Yesterday the State Board of Higher Education met, and in addition to selecting Terry Hjelmstad to serve as their new president, they finally dealt with their auditor problem which dates back to before Thanksgiving.
In early November NDUS Chief Auditor Timothy Carlson was notified by Chief of Staff Murray Sagsveen that he was being placed on leave pending termination with the approval of Chancellor Larry Skogen. That move (which also included the termination of Compliance Officer Kirsten Franzen) was to have been confirmed by the SBHE during a November 20th meeting, but after I broke the news about what was happening the termination was removed from the agenda until yesterday when it was quietly announced that Carlson was going to resign.
Which seems to be a euphemism for make this guy go away. And the NDUS had plenty of reasons to make this go away.
Unfortunately, part of Carlson’s departure agreement included his silence on the matter. I spoke with Carlson this morning, and he confirmed to me that today is his last day (he was on paid leave since November), and that he couldn’t speak any more about the issue due to his separation agreement with the university system.
Previously Carlson had told me that both he and Franzen were being pushed out because of their efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the system. Carlson specifically had received multiple positive reviews for his work, but after an August meeting of the SBHE’s Audit Committee at which Carlson called for new records retention and conflict of interest policies aimed at correcting the universities horrendous transparency track record, the long knives came out.
Lending credibility to Carlson’s story is a memo written by former NDUS Chief Counsel Claire Ness (who now works in the Attorney General’s office) which accused Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Laura Glatt of making discriminatory comments about Mr. Carlson’s age and manipulating the hiring process in favor of her preferred candidate for the auditor position.
You can read Ness’ full memo here. An excerpt:
Even with Carlson out the door, you’d think the university system might want to investigate one of their top officials supposedly making disparaging comments about someone’s age. Not to mention allegations of manipulating the hiring process against the candidate she made disparaging age-related comments about.
Donlin said the memo was filed by Ness but not sent to anyone specifically and the accusations made in it are not being investigated.
Meanwhile there is legislation being considered in Bismarck right now to remove the internal audit functions from the NDUS and put them in the state auditor’s office. Clearly, given this debacle, that needs to happen.