West Fargo city commissioners vote unanimously to fire police chief Mike Reitan
WEST FARGO -- The City Commission here voted unanimously to fire embattled Police Chief Mike Reitan on Monday, Feb. 6.
The commission opened a hearing on the matter after city staff made a recommendation that Reitan be terminated due to his treatment of employees and acts of insubordination last week. Before the hearing began, Commissioner Mark Simmons made a motion that the commission take no action until after an independent investigation by an outside agency could be completed, but the motion failed due to lack of a second.
Reitan, 58, was placed on paid administrative leave Jan. 13 and offered a three-month severance package. Reitan had until Friday, Feb. 3, to accept the offer, but he didn’t take it.
After the meeting, Mayor Rich Mattern said he would like the city to complete a national search for a new chief after he meets with Human Resources Director Jenna Wilm to see if the job description needs to be updated.
Assistant Chief Jerry Boyer is currently serving as interim chief.
Reitan, who attended Monday’s meeting with his family and a number of supporters from the public, was given the opportunity to speak. West Fargo police officers in and out of uniform, including Boyer, lined the back wall of the commission chambers.
With unsteady hands, Reitan went through a formal presentation for the commision. He told the commission that while he admits he may have made mistakes, he is disappointed in the process that had led to this point.
“I recognize I have made mistakes along the way and at times could have been more patient,” Reitan said. “I also recognize I have always done my best to serve others.”
Former West Fargo Police Chief Arland Rasmussen, who recommended Reitan be made chief after his retirement in 2014, also attended Monday’s meeting. Rasmussen said after the meeting that he was disappointed in the outcome.
Longtime West Fargo resident and former city employee Sharon Schacher said she was very disappointed in the outcome of Monday’s meeting.
While Reitan was on leave, Wilm and city administrators opened a full investigation into his leadership. Between Jan. 23 and 30, Wilm interviewed 54 police department staff, including office personnel and sworn officers, as well as other public officials such as the public works director and fire chief, for a total of 71 interviews regarding Reitan’s performance. Of the 71 interviews, 61 were used to create the report. When asked to describe Reitan’s leadership, many said they had or tried to have little contact with the chief. Wilm said most employees said they did not come forward sooner with concerns regarding Reitan out of fear of retaliation.
“Not one person that was interviewed asked that Mike Reitan come back as chief,” Wilm said Monday.
An open records request by The Forum revealed complaints about Reitan’s leadership from staff and a strained relationship with City Administrator Tina Fisk, his direct supervisor. But Reitan has repeatedly 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.
According to a city investigation of Reitan released Friday, Fisk first began looking into his performance in September when she received a complaint. While only a few staff members made complaints prior to Reitan being placed on administrative leave, staff told city officials they did not speak up prior to the investigation because they were afraid of retaliation, according to the city’s investigation report.
Many of the police force’s staff asked to describe the working environment at the department said morale had been on a steady decline.
“He was terrible with communication, that was his biggest issue,” one employee said.
According to the city’s report, the basis for Reitan’s termination recommendation is both due to the personnel complaints and instances of Reitan lobbying for state laws without prior authorization by the city. The report also pointed to an incident in which Reitan allegedly notified a restaurant owner of being in violation of the city’s liquor ordinance without authorization from Fisk or the city attorney.
While Reitan had asked the city to let him return to work under a performance review plan, Fisk said Monday that due to the severity of complaints against Reitan, it was clear that would not be possible. Fisk said Reitan had taken extensive training and leadership courses already.
“Those had no marked change to his treatment of employees,” Fisk said. “There was such a large number of issues there, and those were taking place regularly.”
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.
“This has been very difficult on my family,” Reitan said Monday.
He told reporters Monday that he will move on from recent events and continue to be the person he has always been.
“I’ll just need to move forward,” Reitan said. “I would like to see more transparency [in city government].”