Deputy Ag Commissioner Defends Doug Goehring


OFFICE POLITICS: A former employee accuses Agricluture Commissioner Doug Goehring of creating a hostile work environment, and department exit interviews indicate low morale. Goehring says it's office politics, and that he's given employees too much leeway.

I’ve written pretty extensively about the challenge to incumbent Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring from Farm Burea-backed candidate Judy Estenson.

For what it’s worth, here’s Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Tom Bodine weighing in to NDGOP District Chairs and Farm Bureau members in defense of Goehring.

Estenson has been very active at the NDGOP district conventions held to this point. She’s putting in an aggressive campaign, and clearly Goehring and his supporter are feeling the heat. This is going to be a very interesting race.

From: Tom Bodine
Sent: Friday, February 14, 2014 7:32 PM
To: Tom Bodine
Subject: District Republican Chairs and North Dakota Farm Bureau members…

February 14, 2014

Dear District Republican Chairs and North Dakota Farm Bureau members:

I feel compelled to write this letter to set the record straight about the allegations being made about Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring by the North Dakota Farm Bureau (NDFB) and its candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, Judy Estenson.

For those who don’t know me, I serve as Commissioner Goehring’s Deputy Commissioner. I have had the pleasure during my career to serve agriculture in a number of areas. I started my career as a leadership development assistant for NDFB, serving over 25 counties in my 16-year NDFB tenure. NDFB has been a great organization to develop future leaders and I’m an example of that. My employment with NDFB honed my leadership skills and, as a result, I believe I was able to make a meaningful difference for agriculture.

On July 1, 2012, I had the opportunity to join the North Dakota Agriculture Department as Commissioner Goehring’s Deputy in a temporary role. At the end of that service, I had the option to remain on the staff. However, I had already given my word to NDFB that I would return to that organization as their lobbyist for the 2013 Session. I worked for NDFB that Session and then returned to the Agriculture Department as Deputy full time in May 2013. I currently serve in that post today.

In the past couple of weeks, I was mentioned in a letter distributed by a NDFB member, who is also District 29 Republican Chairman, regarding NDFB’s effort to unseat Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring. I feel compelled to respond to his letter and set the record straight, as I have experienced all of this first hand over the last 1 ½ years.

During the 2013 Session when I was a NDFB lobbyist, I did mention to Eric Aasmundstad, another NDFB lobbyist, that KFGO had made an open-records request from the North Dakota Human Resources Division. I had no idea NDFB would use that information to instigate its own request or launch such a character assassination against Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring.

NDFB launches its intraparty attack with four allegations

1) As Deputy Commissioner, it is my duty to facilitate the day-to-day operations of the Ag Department. I can assure you, there is no hostile work environment in the department. As the of head human resources in the department, I am charged with all personnel functions.

We have an excellent professional staff that comes to work every day with a passion to serve the North Dakota’s agriculture industry’s best interests.

As staff positions have opened due to retirements or professional advancements to higher pay, we have been fortunate to hire great staff and, in my opinion, among the best and most qualified employees in government today. If we have such a hostile work environment, why would they want to work at the Agriculture Department?

2) A coalition had worked on a proposed animal cruelty bill during the interim. NDFB had participated in the coalition and attended a press conference prior to the Session to support the proposed bill. During the early days of the Session, NDFB withdrew its support and worked with legislators to craft amendments. It is important to note that this was not a bill sponsored or introduced by the Agriculture Department. Many bills move through a series of amendments and conference committees before final passage. SB2211 went through the full vetting of the legislative process, was adopted by both chambers and signed by the Governor. NDFB supported the final bill.

3)  I represented the Ag Department in the working group relative to the Industrial Commission’s proposed policy change on drilling permits. In going through those working group meetings, Commissioner Goehring directed me specifically that he will not compromise private property rights. Commissioner Goehring has made it clear to me, the others on the working group, and his fellow Industrial Commission members that he will support a policy that does not allow the public to comment on private lands.

4) And, as he has stated, Commissioner Goehring felt obligated to gain input from fertilizer dealers and ag producers on changes to fertilizer rules, even though, he, too, is concerned the proposed rules may go too far. A public comment period is just that…an opportunity for impacted individuals to comment. Most industries would welcome that transparency and public input method.

True grassroots organization?

Last fall, we were notified by NDFB that it was submitting a formal open records request to the State Human Resources Division for Commissioner Goehring’s personnel file. Later, the Commissioner and I met with four NDFB leaders. Sometime later, they indicated they did not trust the Commissioner as a result of the fertilizer rule proposal and that’s why they were moving forward with an open-records request.

In January, Commissioner Goehring and I extended the olive branch to NDFB leadership and members and we were rejected, not just once, but twice. The first instance was January 9, when a NDFB member encouraged us to attend the PAC meeting to explain Commissioner Goerhring’s personnel file. We were asked to leave the Bismarck NDFB office without opportunity to address the committee.

On January 21, Commissioner Goehring left a phone message with the NDFB President and offered to come to the NDFB Council of Presidents to explain the allegations. I made the same offer through a phone message to the NDFB Executive Vice President. Our calls were not returned.

During those meetings, my name was allegedly used as a credible source implying that I had concerns about the Office of the North Dakota Ag Department and policy issues in which the Commissioner was involved. That is absolutely false.

I did have an opportunity to address the NDFB state board on January 30.  I indicated how disappointed I was that they did not allow county leaders (PAC committee and the Council of Presidents) access to all the pertinent information before making a decision, especially one of this magnitude.

I did caution them if they chose to go down this path, much time, resources and effort would be expended addressing these allegations and rumors, rather than working together to serve our state’s agricultural industry.

At the conclusion of the meeting, I asked them to consider a different path. Apparently, it was too late. They had already made their choice.

This is one of the first times since I’ve been affiliated with NDFB that they have made a decision of enormous consequences without all the facts being presented to its members so they could make an informed decision. Unfortunately, they have been delivering a controlled message by a select few leaders, fueled by rumors, untruths, misperceptions, and innuendo, through a select few leaders. NDFB, since its inception, has prided itself in being a grassroots organization. It’s been the fundamental premise and strength of this organization. When I review the recent actions of NDFB, this is not the Farm Bureau way.

Finally, I am proud I to be a public servant working alongside Commissioner Doug Goehring. He is an outstanding Agriculture Commissioner and leader for North Dakota’s agriculture community. Commissioner Goehring takes his responsibilities very seriously and thoughtfully.

Commissioner Goehring is a passionate advocate for North Dakota agriculture. He is committed to protecting landowner’s private property rights through his role on the Industrial Commission. He also provides compliance assistance, outreach and education so producers and agri-business know what standards they have to meet as required by North Dakota legislative law and rules, as well as federal compliance. Commissioner Goehring works diligently to protect the agriculture industry so farmers and ranchers can do what they do best…feed the world.

Finally, Commissioner Goehring was our Republican and NDFB candidate in 2004 and 2006 before his first successful bid in 2010. We lost this office 26 years ago over a similar intraparty fight and regaining it was very difficult. This is the first time we have three Republicans on the Industrial Commission in a long time. Given the Industrial Commission’s critical role in oil and gas development, we don’t want to risk losing this important seat at the table to a Democrat.