Former NDUS official claims Bresciani emails were intentionally deleted, system tried to cover it up
BISMARCK - There was "very little likelihood" that 40,000 emails of North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani were deleted automatically after an open records request, technology experts told the university system's chief compliance ...
BISMARCK - There was “very little likelihood” that 40,000 emails of North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani were deleted automatically after an open records request, technology experts told the university system’s chief compliance officer in 2013.
But when Kirsten Franzen told that to the attorney general’s office, the system fired her, she alleged in a notice of claim filed this month to the Office of Management and Budget.
In spring 2013, a controversy erupted over emails that were deleted from Bresciani’s account after an open records request from lawmakers. The university said the emails were removed by a new auto-purge function, and the attorney general said he couldn’t determine whether the deletion was intentional.
Now, Franzen alleges not only that Bresciani’s emails were deleted intentionally but that the system tried to cover it up.
“Several members of the NDUS Senior Staff, including Franzen, strongly encouraged Chancellor (Larry) Skogen to have an independent investigator examine Bresciani’s email disappearance,” said the notice of claim, which Franzen sent to The Forum. “Skogen initially agreed and asked then-General Counsel Claire Ness to arrange for an investigation.”
But a few days later, after Ness had contacted an outside audit firm, Skogen received a phone call from Bresciani. “After this phone call, Chancellor Skogen decided not to pursue the investigation,” the document said.
The system denies Franzen’s “allegations and accusations,” Vice Chancellor for Strategic Engagement Linda Donlin wrote Thursday in an email. She would not comment beyond that because “this matter is the subject of a pending legal proceeding.”
Franzen plans to sue the North Dakota University System, the state, Skogen, system Chief of Staff Murray Sagsveen and the members of the state Board of Higher Education.
NDSU spokeswoman Laura McDaniel also declined to comment or make Bresciani available for an interview, saying, “It is inappropriate for anyone at the campus to comment about system issues.”
The attorney general’s opinion on the deleted emails, which stated the university system had violated the state’s open records laws, was released in November 2013, and Franzen alleges that is when the retaliation began.
“Chancellor Skogen held inquiries with individuals who had provided information to the attorney general’s office, including Franzen and Ness,” the notice of claim said. “These inquiry meetings were unpleasant, with both Franzen and Ness being badgered about statements they had made to the attorney general’s office.”
Franzen alleges that Ness was pressured to resign because of her candor with the attorney general’s office.
This occurred even though Skogen regularly told employees to be transparent, the document said. He went so far as to replace the frosted glass window of his office door with clear glass to illustrate this commitment, the document said.
Sagsveen, a new employee at the time, participated in the inquiries, the document said, and after his arrival, Franzen was no longer invited to senior staff meetings or listed on the website as senior staff.
Although she was told she was not being demoted, “much of Franzen’s independence and authority began to dwindle,” the document said.
Franzen and Sagsveen repeatedly clashed over the next year. He didn’t implement her recommended policies and accused her of not making progress in the compliance program, the document said. Both Sagsveen and higher ed board members failed to investigate issues from the Fraud Hotline that she brought to their attention.
In November, Franzen was put on administrative leave for “unprofessional conduct” and failing to perform her duties, according to a letter from Sagsveen at the time.
Her notice calls these “false allegations” with media attention that “severely damaged” her ability to find a new job. She was fired in December, and Skogen and Sagsveen “continue to intimidate Franzen by discouraging co-workers from reaching out to her socially.”
The document said Franzen would be open to a settlement for 15 months of salary and benefits, “but as this matter goes on, damages will increase.”
Franzen declined an interview for this article, saying the document speaks for itself.