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West Fargo police chief Reitan decides not to accept severance agreement

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

WEST FARGO -- After embattled Police Chief Mike Reitan decided Friday not to accept a three-month severance package, city administrators released a report recommending that he be terminated.

“I chose to allow the agreement to expire,” Reitan said Friday, Feb. 3. “The reason I did so is because I was uncomfortable with the requirement that I not speak about the situation, and the fact that I would waive any ability to seek a possible civil action. My next step now is to wait until there is some action by the commission.”

Reitan had until 4 p.m. Friday to accept the offer. Shortly after 4 p.m., the city sent out a statement.

“As of 4 p.m. Feb. 3, 2017, the City of West Fargo has not received a signed separation agreement from Mike Reitan,” it stated. “Therefore, a hearing to review a final administrative report and recommendation for termination has been added to the Feb. 6 city commission meeting agenda.”

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

City officials then opened an investigation into Reitan's performance and released a report Friday evening prepared by Human Resources Administrator Jenna Wilm.

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. Some interviews were not used because the staff did not feel comfortable talking about the matter, offered non-relevant information or had worked at the department for less than a year and did not feel they had anything to contribute.

Staff members were asked to describe the working environment of the department and many said that morale had been on a steady decline.
When asked to describe Reitan’s leadership, many said they had or tried to have little contact with the chief.

“He was terrible with communication, that was his biggest issue,” one staff member said in the report.

Reitan said shortly after he was placed on leave that he has retained an attorney. Reitan is paid an annual salary of about $114,254.

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 the city’s report, Fisk first began looking into Reitan’s performance in September when she received a complaint and she began interviewing some staff members and spoke to the city attorney about how to proceed. While only a few staff members made complaints prior to Reitan being placed on administrative leave, the city’s final report said staff stated they did not speak up prior to the investigation because they were afraid of retaliation.

Last weekend, Reitan asked city commissioners to consider returning him to his post under a performance review, but  Mayor Rich Mattern and commissioners have said it is unlikely the city  would consider that.

In the city’s report, more than two dozen staff members said they felt Reitan should not return as chief.

“I would like him to not come back,” one  staffer said. “Since he’s been gone, it’s been a totally different atmosphere around here.”

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.

The report also claims that Reitan has given false information to local media.

“The city has been made aware that Reitan has been making media appearances while on paid administrative leave,” the report said. “During these appearances he has given false information that does not reflect the policies of the city.”

The Forum requested exit interview documents last week from any Police Department staff who have left the department since Reitan became chief in 2014. City officials released interviews from eight staff members, but none cited Reitan as a reason for leaving.
The majority of employee exit interviews stated they were leaving due to personal reasons such as taking a position with higher pay, better hours or changing careers. Although, some former staff members said there was low morale or negativity in the department, complaints of favoritism and lack of leadership in the released exit interviews were only leveled at the police clerk supervisor and Assistant Police Chief Jerry Boyer.

One employee cited multiple incidents of negative interactions with Boyer, but said Reitan had treated him well.

“Chief Michael Reitan and Lt. Duane Sall seem to be the only people at high levels of supervision that treat employees with respect and fairness,” the employee said in the exit interview.

Boyer is now the interim police chief.

Reitan has said his 130-page personnel file that covers his 30 years with the West Fargo Police Department contains no complaints, only commendations and positive reviews. Reitan checked the file last year after applying for a U.S. marshal position. Reitan said this week he is no longer being considered for the job.

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.