FARGO — Two social services managers in Cass County who had been facing possible disciplinary action will keep their positions if they make acceptable progress on work improvement plans.

That decision involving Family Services Division Manager Linda Dorff and Child Protection Services Supervisor Rick Van Camp was made Monday, April 6, by Pearl Ferguson, the new Cass County human service zone director.

Ferguson's decision was endorsed by the Cass County Human Service Zone Board, which met Monday.

Dorff and Van Camp were criticized in a recent consultant's report that cited poor leadership and other issues in the Cass County social services agency.

During Monday's zone board meeting, Ferguson said she weighed several recommended options arising from the review, including suspension, reassignment, and termination of employment. Instead, Ferguson said she believed the best option was to require Dorff and Van Camp to adopt work improvement plans that will focus on communication and leadership.

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"I feel I'm doing the right thing," said Ferguson, who assumed her post about three weeks ago.

Ferguson is the first long-term Cass County human service zone director since the North Dakota Department of Human Services took over social services funding across the state. Once managed by each county, social services agencies are now consolidated into regions run by respective zone boards and DHS.

Ferguson replaced Chip Ammerman, who had been the Cass County Social Services director since 2008. Ammerman served for a time as interim zone director.

With Ferguson taking over the post, it was anticipated Ammerman could be assigned a different position in the county's social services agency. Attempts to reach county officials to clarify Ammerman's status with the agency were not successful Monday.

Ammerman was among those criticized in the review of the social services agency conducted by an independent consultant, who found that staff had a sense of hopelessness and that employees felt they could not raise suggestions without fear of backlash from Ammerman and other managers.

The consultant's review followed an earlier report that arose from an investigation by the Cass County Sheriff's Office, which was also critical of the way the social services agency was managed.

In a letter sent to Cass County Administrator Robert Wilson and members of the Cass County Human Service Zone Board, Dorff outlined a number of steps she said she has taken since issues were raised last fall.

She said those steps include emailing weekly updates to family service staff as well as providing other information as needed. She said she also makes a point of interacting personally with individuals in order to facilitate conversation.

"I am being cognizant of my verbal and nonverbal communication style with the hope to not be demeaning, intimidating, or harsh when communicating with others," Dorff wrote. "My intent is to help build skill in others, increase confidence and help others grow."

Several staff members submitted letters to the Cass County Human Service Zone Board supportive of Dorff and her efforts.

One worker wrote that Dorff had "made herself vulnerable to the process by always being visible in the office, talking to staff, etc. I believe, if given the opportunity, Linda will work hard to continue to demonstrate that she is open minded about changes that may be needed or asked of her."

Van Camp also submitted a letter to county officials. In the letter, he said he and other child protection services supervisors were part of a group that developed a plan with the aim of being more supportive of staff moving forward.

Van Camp said in the past staff would come to him with questions and he would provide an answer. He said his focus now is to be more of a listener "and allow staff to process through and come up with their own answer or conclusion."