seemed to be more problem solving; problems that reflected deeper organizational dynamics, which remained unidentified and/or unarticulated--like removing tumors without treating the underlying cancer or putting a new facade on an old building with faulty wiring. In each case, the outside looks good, while the inside continues to rot away.

True transformation requires a fundamental and sustainable change in vision, values, and operating practices, not just making symptoms go away.

In my opinion, 200 recommendations reflect an inability to prioritize issues--no one can deal effectively with 200 issues at one time and new issues are added every day in a rapidly changing world. I can go into any organization and find 200 issues that need work. That is easy.

The challenge is to find a few things to focus on that give the organization tremendous leverage to grow its effectiveness, efficiency, and people.

In the aftermath of that audit, some say that the auditor's office became involved in politics. If that is true, they should be disqualified from this process and from future audits.

I always write and say, "In the end, it is always about leadership." I believe that but I want to be sure in this case that Mr. Blunt is not more a victim than a villain of internal and external political forces before I want to see him replaced. It seems that plenty of villains are involved in this--the biggest mess I’ve ever seen in an organization.

So, my hope is that the group selected does what the initial statement called for: a broad review of any and all issues, including the claims issue by outside consultants of national repute. A review that is thorough, transparent, and inclusive.

And seeks only truth and justice.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


(See the previous blog for more about WSI)

It’s been a difficult year at WSI (Workforce Safety and Insurance): negative internal audits and employee surveys, criminal charges later dismissed, employee whistleblowers, and search warrants, plots and conspiracies.

And that is only what we read in the newspapers. I assure you, what you see in the lethargic newspapers is only the tip of the iceberg of the troubles within WSI. This is an organization in serious distress for reasons broad and varied.

Morale is low and productivity suffers. People are too preoccupied with what happened yesterday and anxious about what will happen tomorrow to concentrate on their work today. People take their frustrations out at home, and suffer stress symptoms. Yet, despite the difficulty, many people do good things—for WSI, for workers, for employers, and for one another. Adversity truly is the test of our goodness.

The Gallup organizations reported that 74 percent of American workers are disengaged clock-watchers who cannot wait to go home at night. They sleepwalk through their workday putting time but not energy or passion into their work. Fully 19 percent of employees are actively disengaged—employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

I wonder what the percentages of disengaged and actively disengaged employees are at WSI.

What to do?

Based on my 40 years experience as a senior executive at the Star Tribune newspaper, academic (Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change), organizational consultant specializing in leadership and organizational transformation, globally-read writer about leadership and organizations ( and Secret Service agent, I suggest:

1. Do not knee-jerk into reorganization as called for by The Fargo Forum in an editorial on October 30, 2007. The calls to return control of WSI to the governor remind me of the quote of Petronius Satyricon in the First Century A.D.:

Beginning to form up into teams, we would be
reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we
tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing. . .
and a wonderful method it can be of creating the
illusion of progress while producing inefficiency
and demoralization.

Any changes in structure/reporting relationships should come from expert recommendations for organizational effectiveness, not politics.

2.Understand that all involved bear their share of responsibility for the mess at WSI: employees (past and present), the legislature, the board of directors, the management team, the North Dakota auditor's office, the Burleigh County attorney’s office, and the local media whose lethargic failure to investigate the Burleigh County attorney and to dig deeply into what is happening at WSI explains partially why newspapers are in decline.

3. WSI needs to undergo a brutally honest assessment and soon. This assessment should be done by outside, experienced, and independent consultants who have no “dog in the fight” and who have the courage to tell the truth to the various people in power--consultants who know what they are talking about.

I recommend the Gallup Organization. Gallup has powerful research about how to grow an engaged workforce where “employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.”

State leaders could use the WSI fiasco to elevate not only WSI but the entire state government through Gallup with direct impact on budget, productivity, customer service, and the retention of the best employees. The one-time cost for Gallup would be offset by annual savings and other benefits that far exceed the initial investment.

4. Assessments by professional and detached consultants who are educated, experienced, and knowledgeable and only interested in finding the truth of the organization to help it grow go below the surface and the headlines and provide a broad and deep diagnosis and recommendations for systemic change. Everyone gets their share of critical feedback. Recommendations include replacement of employees, structural changes, developmental needs for all concerned, and reporting relationships.

5. Competent external consultants should replace credibility-challenged state auditors and conduct the follow-up to the 2006 internal audit in 2008. Experienced and unbiased consultants can put issues in context and separate the important from the insignificant and will, in 2008, remove the 2006 audit from politics.

6. Citizens of North Dakota should ask the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court to investigate the conduct of the Burleigh County attorney to determine if professional and ethical standards have been violated in this case (Secretary of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court, 600 East Boulevard Avenue, Dept. 180, Bismarck, ND 58505-0530).

