FARGO — Fargo Park District executive director Joel Vettel resigned from his position as head of the city’s park system Tuesday, July 2, but as of Wednesday morning Vettel and district officials remained largely reticent regarding the reasons for the departure.
Just before noon Wednesday, however, Vettel released the following written statement:
"I would like to thank the citizens of Fargo for the opportunity to serve as the executive director of the Fargo Park District for the last three years.
"I stepped into this job with a vision and dream of improving upon our wonderful park district. This was a huge undertaking and I recognize I had huge shoes to fill. I did this job to the best of my ability, but I feel I can no longer continue in the role as executive director.
"Therefore, I have submitted my resignation to the Park District Commissioners. My family and I have always been huge supporters of the Fargo Park District and will continue to do so. This is a fantastic organization and a wonderful community.
"There are good people here and I wish them well. I look forward to spending more time with my family and friends, and finding my next professional opportunities," the statement read in full.
Fargo Park Board President Rusty Papachek said Tuesday night that officials were still discussing details of a separation agreement, but he did not go into any specifics.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, the park district said the board had appointed Dave Leker as interim executive director. Leker most recently served as the organization’s deputy director.
When Vettel was chosen as executive director of the park district three years ago, he and Leker were the two finalists for the job. Details about plans for a search for a permanent replacement were not available Wednesday morning, the park district said.
Vettel, a former detective and police spokesman turned city park leader, offered his resignation effective immediately to Fargo Park Board commissioners on Tuesday, Papachek said.
Papacheck said a special meeting of the park board began at 4 p.m. Tuesday and concluded at 5:30 p.m. He said the meeting was not recorded, but minutes of the meeting would be typed up at some point, though he added he wasn't sure if they could be made available before the board's next scheduled meeting July 15.
Asked if Vettel’s resignation came as a surprise, Papacheck directed questions to Vettel. Papacheck said he hoped to meet with the board's legal counsel Wednesday and more information could be forthcoming.
As executive director of the Fargo Park District, Vettel oversaw the equivalent of about 700 full-time employees and an annual budget of about $27 million. Vettel's job with the park district started with a salary of $145,000 in 2016.
Before becoming the park district's executive director, Vettel served on the park district board for a dozen years, serving twice as board president.
He came to the executive director job after a long career in the Fargo Police Department, which he joined in 1997. He was promoted to sergeant in 2002, became a lieutenant in 2006 and served as spokesman for the police department from 2011 to 2015.
He returned to his role as an investigator in 2015 and led the department’s investigations unit. Also in 2015, he made a failed bid to become chief of police, losing out to current Fargo Police Chief David Todd.
While he was still with the police department, Vettel played a major role in overseeing two successful ESPN "GameDays" that were broadcast from downtown Fargo.
In joining the park district, Vettel replaced former executive director Roger Gress, who retired at the end of 2016 after 20 years with the park district.
Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau, had praise Wednesday for the job Vettel did as the head of the park district.
"We've had a very good relationship with Joel and the park district since he came on board," Johnson said. While Johnson had no inside knowledge on the workings of the park district, he said taking over a large organization often brings with it major challenges.
"Just the fact that change at the top happens creates anxiety on a staff, so I feel for people who have to go through that. And I think Joel did his best to navigate that," Johnson said.
"I'm disappointed that he's gone," Johnson added. "I'm sure he will land on his feet, and I hope the park district finds the right person to lead them and keep leading them in the right direction."