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Reitan says he asked West Fargo commissioners to reinstate him as police chief

Embattled West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan speaks to WDAY Radio host Jay Thomas on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, in Fargo.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO—While embattled West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan says he hasn't made up his mind up about whether to accept the city's three-month severance offer, he has asked city commissioners to consider reinstating him under a performance review plan.

Reitan was placed on paid administrative leave on Jan. 13 after some Police Department staff complained about his leadership. Some employees said he created a toxic, hostile work environment.

Reitan was on WDAY radio's "Jay Thomas Show" on Monday, Jan. 30. He said he wants to return to his position as the city's top cop.

"If they took me back, I would like the opportunity to change," he told Thomas.

Mayor Rich Mattern has said he does not expect Reitan will return. Commissioners Duane Hanson and Mark Simmons said Monday the city is not likely to consider Reitan's request. Hanson said he could not comment further.

City officials have opened an investigation into Reitan's performance and said last week a report will be made available to the public when the investigation is finished.

An open records request by The Forum revealed complaints about Reitan's leadership from staff and a strained relationship between Reitan and City Administrator Tina Fisk, his direct supervisor. But Reitan said he was not made aware by Fisk or city commissioners of any complaints or performance issues before he was placed on administrative leave. He said he read about the complaints through local media.

He said his 130-page personnel file that records 30 years with the West Fargo Police Department contains no complaints, only commendations and positive reviews.

Reitan said he checked his personnel file last year after applying for a U.S. marshal position. Reitan said Monday he is no longer being considered for the job.

"As soon as the headlines hit the paper, that pretty much sealed the deal," he said.

Reitan's personnel file reflects some concern by city officials that his communication style needed some work. And "your leadership with your immediate staff may need a little fine-tuning," according to a 2010 performance appraisal.

While Reitan acknowledged that his stoic nature can be misinterpreted by those around him and he may have raised his voice in times of anger, some of the more serious allegations of losing his temper is not something he recalls.

"I work very hard at controlling my emotions," Reitan told Thomas. "I made mistakes as far as how I talk to people at times. This wasn't a daily occurrence. It was rare."

Reitan has taken several leadership and business training courses since becoming chief in 2014.

He said Monday he doesn't think there is a "witch hunt" against him, but the process that led to his current situation was murky and unclear. He said he had no warning there were complaints being made against him.

Reitan also addressed some staff's claims of favoritism within the department, saying while he had the final say on promotions, he based his decisions on staff recommendations and tried to explain his reasoning if anyone had a question.

"None of it was ever done in a vacuum," he told Thomas.

While Reitan has received support from the public and from some within the department, he said returning to work as chief could be a bumpy road, but one he'd still like to travel. Although his relationship with Fisk would likely be strained, he thought the two could work together.

"If everybody is professional, it's something that can be done," he said.

Reitan said he would like the city to at least consider creating a process to address this type of situation in the future.

"It's not about the money," Reitan said. "I really truly believe this was handled wrong."

The Casselton native was assistant chief for almost nine years under Arland Rasmussen. He began working as a patrol officer with the department in 1987. He was promoted to police sergeant in 1995. Reitan retired in 2009 as a chief master sergeant with the North Dakota Air National Guard Civil Engineering Squadron in Fargo after 33 years.

Despite what happens, Reitan doesn't regret spending his career in West Fargo.

"Of the nearly 30 years, I don't regret a single day."

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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