Auditor Investigated Fired UND Provost Over Claims of Inappropriate Conduct

I wrote this story yesterday, with plans to publish today, only to see that the Grand Forks Herald beat me to the punch with a story of their own. Read that story, but the post below has links to source documents not available from the Herald.

At the end of June interim University of North Dakota President Ed Schafer terminated one of the institution’s highest-paid employees.

According to a letter from Schafer to Vice Provost Joshua Riedy the termination was “without cause,” and in lieu of the six month notification of termination required by university system policy Riedy received a lump sum payment of over $130,000, a total representing about a half year of his salary which was over $244,000 per year.

Riedy also received an unspecified payment for accrued annual leave.

“This action is taken without cause and does not reflect your many years of service to the University of North Dakota,” Schafer said in the conclusion to his letter.

I was curious when I saw Schafer re-iterating in the letter that the termination was “without cause” – he used those words twice in the letter – so I made some requests for information, and it turns out that prior to being terminated Riedy was investigated after being the target of multiple complaints about inappropriate behavior.

Via an open records request I obtained a memo sent from a UND internal auditor to Schafer, dated April 19, 2016, summarizing the results of an inquiry into Riedy’s conduct. According to the memo, in March 2016 complaints were made to UND Vice President Thomas DiLorenzo alleging that Riedy had been using state funds to facilitate an affair with a subordinate named Kelsey Svoboda. Specifically, that the two were traveling together excessively at state expense.

The auditor’s investigation concluded that of the 14 official trips Svoboda had taken 13 had been with Riedy, though it also found that this joint travel “had a business purpose.”

The memo also states that both Riedy and Svoboda denied having an affair.

Riedy does appear to have approved unusually high levels of pay for Svoboda, however. The auditor’s memo references another complaint, this one made to North Dakota University System Chancellor Lisa Feldner again in March, which claimed that Riedy had given her raises and even negotiated a 20 percent increase in pay for himself.

Feldner also said the anonymous complaint also alleged that Riedy made some unflattering comments about Schafer himself.

An excerpt from the auditor’s memo, detailing the complaint to Feldner and the history of Svoboda’s pay as approved by Riedy:

auditorexcerpt

As for Riedy’s own 20 percent pay increase, Chancellor Hagerott told the auditor that Riedy leveraged him into it, but apparently it was rescinded a week after it was agreed to:

riedyraise

In another part of the memo, the auditor says they were “misinformed” about the MOU by Riedy:

auditorexcerpt2

My open records request also turned up an unsigned letter, dated April 29, 2016, sent to Schafer and DiLorenzo alleging more inappropriate conduct between Svoboda and Riedy including after-hours phone calls.

I contacted Riedy yesterday regarding the auditor memo, and he provided me with a letter he says he sent to Schafer providing a rebuttal to the claims against him. In it he disputes misleading anyone about the MOU with Hagerott, saying that trips he took to South Dakota and Israel were approved under the MOU despite DiLorenzo canceling tickets to Israel for multiple members of Riedy’s team and texting Riedy during that particular trip saying there was “no MOU.”

An excerpt:

riedy

He also defended the pay and promotion he approved for Svoboda:

riedy2

I asked Riedy if he felt his termination at UND was a result of these complaints.

“No, I don’t see that whatsoever,” he told me. “If you look at the timing of the complaints coming in March and April, I continued my duties up until the last day including representing the university at a UAS compliance committee meeting.”

Riedy’s termination letter was dated June 29.

“I also don’t believe that the allegations merit substance simply because they’re anonymous in nature and were documented by auditor with evidence to the contrary,” Riedy added.

Riedy’s conduct in all of this seems suspect. While the romantic relationship can’t be proven, it seems clear that he singled Svoboda out for special treatment. I mean, those raises, sheesh.

As for Schafer’s handling of the situation, he probably did the best he could with a rotten apple that landed in his lap. Yeah, Riedy got something of a golden parachute on the way out the door, but that was probably cheaper in the long run than squabbling over a for-cause termination.

A lot of blame for this goes back to former UND President Robert Kelley. He was a bad hire, and toward the end of his tenure had checked out on the job, letting people like Riedy run roughshod over the university.

Schafer has cleaned things up, thank goodness. Let’s hope new president Mark Kennedy can do a better job.

Here’s the full audit report:

[scribd id=318092119 key=key-AX4OsnkQII4AeNElfTLR mode=scroll]

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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