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Tribune editorial: State made right call on zone leader

Tribune editorial: State made right call on zone leader

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The state Department of Human Services was right to reject Kim Osadchuk to head the Burleigh County Human Service Zone following claims she created a hostile work environment.

An independent investigation raised several red flags with how Osadchuk treats employees and painted a picture of a dysfunctional department.

Though there may be flaws in the investigator’s report, the state Department of Human Services found the investigation showed that a hostile work environment existed even if only a fraction of employees experienced it.

Human Services Chief Operating Officer Sara Stolt was correct when she said the agency can’t have someone in a leadership position who creates the perception of a hostile work environment.

Some of the issues highlighted in the report, which was funded by the state and conducted by Vogel Law Firm, include claims that Osadchuk called former employees' new employers to ask that they not work with the zone, and targeted employees to make them quit.

The report found that former employees felt unsupported by management and some were fearful of having any type of conflict with Osadchuk. It concluded that some, but not all, employees felt distrust within the agency based on Osadchuk’s leadership.

Osadchuk disputed the report at a Burleigh County Human Service Zone meeting last week, saying disgruntled employees were unhappy she began enforcing department policies. Osadchuk said the investigation did not consider the views of current employees or employees who had positive feedback.

Some members of the Burleigh County Human Service Zone Board criticized the investigation, saying it did not draw any definitive conclusions. But the board had the opportunity to do its own investigation and declined to do so.

The Burleigh County Human Service Zone Board had voted 5-2 to support Osadchuk for the leadership position. Members of the Burleigh County Commission who serve on the advisory board supported Osadchuk, while state Sens. Dick Dever and Erin Oban voted no. Ultimately, the state Department of Human Services has the final say on hiring zone directors.

Osadchuk will be able to continue working in the zone in a position yet to be named.

Commissioners pointed to positive performance reviews for Osadchuk. It’s difficult to understand how so many concerns about her leadership could exist without it being reflected in her personnel evaluations.

Pam Binder, who was hired in March as Burleigh County’s human resources director, is probably correct that the truth lies somewhere in the middle between the investigative report and past records that list no problems with Osadchuk’s leadership.

Binder made good suggestions during the meeting about working to improve the culture among county employees and conducting “stay interviews” rather than only “exit interviews” to get input from employees.

At minimum, there seems to be a major morale problem in the department, as well as strained working relationships with community partners. 

A new leader is needed to move the zone forward, as well as a collaborative effort with the county and state to improve the working environment.

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