FARGO — A Fargo city commissioner who's promoted a career workforce academy at the North Dakota State College of Science was at the center of harassment and bullying allegations from college staff, including a claim he threatened to fire one staff member if another subordinate didn’t retire.
Commissioner Tony Grindberg, who's also vice president of workforce affairs for NDSCS, was accused in early 2018 of violating the school’s code of conduct and harassment policies, according to documents obtained Friday, May 3, by The Forum. The school only investigated one grievance amid the list of allegations, saying almost all the claims were not specific to the person who filed the complaint or occurred beyond the timeline that staff have to report incidents, Human Resources Executive Director Sandi Gilbertson wrote in a Feb. 1, 2018, letter.
The one grievance that was investigated focused on a Jan. 5, 2018, meeting in which then-TrainND Southeast Director Joe Schreiner claimed Grindberg intimidated him in front of Gilbertson. This “did not constitute an aggressive or intimidating act,” Gilbertson wrote.
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The complaint filed by Schreiner details several incidents in which Grindberg, who is Schreiner’s supervisor, allegedly bullied, harassed, intimidated or threatened TrainND employees. Grindberg, who's been a vice president for three years, allegedly told his former ApprenticeshipND manager, Russell Karlgaard, to retire by May 1, 2017, or Grindberg would fire a fellow employee, Schreiner wrote in his complaint.
“This clearly was a bullying tactic,” Schreiner wrote.
Karlgaard applied for early retirement, with his last day approved for May 1, 2017, according to documents obtained through a public records request.
“I feel that it may be beneficial to the Workforce Affairs Division and the college in this time of fiscal uncertainty for me to consider an early retirement,” Karlgaard wrote in a Feb. 10, 2017, letter to John Richman, president of NDSCS, which has campuses in Wahpeton and Fargo.
The Forum could not reach Karlgaard for comment.
Grindberg told The Forum Friday he would not comment on the allegations, adding that they were “researched, reviewed and closed.” When asked about the Karlgaard claim, the oldest of the grievances in Schreiner's complaint, Grindberg said he would rather not comment on personnel matters but indicated budgeting played a role in the matter.
"It was part of the restructuring to figure out how to stop the financial losses," he said.
The complaint also detailed alleged instances of Grindberg verbally abusing Workforce Affairs employees and making them cry. He also reportedly made an employee and Schreiner feel uncomfortable after asking the employee twice if he or she liked him — the second time he allegedly leaned in and looked directly into the employee’s eyes.
Most of the alleged acts in Schreiner's complaint took place in 2017. More recently, Schreiner asked Gilbertson to sit in on a Jan. 5, 2018, meeting with Grindberg to address concerns from Schreiner.
Schreiner said some campus employees complained the Division of Workforce Affairs was paying Grindberg to raise money for the career workforce academy. Using local and state funds to raise money for the academy “may be a violation of the State Board of Higher Education’s directive,” according to an audit that found Grindberg failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest and NDSCS management tried to hide information that could lead the state auditor to draw that conclusion.
Grindberg leaned in toward Schreiner and asked, “And just what did you say to that employee as his supervisor?” with a loud voice, repeated the question and walked out before Schreiner could answer, according to Schreiner.
“I took it as an act of intimidation,” Schreiner told The Forum Friday. “I took it as an act of aggression, but I guess upper management thought differently.”
Gilbertson suggested a meeting between Richman, Grindberg and Schreiner after issuing her decision so they could mediate the concerns and make sure the working relationship was productive moving forward.
Gilbertson told The Forum she could not discuss the details of the meeting since it dealt with a personnel matter. She said the college handled the concerns in accordance with institutional policies. “We did everything we could for the parties involved,” she said.
Schreiner, whose title was changed last year to customized training manager amid restructuring, disagreed that the administration handled the situation well. He said he felt he got little support from anybody in the latter part of the process.
Grindberg pointed to his recent job review in which he received favorable marks from peers at the college. “It really reflects who Tony Grindberg really is,” he said of the review, adding that it demonstrates that morale is great in his department.
President Richman told The Forum that Grindberg has been instrumental in improvements made within the Workforce Affairs Division and the academy. The college has work to do in advancing both aspects, Richman said, but he feels it is headed in the right direction.
“The evidence that I have, we are on a very good path,” he said.