An incident involving two females of the North Dakota’s Department of Agriculture and state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring came to light earlier this week when a Republican primary challenger to Goehring stepped forward.
Goehring admitted in an email to North Dakota Farm Bureau members (the group is backing primary challenger Judy Estenson) to inappropriate conduct when he described a group of female employees as a “harem.” Documents from North Dakota’s Department of Risk Management indicated that another incident involving Goehring inviting a female employee into his hotel room to walk on his back was investigated after a department director named Katie Pinke filed a complaint about it.
That employee, Kelly Wald, told Human Resources Director Laurie Sterioti Hemmeren that Goehring’s behavior was “really awkward,” “not appropriate,” and that she was “worried that if someone talks to Commissioner Goehring there would be problems.”
Those comments occurred on August 21st of 2012. Earlier this week Wald’s supervisor Katie Pinke, who took issue with Goehring describing her as a “babe in the woods” and also objected to the back-walking incident with Wald, told me in an interview earlier this week that Goehring’s behavior had created a “hostile work environment.”
“I believe more than eight have left the ag department over the last few years,” she said. ”I think some of those are retirements, but there’s an underlying factor. It’s all off the record because nobody wants to feel the backlash. I reported it because I had to.”
But according to Wald’s exit interview, she did not leave the Ag Department because of Goehring and, unlike Pinke’s characterization and her own words as reported by the HR Director, she told Deputy Ag Commissioner Todd Bodine in a December 19th, 2012, interview that she did not feel uncomfortable around the Commissioner.
Here’s the key answer, the full document is below (along with Pinke’s various exit interviews):
So Wald, it seems, has given contradictory on-the-record testimony about Goehring. In August of 2012 she felt Goehring’s behavior was inappropriate, and she feared retribution from him. In December of 2012 she went out of her way to say she didn’t feel uncomfortable around him.
Also, Wald has since gone back to work for the Ag Department (Pinke has not) and is currently listed on the department’s staff website. It’s also worth noting that Pinke herself, in her comments to Human Resources, said that she didn’t want to ruin Commissioner Goehring’s career and that she thought he was very good for agriculture and the State of North Dakota.
I’ve reached out to Wald for comment and explanation by phone and email but haven’t received a response.
Update: I received this email from Wald this evening:
Hello Mr. Port,
I appreciate your willingness to respect my privacy as an individual and do not want further participation in these conversations.
As you have seen in my exit interview from December 2012, the reason I ended employment with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture at that time was to pursue another career path that I had been interested in for some time. In May 2013, I was hired for a temporary position open in the Marketing & Information Division of the Department. I later applied and was hired for my current position, the Pride of Dakota Specialist. I greatly enjoy my work with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and am grateful to be part of a wonderful team of professionals who work to promote agriculture every day.