Fargo finance chief has history of yelling, creating toxic work environment, records show
As finance director, Terri Gayhart is one of 23 members of the Mayor’s Cabinet. Her responsibilities include budgeting, accounting, pensions and special assessment administration.
FARGO — The city of Fargo's finance director hired less than a year ago has a documented history of complaints related to yelling at employees and creating a toxic work environment, according to personnel files obtained by The Forum through public records requests.
Finance Director Terri Gayhart was put on paid administrative leave on March 31 by Fargo City Administrator Michael Redlinger, according to city records.
Redlinger wrote a letter to Gayhart on March 31 before an internal investigation of her began, saying: “We will be conducting an investigation into reports of a toxic work environment within the finance department, as well as deficient performance as the finance director.”
The Fargo City Commission selected Gayhart from a field of 18 applicants. In April 2022, a 10-member selection committee interviewed her and asked leadership, technical and behavioral questions.
When asked if Fargo leaders were aware of Gayhart's prior work complaints before hiring her, city spokesman Gregg Schildberger said the city used the services of an executive search firm to recruit, screen and perform a background check on Gayhart.
Schildberger declined to comment further because of the ongoing investigation, but he said the city “routinely conducts comprehensive prescreening and background checks” on people they hire.
The Forum filed public records requests with three of the cities where Gayhart was previously employed: Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin; Odessa, Texas; and Las Cruces, New Mexico; and additionally with the city of Fargo.
Gayhart’s resume shows that she took a job as finance director and treasurer for the city of Burlington, Wisconsin, from 2000 to 2006. She then became a controller from 2006 to 2013 at Milwaukee Area Technical College. She later became the finance director for the village of Mount Pleasant from 2013 to 2015, and held the same title in Odessa from 2015 until 2019.
From 2019 until 2021, Gayhart worked as the finance director for Las Cruces, and later as the finance director for the American Quarter Horse Association in Amarillo, Texas, before moving to Fargo.
The Forum's attempts to contact Gayhart by phone and email for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
In May 2022, Gayhart replaced longtime Fargo finance director Kent Costin, who retired. Gayhart was hired with an annual salary of $169,215.
As finance director, Gayhart is one of 23 members of the Mayor’s Cabinet. Her responsibilities include budgeting, financial reporting, treasury, cash management, debt administration, accounting, special assessment administration, risk management and pensions, according to the city’s website .
Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin
The village of Mount Pleasant hired Gayhart on Nov. 12, 2013, according to Mary Cole, Mount Pleasant's human resources director.
In August 2015, village trustees went into a closed-door session to talk about Gayhart's employment, the Racine County Eye , a local newspaper, reported.
Gayhart's employment with the village of Mount Pleasant ended on Aug. 7, 2015, Cole said. It's unclear whether Gayhart quit or was fired.
Seeking further information on Gayhart's departure from the Mount Pleasant job, The Forum filed a public records request with Cole. Cole said no information could be released until Gayhart’s statutory time frame to review the records had elapsed, which was anticipated to be in the middle of May, as required by Wisconsin law.
Gayhart was hired by the city of Odessa with an annual salary of $120,000. Less than a year into her employment, however, finance department employees filed complaints against her, city records show.
Three members of the finance department filed a complaint against Gayhart and a personal improvement plan was made for Gayhart around October 2017, according to city records.
The personal improvement plan stipulated that Gayhart meet with city management through March 2018, and hold individual monthly meetings with her senior staff for 12 months, according to her personnel file.
Gayhart was ordered to keep her office door open at all times, excluding confidential meetings. She was told to “never demean any employee, resident or anyone in a public/private setting,” according to her personnel file.
Gayhart also was ordered to treat her supervisor with respect, attend all city of Odessa finance meetings, and complete an online leadership training course, or an improvement plan.
In July 2018, Gayhart was involved in a “loud yelling” incident in the department, according to her personnel file.
City records indicate that the yelling match was because of an email that Gayhart had sent demanding that an employee go to human resources to straighten out an issue about being late to work.
The employee first yelled at Gayhart, and Gayhart yelled back several times, according to the personnel file. The interim assistant city manager reprimanded Gayhart for yelling at the employee.
After Gayhart went through the improvement plan, an August 2018 city of Odessa report included in her personnel file said that when the plan was instituted she was upset with employees, wanted to be director without interference, and felt threatened “by others that have skills and her position as a boss.”
Throughout 2017, however, she showed improvement, according to the improvement plan report.
Annual performance evaluations of Gayhart in 2016 and 2018 completed by the city of Odessa Human Resources Department listed her as exceeding requirements.
Las Cruces, New Mexico
On March 25, 2019, Gayhart was announced as the new director of financial services for the city of Las Cruces with an annual salary of about $132,500, and a relocation package of $8,500, according to her personnel file.
Gayhart was hired from a pool of six people after she scored the highest marks among all candidates, according to Bill Studer, assistant city manager.
In March 2020, during the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Gayhart worked remotely, according to her personnel file.
After a performance evaluation in October 2020, Gayhart’s salary was increased 2.5% to $135,813, according to her personnel records.
On May 5, 2021, Gayhart submitted a letter of resignation to the city of Las Cruces. The letter did not explain why she was leaving.
About 10 months after the city of Fargo hired Gayhart as finance director, Redlinger sent a letter putting her on administrative leave.
Issues that Gayhart had been reported for included lack of leadership, disrespectful communication or the lack of communication within the team, and a failure to engage with staff on significant operational matters in a timely manner, the letter stated.
On Feb. 1 and on Feb. 13, Redlinger, along with human resources administration, held meetings with Gayhart to express their concerns.
Since the meetings, “Members of the team continue to report concerns about the work environment as well as concerns related to significant operational matters that you have failed to provide direction for or complete yourself,” Redlinger stated in the letter.
It's unclear when the internal investigation will be completed.