SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — One South Dakota lawmaker is raising concerns about the newly appointed secretary for the Department of Social Services.
Lawmaker Erin Healy (D-Sioux Falls) told South Dakota Public Broadcasting she has concerns about Althoff and how he handled a sexual harassment allegation exposed in a KELOLAND News investigation by Angela Kennecke in 2017.
“Someone who doesn’t have good judgment to properly handle harassment allegations should not be leading an agency that handles child protection, childcare and behavioral health,” Healy, who sits on the House Health and Human Services committee, told SDPB.
Healy’s concerns stem from Kennecke’s reporting on how the Catholic diocese of eastern South Dakota responded to an allegation of sexual harassment.
Matt Althoff, who served as chancellor for the Catholic diocese of eastern South Dakota the past 13 years, handled the sexual harassment allegation complaint. Althoff admitted on a secret recording the woman was a “victim of sexual harassment.”
“You are the victim of somebody that crossed professional boundaries,” Althoff says in the secret recording which aired in the KELOLAND News Investigation report.
The woman and church employee’s identity was kept hidden throughout the report but she told KELOLAND News Althoff threatened she would lose her job if she made another sexual harassment report.
“Let me tell you… I don’t like to be threatening. But because it’s an employee situation. I think now that we have this established arrangement or understanding, you need to understand that that complicates the church’s ability to employ you if you disobey that,” Althoff said in the recording. You can watch the full investigation in the video below.
In an email to KELOLAND News, Father Justin Wachs, who was accused of the sexual harassment, disputed the accusations through his attorney who also said the priest agreed to reestablish professional boundaries.
A spokesman with Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls called the story regarding the allegations unfounded and inaccurate because the allegations were made anonymously and the details couldn’t be revealed because they were part of confidential personnel files.
In a future story, the woman revealed herself as Lucia Maldonado. She resigned her position and moved to Texas to be with family. She said if the Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese would have handled her case differently, she may not have felt like she had to leave.
Althoff starts Jan. 23
Gov. Kristi Noem appointed Althoff to succeed Laurie Gill as the DSS secretary in a news release on Dec. 30. Althoff is expected to start his new position on January 23.
Althoff said he was “incredibly grateful” for the appointment.
“It will be my honor to advocate for the most vulnerable in our midst, to ensure that protection and aid is delivered to them in an impactful way, and to exercise good stewardship with our precious taxpayer monies,” Althoff said in the news release.
DSS has 1,562 full-time positions budgeted for the current year, with seven divisions that provide services to the public. The department also is responsible for the state Human Services Center at Yankton.