The North Dakota Department of Health’s public information director has resigned over comments she inadvertently posted from the department’s official Twitter account during the first U.S. presidential debate, calling it a “dreadful mistake.”
Colleen Reinke offered her resignation immediately after the incident Monday and it was accepted as of 8 a.m. Wednesday, according to emails provided by Human Resources Director Dirk Wilke in response to an open records request.
Reinke’s tweets during the Monday night debate included “Grow a pair Lester,” an apparent reference to debate moderator Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News; and a comment that Republican candidate Donald Trump’s hair was “weirder than usual.”
The debate was referenced heavily on Twitter, with the social networking platform announcing a record number of tweets during the 90-minute debate.
Reinke explained in her emails that she had inadvertently grabbed her work phone instead of her personal phone to post her comments on the debate.
“I am in big trouble. During the debate, I was tweeting rather inappropriate comments accidentally on my work phone,” she wrote in an email to her bosses, State Health Officer Terry Dwelle and Deputy State Health Officer Arvy Smith, at 9:05 p.m. Monday.
About an hour later, Reinke emailed Dwelle and Smith a statement.
“This was a dreadful mistake. The tweets were deleted when the mistake was discovered but not before a great deal of damage was done,” she wrote. “I am sincerely sorry for my actions and have resigned my position effective immediately. The tweets in no way reflect the policies or positions of the Department of Health and reflect only my own personal views. I apologize to all of my wonderful co-workers. … I am so very sorry for causing this mess.”
Reinke said in a phone interview Wednesday she wasn't sure how long the tweets were up on the department's Twitter account.
“To tell you the truth, it’s kind of like being in a car accident, you know? The timeline is all screwed up. I’ve got no idea," she said.
Reinke was hired as the department’s public information director on Aug. 12, 2013. She was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday while the department reviewed the situation, according an email from Smith.
Wilke said he believes it was “an honest mistake.”
“I think due to the nature of her position, she kind of understood the impact of her mistake, and that’s why she made the decision she made to resign,” he said.
Reinke said her resignation was completely voluntary.
“I’m the communications director. To make such a huge communications mistake was really inexcusable," she said.
The department conducts annual training on appropriate use of social media, Wilke said.
Reinke's position is now open, said Wilke, adding that he imagines, in the meantime, another public information employee will take over Reinke's job duties.
Reinke said she's not sure what she will do now.
“This is pretty unexpected, of course. I wasn’t planning to Twittercide (sic) my career,” she said. "As you can imagine, I threw a giant pity party for myself yesterday, and then I’m kind of trying to regroup today. So we’ll see how it goes."
Bismarck Tribune reporter Blair Emerson contributed to this article.