DA’s e-mail results in county actionA consultant will attempt to help ease tensions in the Douglas County District Attorney’s office in the aftermath of a hard-fought political campaign between District Attorney Dan Blank and Assistant District Attorney Kelly Thimm and a post-election e-mail from Blank to his staff.
By: By Steve Kuchera/Duluth News Tribune, Superior Telegram
A consultant will attempt to help ease tensions in the Douglas County District Attorney’s office in the aftermath of a hard-fought political campaign between District Attorney Dan Blank and Assistant District Attorney Kelly Thimm and a post-election e-mail from Blank to his staff.
“It [has] been a difficult situation, having two candidates in the same office running for the same position,” County Administrator Steve Koszarek said. “I can only imagine the difficulties and stress there, but at this point it’s critical that we make sure people are focused on work and comfortable not looking over their shoulders.”
The cost to the taxpayers has not been determined. It could range anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars, Koszarek said. But, he noted, the county eliminated a human resources position two years back, saving taxpayers about $80,000 a year. Some of that money is kept in the budget to pay for consultants, who provide ongoing training as well as an objective look into employee relations on an as-needed basis.
The current tension in the DA’s office is one example.
On April 9, two days after Thimm defeated him by 300 votes to replace retiring Judge Michael Lucci, Blank sent an e-mail to his staff that read, in part: “While I am all for free speech, etc. I was clearly disappointed at the level of public support by everyone in this office, it felt to me as disloyalty, disrespect and a risk of harm in future work relationships given the outcome. I also will have a hard time forgetting the silence by everyone here in response to the police union publicly calling me subversive and unethical, and the harsh letters to the editor by some of your fellow Kelly supporters.”
Blank went on to ask his staff for their feedback on 10 points, covering issues such as “how you feel about the office environment at this time” and “list 1 or 2 key administrative decisions that I have made that you felt did NOT support you or upset you.” He asked the workers to include their names with their responses.
“The recent … memo was not intended to cause my office staff to feel threatened,” Blank said Thursday in a prepared statement. “I should have chosen my words more carefully in light of my disappointment with the election results. I stated my feelings about the office environment and asked the staff for their input on where we have been, where we are, and where we are going as an office team. I expressed my interest in moving forward positively; that is my goal for the office.”
But some of the office’s workers questioned the e-mail’s tone and gave a copy to Koszarek.
Koszarek and Blank have since met a couple times, and the county plans to have a consultant work with the staff to address their concerns.
Blank will continue to serve in his elected position as district attorney. The county does not have the authority to put a state official on leave, Koszsarek said.
“I don’t think we’ve totally addressed everything or rectified the situation, but I think we’re moving down the right path,” Koszarek said.
Superior Telegram reporter Maria Lockwood contributed to this story.