Janell Cole, Published December 17 2008
Trial day 2: Sick pay for exec questionedBISMARCK – Former Workforce Safety and Insurance chief executive officer Sandy Blunt allowed a controversial executive at the agency to collect several weeks of paid sick leave when he was not sick because Blunt felt sorry for him, a witness said this morning.
Burleigh County prosecutors are alleging that Blunt violated state law in allowing Dave Spencer to be paid for 128 hours of sick leave when Spencer was not sick. It’s one part of criminal charges against Blunt that he misspent nearly $50,000 in WSI funds while he was CEO.
Blunt is on trial for two felony counts of misapplication of entrusted property, one involving $7,000 worth of alleged improper bonus pay to three managers at WSI and the second involving $41,000, which covers party favors, meeting refreshments and gift certificates to employees; failure to collect reimbursement of moving expenses Spencer owed, improper sick leave payment to Spencer and for promising the North Dakota Firefighters Association a safety grant when no grant program existed.
Because WSI funds are part of state government, prosecutors allege the expenditures are covered by laws that prohibit spending of public funds for private benefit.
Former WSI human resources director Billie Peltz testified after Spencer had been out “sick” for three days in August 2006, she was required to send him paperwork he and his doctor would have to fill out in order to stay on sick leave. When she called him at home about the forms and also expressed concern for his welfare, he said, “I’m not sick. I haven’t been to a doctor since I moved here (to Bismarck, from Ohio).”
It was Blunt who had told her Spencer was absent from work in late August because he was sick. He told Peltz that Spencer would be out until his sick leave was used up.
At the time Blunt informed Peltz that Spencer was sick, it was right after several managers at WSI, including Peltz, had met with Blunt about Spencer’s “erratic” behavior at the office, his angry confrontations with his employees and other problems that had been reported to them. Blunt promised to dismiss Spencer the same day the managers met with him, but Spencer was at work the next two days and then began sick leave.
Blunt’s attorney, Mike Hoffman, suggested to Peltz that Spencer may have been sick with a mental disability and that such a disability would have protected his job and also cause Spencer to deny he was sick.
The trial continues this afternoon and is expected to last all week. It began Monday.
Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or firstname.lastname@example.org