7. It is easy to scapegoat Sandy Blunt. I suggest people avoid the temptation. I despise bad leadership; I hate the sabotage of decent people even more. I have serious concerns about the actions, ethics, and motivations of many involved in this sad situation and an assessment can sort it all out. I suspect Blunt is as much or more a victim than a bad leader; the assessment can answer whether he can lead WSI through a process of renewal.

I hope North Dakota leaders will do their jobs and will put a process in place that will be fair to all concerned—a process interested only in truth, justice, and renewal of WSI. In the process North Dakota can elevate the state’s management thinking, knowledge, and skills to 21st century levels.

In the meantime leaders at WSI, at all levels, should lead and people who care should speak up.

Postscript: On November 9, 2007, North Dakota Governor John Hoeven urged the WSI board to bring in outside consultants of national repute for a comprehensive review of the agency's operations. "It should include any and all issues...The investigation needs to be thorough, it has to be transparent and it has to be inclusive, said Don Canton, Hoeven's chief spokesman.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


This commentary appeared in The Fargo Forum on November 1, 2007 and the Grand Forks Herald on November 4, 2007.

See the previous blog for more on WSI.

On April 1, 1940, Attorney General Robert H. Jackson addressed United States Attorneys:

"The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous. He can have citizens investigated and, if he is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public statements and veiled or unveiled intimations.

What every prosecutor is practically required to do is to select the cases for prosecution and to select those in which the offense is the most flagrant, the public harm the greatest, and the proof the most certain."

Bismarck, North Dakota in 2007:

Many things are rotten at WSI (Workforce Safety and Insurance) to paraphrase the editorial headline in the October 30, 2007 Fargo Forum. This commentary is about one stinky element of the situation.

Burleigh County State’s Attorney Richard Riha charged WSI Executive Director Sandy Blunt with two counts of misapplication of funds for allegedly misspending WSI funds. The frivolous charges were dismissed after a preliminary hearing—an embarrassment for the prosecutor.

Blunt and Special Investigations Director Romi Leingang were also charged with conspiracy to disclose confidential driver’s license photos. The county attorney dropped the charges before arraignment—another embarrassment for the prosecutor.

Are these prosecutions “in which the offense is the most flagrant, the public harm the greatest, and the proof the most certain.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Cynthia Feland intimated that WSI attorney Jodi Bjornson withheld information and/or changed her testimony thus the dismissal of the conspiracy charges. Bjornson said she was defamed by Feland. State’s Attorney Riha agreed that Bjornson’s testimony in two depositions was consistent.

“Veiled or unveiled intimations” by prosecutors in public statements abuse prosecutorial power because they damage the reputations of citizens and often hide failings of the prosecutor.

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation executed a search warrant at WSI and seized a journal of WSI executive Mark Armstrong accused of “plotting” the removal of Burleigh County State’s Attorney Riha.

On October 30, 2007, a Fargo Forum editorial scapegoated the journal as “…evidence of the bunker mentality, arrogance, and dysfunction of WSI’s senior management” and “a never-executed conspiracy” and people mentioned in the journal as “conspirators” and “Corruption is not too strong a word to describe the attitudes reflected in Armstrong’s journal….” And “a condescending insult.”

I read the 20-page handwritten journal that recaps events during the three weeks after Blunt and Leingang were charged. The comments about the Burleigh County state’s attorney are a handful of sentences in the journal—certainly not worthy of the extreme, bombastic, and expansive comments in The Forum editorial. The “conspiracy” was small potatoes, I am sure, compared to the strategizing that went on in the Burleigh County attorney’s office as they “plotted” the charges against Blunt and Leingang.

On what basis was a search warrant sought and approved? What was the probable cause to seize a personal journal? This Gestapo-like tactic should concern all citizens.

It is the right and duty of citizens in a democracy to strategize how to lawfully remove officials who abuse their power.

Where is the media? Where is the search for truth and justice? Where are the aggressive questions, investigations, and news reports about the prosecutor’s use of power? Has the county attorney wasted money and the court’s time in bringing charges best handled by the WSI Board and the political process? Has the search warrant become a political tool? Have lives, families, and careers been damaged cruelly and unnecessarily by acts and intimations of the prosecutor’s office?

I wonder what Attorney General Jackson would think.

PS: On November 7, 2007, The Fargo Forum reported that the search warrant affidavit was obtained. In the affidavit in support of the warrant, Special Agent Mike Quinn of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, wrote that he had reason to believe that a "stenographer style spiral bound notebook constitutes evidence of the commission of a criminal offense." Quinn did not elaborate. It will be interesting to see where this goes. Back in my day as a Secret Service agent in Chicago, search warrants required a whole lot more information to justify a search for a personal journal.

PSS: On November 15, 2007 The Fargo Forum obtained and published the affidavit for the search warrant. The affidavit identified one of the whistleblowers as the person who went into Mark Armstrong's (Communications Director at WSI) office, searched his desk, copied the journal, and then gave it to the authorities. The affidavit offered, in my opinion, very flimsy justification for a warrant--the drama continues.