FARGO — Following his inaugural year as executive director of the Fargo Park District, Joel Vettel received a glowing performance review at the end of 2017 for doing "an outstanding job his first year."
The review gave Vettel an overall score of 2.35 out of 3.
By the end of 2018, however, the tone of Vettel's annual review had taken a sharp turn and he had a disciplinary action on file for approving "an excessive amount of vacation leave" for employees.
A copy of Vettel's 2018 executive annual review obtained through a Forum open records request to the park district shows Vettel was given an overall score of 1.65 out of 3 and he was rated as "needing development" in a number of areas, particularly when it came to working with staff.
"Joel has recently recognized his lack of sincerity and the fact that almost every staff member at the park district was aware of it," the review stated under the heading of "sincerity" in a section titled "core values."
The review was dated 12/31/2018.
Vettel resigned from his job July 2 for reasons that remain largely undefined. In a separation agreement with the park board, he will be paid about $75,000, plus benefits, which include health insurance and retirement contributions through 2019.
In a statement he released July 3, Vettel said when he accepted the position in 2016, he realized he had "large shoes" to fill in replacing Roger Gress, who retired at the end of 2016 after decades in the top job.
Vettel said he had done the job to the best of his ability but felt he could "no longer continue in the role as executive director."
The park board accepted Vettel's resignation at a special meeting July 2 and named Dave Leker interim executive director.
Prior to Vettel taking over as executive director, Leker served as the park district's deputy director and Leker and Vettel, a former elected park board member, were the two finalists for the executive director job before it was given to Vettel.
Leker's name makes an appearance in Vettel's 2018 job review under the heading of "managing conflict."
Park board members had heard Vettel preferred to avoid conflict, even though engaging in conflict is necessary to keep conflicts from boiling over, according to the review.
"A case in point is the fractured organization chart that moved the deputy director out of the deputy position, fracturing his (Leker's) role in the organization," the review said.
"Joel and Dave Leker did not always agree on issues, which can be healthy in an organization. However, instead of dealing with the conflict, it looks like the deputy position was changed in order to reduce conflict," the job review said.
Elsewhere, the 2018 job review states that it had become clear by the fall of 2018 that Vettel had lost the trust of some of his directors due to a change in the organizational chart that moved Leker out of the deputy role, thereby "separating the director group into two camps."
The same section of the review gave Vettel "kudos" for recognizing issues and working to correct them.
"We recognize that it will take time to rebuild the trust of the staff, but it appears that we're heading in the right direction," the review said.
Elsewhere, the review stated that there was a perception that Vettel was aligned with some directors while others were considered to be on a lower level. "We also felt at times that the commissioners were the ones being thrown under the bus in situations as decisions had been made without our knowledge," the review said.
A one-page disciplinary action form obtained from the park district and dated Dec. 28, 2018, said the park board became aware that Vettel approved an excessive amount of vacation leave for prizes at a benefit fair on Oct. 25, 2018.
The form also stated that: "Upon asking about this, Joel admitted that he agreed to the leave for 2017 but said that only approximately 2-5% of the employees received the leave.
"After further review, it was discovered that 27 employees received 170 hours of leave in 2017 and 67 employees would have received 334 hours of leave in 2018. Commissioners discovered this in time so the 2018 leave wasn't awarded," the disciplinary action form said.
The disciplinary action, described as a formal warning, said Vettel agreed he shouldn't have approved the vacation leave and that he had discontinued the practice.
Board President Rusty Papachek did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, July 10. Vettel responded Wednesday with this statement: "I stepped into the role of executive director with a passion and desire for improving upon our wonderful park district. I knew this would be a huge undertaking and I did my best to serve the citizens of Fargo."
According to documents obtained from the park district Wednesday, Vettel's annual salary in 2018 was set at $160,630.
In addition to accepting Vettel's resignation, the park district board at its July 2 special meeting voted to enter into a separation agreement that will pay Vettel his regular salary and benefits through the end of the year.
As executive director, Vettel managed the equivalent of about 700 full-time employees and an annual budget of about $27 million. His position with the park district started in 2016 with a salary of $145,000.
Before becoming executive director, Vettel had served on the park board about a dozen years, serving twice as board president.
Asked for comment this week, Vettel said in a text message that he was spending quality time with his family and looking forward to assisting with the USA Wrestling Tournament set for next week at the Fargodome.
"This event is special to me, and I have had the privilege of working with the tournament for over 25 years," Vettel said.
During Vettel's tenure as executive director, two park district supervisors left the district, including Jim Larson, who had worked for the park district for about 25 years, most recently as director of finance.
Larson is now finance director for the city of West Fargo.
The other supervisor who left under Vettel's tenure was Jenny Satter, who headed human resources for the park district.
Larson and Satter declined to comment on their reasons for leaving the park district.