Fargo city commissioners taking action against Police Chief David Zibolski
The wheels are in motion to make changes at the Fargo Police Department. An investigative report from WDAY News shined a light on negative exit interviews and staffing shortages. One city leader is demanding Chief David Zibolski be fired, while another is seeking an improvement plan.
FARGO — Despite Commissioner Dave Piepkorn calling for Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski's immediate dismissal during an interview Wednesday morning, Jan. 19, on KFGO's "News and Views with Joel Heitkamp" program, Mayor Tim Mahoney and other commissioners don't agree.
Commissioner Tony Gehrig said he is working with city administrators on a performance improvement plan for the police chief, which Mahoney also favors.
In Gehrig's mind, there are three ways the city commission can address concerns about morale and staffing issues in the department.
"One, we do nothing," he said. "Two, we fire the chief right now. Or three, we can do the process I laid forward and try to fix the issue. I don't think doing nothing is an option. I don't think firing the chief is going to fix anything."
He said it takes months and months to hire a new chief and an interim chief, likely from the current leadership team, wouldn't take any major steps.
The improvement contract process is already in place, Gehrig said, with City Administrator Bruce Grubb spearheading the draft.
It will establish what an ideal department is like, agree on how to get Fargo police up to that standard, then set a deadline, Gehrig said.
He said the time frame for the improvement plan could be six months, but could potentially be longer or shorter.
"If we're not there, then we have to find someone who can get us there," Gehrig said, later clarifying that he implied firing the police chief at the end of this time frame if the conditions of the improvement contract aren't met.
Gehrig said he received an anonymous email on Tuesday from a person who said he was a Fargo officer stating that one of the officer's calls for assistance weren't answered by other cops.
The commissioner said he passed the email onto Mayor Tim Mahoney and the other commissioners "just so they could see it."
He said he didn't intend for it to go public. Although the email looked like it was credible, he admitted it could be fake.
Apparently, Piepkorn was responding to that latest email in his comments on the firing.
The mayor in an interview Wednesday night said the chief looked into the matter and said it didn't happen, adding he wasn't even aware of the situation.
Mahoney also said he looked into the issue and didn't find it to be true. He said he knows of no incident where an officer didn't have backup as they also work cooperatively with other law enforcement agencies in the metro.
Besides the chief and administrative performance plan, Mahoney also thinks an "outside service" should be hired to examine what's going on in the department as far as morale.
He added that he's talked with several officers and they are proud to be working for the department.
Even though 35 officers have retired or left the department in the past 18 months, Mahoney said five officers are starting Monday and that the department's new police training academy is preparing other officers to join the force.
In all, the department has about 190 employees, including civilians. About 68 officers work four patrol shifts around the clock, Mahoney said.
As for Piepkorn's firing comment, the mayor said the commissioner is "overreacting and doesn't understand policing."
He also said an anonymous email shouldn't be given that much stock and that Piepkorn should look into the facts.
Gehrig does think the chief should have told commissioners about these alleged issues a while ago, including staffing shortages.
A few of the exit interview comments, obtained in an open records request, stated the department had a toxic working environment and blamed the chief for poor leadership.
Zibolski in the emergency meeting said 70% of the comments, however, were positive.
Commissioner John Strand seemed to not be in line with Gehrig and Piepkorn's concerns at the emergency meeting on Tuesday. He further agreed with that in a later phone interview stating that staffing shortages are affecting all departments in the city, and they have been talking about it for months.
"I'm not going to participate in throwing other leaders under the bus in saying you should have done your job better, you weren't informing us," Strand said on Tuesday.
Gehrig is taking the proposal for an improvement plan to a vote during the commission meeting this coming Monday, Jan. 24, though the improvement contract will likely not be complete by that day.
Piepkorn declined an interview request from WDAY, saying he wants to wait until the improvement plan is complete.