DOT Attempted to Obscure That Director Under Investigation Was on Paid Leave

The Department of Transportation building in Bismarck

Earlier this year Glenn Jackson, the former director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s drivers license division, was placed on leave pending an investigation into his conduct with female subordinates. He ultimately resigned this month (you can read the entire investigation report into his conduct here).

What’s bizarre is how the DOT has handled his suspension.

For one thing, during his leave Mr. Jackson’s signature continued to show up on DOT documents, including certifications of records sent to be used in license suspension proceedings. How was Jackson certifying records when he was on leave? When I asked the DOT they refused to comment on the matter citing potential “litigation” and “controversy.”

For another, when I put in some open records requests to try and shed some light on the use of Jackson’s signature during his leave, the DOT tried to redact information which couldn’t legally be redacted and, frankly, didn’t really need to be.

One of the records I requested was a copy of the letter placing Jackson on leave. I received it, but there was a redaction (full letter here):

North Dakota has very good open records laws, and part of what makes them so good is there is a presumption that every record in the state is open unless there is a specific statute allowing that record to be withheld or redacted. When a state agency denies or redacts a record, the law requires them to cite the statute giving them justification to do so.

When I saw this redaction I contacted, by email, DOT employee Steven Barreth who had handled my request. I asked him to cite the statute justifying this redaction. He pointed to 44-04-18.1 of the North Dakota Century Code which states, in part, “Information regarding the type of leave taken by an employee is exempt.”

Problem is, this wasn’t leave Jackson requested. He was placed on leave by the DOT. I made this point to Barreth, asking him to reconsider the redaction:

A few hours later I got another email with the unredacted letter attached:

As I suspected, what was redacted was the fact that Jackson got paid leave (full letter here):

What’s bizarre about this is the redaction was completely unnecessary. When the Forum News Service reported on May 1 that Jackson had been on leave since February they indicated that it was paid leave. This was already public knowledge.

So why in the world redact it? Not only did the DOT not have the legal justification for the redaction, and not only is it completely appropriate (in my opinion, anyway) for a public employee to be on paid leave while investigated, they were trying to hide something which was already a part of the public record.

My point is that the DOT is not being forthcoming with information. Jackson was on leave for months before the public was made aware of it. During that time his signature was appearing on DOT documents as though he signed them. Now the DOT is refusing to comment on that situation, and playing petty games with redaction on open records requests.

The public deserves an explanation. Was Jackson secretly working during his leave? Was someone at the DOT signing his name for him?

The DOT has handled this whole situation poorly, and someone needs to come clean about it.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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