BISMARCK-The North Dakota state auditor reached a separation agreement with a longtime employee days after Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed the agency's budget bill over the elimination of the employee's position.
An open records request shows State Auditor Josh Gallion signed the agreement with Jason Wahl, the performance audit manager, on April 28, three days after Burgum signed the veto letter. The governor cited amendment language that sought to "eliminate a position held by an identifiable, classified employee," and said each state agency is responsible for personnel decisions.
The House voted to override the governor's veto but the Senate sustained it. The auditor's budget ultimately landed in the funding bill for the Office of Management and Budget, the final piece of legislation lawmakers passed before adjourning April 27.
Wahl will receive a severance payment of $31,108, plus accrued annual leave and sick leave, according to the agreement. In return, he "voluntarily and unconditionally" renounced "all claims and rights arising directly or indirectly from" his employment, and agrees to not bring any lawsuits.
Wahl also waived any right to monetary damages or other relief awarded by a government agency related to his job, but the agreement doesn't prevent him from filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He released the right to file a "court action and to seek individual remedies or damages in any EEOC-sponsored court action."
In addition to the separation agreement, the Forum News Service records request covered job evaluations, which showed Wahl scored consistently high marks from his superiors.
Performance audits are used to improve operations, reduce costs or initiate "corrective action," according to recent reports. The performance audit section has four auditors under Wahl, according to the office's website.
"By their nature performance audits have the potential to become controversial," Wahl's former manager Gordy Smith wrote in a 2013 job evaluation. "As my professional career winds down I have full confidence in Jason managing the performance audit division and I believe he also has the talent and skills to serve as our legislative liaison."
Wahl did not return messages seeking comment this week. In an interview, Gallion said they had offered to have Wahl come back to work after the governor's veto, but he declined.
Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, previously said the decision to specify the performance audit manager position was a budgetary one, given Wahl's pay and the need to trim budgets across state agencies. Wahl's annual salary was $103,824, according to the most recent payroll information provided by the auditor's office.
"We had to hit a number," Nathe said in late April. "We wanted to make sure that that salary itself was eliminated, versus having the auditor eliminate two other job positions to get to his number."
In his veto letter, Burgum said he supported Gallion's "rights and responsibilities to manage personnel and performance in his office." He said the elimination of a specific position in the bill amendment violated the separation of powers and "the fundamental due process rights afforded to all classified employees in the state of North Dakota."
Gallion, a first-term Republican elected in 2016, said Wahl's position would be eliminated as a result of amendments to House Bill 1004 in a letter dated April 19, the day before the Senate approved the bill and sent it to Burgum. The one-page letter, which ultimately wasn't provided to Wahl, doesn't cite any other reason for the termination.
"On behalf of the state auditor's office, thank you for all your years of service," Gallion wrote.
Gallion told Wahl in an April 28 email that he would remain on paid administrative leave until June 30, when his employment would be terminated after more than two decades in the office. He offered to write letters of recommendation for Wahl.
The separation agreement says the auditor's office determined the agreement will promote its "efficiency." Gallion said they are "realigning responsibilities within existing managers for the time being."
"We'll reevaluate that down the road," he said. "It's all a little bit too new to have a specific plan."