In his summary of the follow-up documents Education Secretary Melody Schopp provided to the Government Operations and Audit Committee this week pertaining to the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal, attorney Paul Bachand makes a strong effort to portray former Indian Education director and attempted GEAR UP whistleblower LuAnn Werdel as unreliable, her successor Roger Campbell as responsible, and Secretary Schopp as a sterling defender of truth:
The email exchanges provided with this correspondence support the prior submission and statements by Dr. Schopp related to the increased oversight of GEAR UP and Mid Central. These emails must be understood in their context. That is why the emails from LuAnn Werdel were provided. Ms. Werdel’s lashing out can only be understood in the context of her contemporaneous apologies and assertions regarding Dan Guericke and Stacy Phelps. To be blunt, the personnel issues surrounding Ms. Werdel had considerable impact on her credibility.
In contrast, Mr. Campbell was considered a credible source, and as I believe you will see through the attached documentation, had the support of the Department in attempting to ensure that the 2011 GEAR UP grant got off the ground on the right foot.
…Finally, if you go back and review Dr. Schopp’s July 24 GOAC presentation, you will see that the timelines for increased monitoring and oversight line up with the concerns raised by Mr. Campbell. Fortunately for Dr. Schopp, it is easy to keep your story straight when you are telling the truth [Paul Bachand on behalf of Melody Schopp, letter to GOAC, 2017.08.28].
I have my own issues with the usability of Werdel’s documented January 10, 2011, warning about corruption in GEAR UP, given her January 11, 2011, e-mail apologies for those statements. We can debate the extent to which her immediate backing off from her January 2011 whistleblowing may be understood in the context of her fear of further retaliation from a well-connected Education Secretary who had already demanded her resignation.
However, it is… problematic to say that, as we try to evaluate the credibility of the Department of Education’s claims about GEAR UP, we must accept as a standard for the credibility of all witnesses the Department of Education’s opinion of those witnesses’ credibility.
Senator Neal Tapio seems unswayed by the Department of Education’s effort to paint LuAnn Werdel as unreliable. He sends out an e-mail to state officials and the press urging us all to listen to the recordings of Werdel’s July 25 and July 26 phone calls with Senator Stace Nelson. I reported on the content of those calls Wednesday. If you like, take Senator Tapio’s advice and listen to the calls yourself:
July 25, 2017:
July 26, 2017:
As we hear in the second call, Senator Nelson took Werdel’s story and her concerns about retaliation seriously enough that he e-mailed the Attorney General the night of the first call to say he was concerned about her safety.
Senator Tapio has listened to those recordings along with all the other information presented to him and other members of GOAC. He now asks GOAC to “suspend any contact with Ms. Werdel until a later time” and offers this positive assessment of her reliability as a whistleblower and witness:
While Ms. Werdel’s initial criticism of the GearUP program was considered less credible by State employees and by the Legislative Audit staff, I consider her brave attempts to expose the corruption of the GearUP program to be commendable and worthy of the greatest respect. It was her willingness to sound the alarm, and hers alone, that accurately predicted future events.
I’ve never met Ms. Werdel, but I know her type. People willing to stand up for what they believe, and fight for it, is who we need in government. I consider her to be a whistleblower and we should take precautions to protect her reputation, respect her privacy and consider concerns for her safety. Additionally, I believe there are federal whistleblower protections that we must legally respect.
The people surrounding the creation, implementation, execution and oversight of this grant should be the focus of our attention [Sen. Neal Tapio, e-mail received by Dakota Free Press, 2017.08.31].
Context is important for understanding the emails from Roger Campbell to Secretary Schopp in 2012. Context is also important in understanding Werdel’s e-mails in 2011. Both Senator Tapio and Senator Nelson have decided to view Werdel’s January 11 “apologies” in the context of what Werdel learned, did, and said about GEAR UP, Secretary Schopp’s January 10 request for Werdel’s resignation, and Werdel’s fears of further career-related retribution. You may add to your context by listening to Werdel yourself and making up your own mind.