Utah Republican Party interns sign letter calling party secretary ‘unfit’ for her office

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Utah Republican Party Secretary Lisa Shepherd during the State Central Committee meeting at the Park City Library Saturday, November 4, 2017.

Interns and employees of the Utah Republican Party have called out the current party secretary, Lisa Shepherd, as being unfit for her leadership post in a letter sent to state Republican delegates Thursday.

The letter is signed by eight individuals, three of whom are currently listed as party staff on the party website, who say Shepherd engaged in unprofessional behavior and contributed to a work environment that became hostile, tense, antagonistic and unhealthy when she was present.

“It has been our experience that State Party Secretary Lisa Shepherd has demonstrated by her actions that she is unfit for this office,” the letter states.

Shepherd — who is seeking re-election to her position during the party’s upcoming convention on May 4 — disputed the letter’s characterization of her conduct. She said she typically works from home and has relatively little interaction with the party’s interns and office staff.

“It’s not true," Shepherd said. “There’s no way it’s true. I’m actually pretty shocked by it.”

She also questioned the legitimacy of the letter, speculating — without offering evidence — that it was either written by or at the direction of outgoing party Chairman Rob Anderson.

“What a shame it is that Chairman Anderson wouldn’t leave the office of chairman gracefully,” Shepherd said. “Instead, he’s gotten knee-deep into the trenches of mud slinging.”

Anderson said Friday that he had no knowledge of the letter before it went out to delegates. However, he added, “I don’t disagree with the contents of it.”

In their letter, the interns and employees stop short of calling for Shepherd’s defeat at convention, while urging delegates to “take Lisa’s history as an officer into account as you choose a new Party Secretary.”

GOP interns letter by on Scribd

Kaden Madson, a former intern and one of the letter signers, said the decision to air their concerns was not made lightly or in haste. Madson said his personal objections stem from an incident in which Shepherd directed him to retrieve information from the personal email account of Anderson, the party chairman.

“When she wanted me to go into the chairman’s email account, especially given the relationship that they have, there was no way I was just going to do that,” Madson said.

Shepherd disputed that description of the incident, saying instead that she had been working with staff to retrieve a misplaced email that was intended for the party’s general information account. When the email wasn’t located, she said, a staff member suggested it might have been sent to Anderson’s account.

“I would never have demanded to get into somebody’s email,” Shepherd said. “That’s not me. That’s not my personality.”

Anderson has frequently, and publicly, sparred with the more conservative factions of the Utah Republican Party. He was recently censured by the party’s State Central Committee, or SCC, for his decision to ignore a proposed bylaw that could have revoked the party membership of election candidates who qualified for the ballot by gathering voter signatures — a qualifying path established under state law.

Madson said it would be “putting it mildly” to describe Anderson and Shepherd’s relationship as tense, and that part of the motivation behind the interns’ letter was to defend Anderson or counter the criticisms that have been leveled against his tenure as chairman.

“That just wasn’t any of our — as interns — experience working with him,” Madson said. “But we all had some type of negative experience with the secretary. So we thought it was incredibly unfair and one-sided to only have one story being told when we think that there’s a lot more going on that people should probably know about.”

Henry Powell, another letter signer who continues to work at the party, said he was not motivated by any particular incident. But he described Shepherd’s demeanor in office meetings and interactions as rude, abrupt and impolite.

“She’s just not a, you know, nice person,” he said. “The other interns, they have other stories that are probably worse.”

The other six individuals who signed the letter either declined to comment, or could not be reached for comment.

Anderson said that Shepherd and the interns had a “strained” relationship, and that he had previously instructed the staff to be polite while avoiding contact with the secretary, and to go through him when that interaction was necessary.

Anderson also acknowledged his own conflicts with Shepherd and said state delegates should consider all available information to determine what they feel is important in future party officers and cast their vote accordingly.

“She was very confrontational with me the whole term of my tenure,” he said. “To say anything else would be disingenuous.”

But Shepherd said it was Anderson who was hostile to her and other members of the State Central Committee. She criticized the letter as retaliation for Anderson’s censure — Shepherd served on a committee that investigated Anderson’s actions — and a “dirty," last-minute political attack against her re-election campaign.

She said she enjoyed a great working relationship with the last chairman, James Evans, and anticipates having a good relationship with Anderson’s successor.

“I don’t ask people for endorsements,” Shepherd said. “People have been sending them to me. That says something."

Kendra Seeley, who is challenging Shepherd for the position of secretary, said Friday she was aware of the letter but that she and her campaign had no involvement with its creation or distribution.

She said she does not want to discount what the young Republicans have to say about their experience, and that “a certain level of professionalism” is necessary in a campaign for party office.

“I do think that my opponent and I are very different and obviously I think I’m a better candidate for this position, because I wouldn’t be running [otherwise],” Seeley said. “With that being said, I do think that as a party we’ve had a lot of infighting and we’re going to have to stop fighting over things that don’t matter and get back to the basics of the party.