WEST FARGO -- City officials have offered three months in pay in a severance package for West Fargo's suddenly embattled police chief, who says he was surprised when he was put on leave late last week.
Chief Mike Reitan told The Forum on Monday he'd consider returning to his post if the City Commission decided to keep him on, but West Fargo's top administrator and the mayor say he's unlikely to return to the post.
City officials haven't disclosed why they want Reitan out as the leader of West Fargo Police Department, and Reitan wouldn't say either, in an interview with The Forum.
“Because I am (a city) employee, I’m restricted on what I can release and say at this point until it’s resolved and then we’ll see where we can go from there,” he said Monday afternoon during an interview at his West Fargo home.
Mayor Rich Mattern said Monday the city offered Reitan, a 30-year veteran of the West Fargo force, a severance package that would include three months pay.
Reitan and his family attended the city’s regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 16, but the City Commission took no action regarding his fate as chief.
After the meeting, as more than a dozen residents offered handshakes and words of support to Reitan inside City Hall. Reitan said he could not comment on any potential agreement but has hired a private employment attorney. He declined to name the attorney.
City Administrator Tina Fisk, Reitan’s direct supervisor, said she placed him on administrative leave Friday, Jan. 13, the same day the City Commission met privately to discuss the matter.
“We anticipate he will not be returning,” Fisk said. “We haven’t made any decisions on the matter at this time.”
Fisk and City Attorney Jon Shockley would not say Monday why Reitan was placed on administrative leave, but said the City Commission expects to hold a special meeting to take action on his position in the “very near future.”
Reitan said being placed on leave came as a surprise to him and his wife. Asked if he wants to continue as chief, he said, “If that’s a possibility, I mean, there’s nothing that is beyond consideration for us, but you know, we have to take a look at that.”
He added that the decision to keep him as chief would have to be made by the City Commission.
When asked if a complaint has been filed against Reitan, Shockley called the case a “personnel matter” and said he could not comment. Shockley said placing an official on paid leave is standard protocol for the city.
The City Commission held a special meeting on Friday, Jan. 13. and entered into executive session when Mattern said he was closing the meeting for attorney-client privilege.
Shockley said Monday that commissioners were notified in Friday’s meeting that Fisk had placed the chief on leave. Shockley said while no lawsuit has been filed, the commission was able to meet in a closed-door executive session under an exemption to state open-meeting law that allows that public boards to confer privately with their attorney about matters that may prompt a lawsuit.
Assistant Police Chief Jerry Boyer will lead the department until a decision is made about the chief. Reitan named Boyer assistant chief in November 2015.
“No other changes [in the police department] will be made,” Fisk said.
Fisk said a recruitment search would begin if the city decides to seek a new police chief.
“We just need to let this process go through at this time,” Commissioner Mark Simmons said Monday.
Mattern said Monday city officials would likely start a national search for a new chief if the full commission decides to remove Reitan as chief.
The mayor, who also did not give a reason for Reitan’s leave, said citizen safety is not compromised in any way due to the upheaval within the police department.
“Sometimes things just don’t work out,” Mattern said. “This is probably one of those cases. This is tough on everybody.”
Reitan was hired as chief after longtime chief Arland Rasmussen retired in 2014.
The Casselton native was assistant chief for almost nine years under Rasmussen. He began working as a patrol officer with the police 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 of service.
Reitan told The Forum on Monday he’s enjoyed working as a West Fargo officer and with the members of the West Fargo Police Department. “It’s, I think, the premier police department in the state, and people want to work here. So I’m very proud of the department, and I’m very proud of the staff that works there,” he said.
Reitan said that since being put on leave, he and his wife have received a great deal of support from family, friends, local residents and law enforcement and fire officials. “It’s very comforting and reassuring to us that just the sheer number of people that have reached out offering comfort and support,” he said. “We’re very thankful for all those that have.”