WEST FARGO — West Fargo Public Works Director Chris Brungardt resigned late Thursday, Sept. 19, just days after the department's assistant director was fired.

"After careful thought, duress, and coercion I have decided to tender my resignation effective Dec. 31, 2019," Brungardt wrote in his letter of resignation. "This resignation has brought great sadness and emptiness to my soul. However it is best for my family and myself."

In a phone interview, Brungardt told The Forum he had just decided it was time for a change.

"Being in that position (as director) is a tough position," he said. "It is a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I just didn't like who I was becoming. I just needed to change things up and become a better person, a better father and spend more time with my family."

Brungardt's resignation came days after the department's assistant director, Ryan James, was fired on Monday, Sept. 16.

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Melissa Richard, a city spokeswoman, confirmed James was terminated, but declined to say why. The city first hired James in 2008 as a sewer and water staff member. He returned in November 2013 as an equipment operator, then became operations manager, a title that was adjusted to assistant director of public works.

"The city does not comment on personnel issues," she said.

Brungardt said his decision was not directly related to James' firing.

"It's unfortunate, but it's all part and parcel," Brungardt said. "Doing civil service, no one is ever happy. It's a difficult position to be in for a long period of time. There are a lot of good people out there, we do good things. I don't think public works are appreciated in any community. They're kind of there for when things go wrong."

Brungardt was hired in July 1996 as an engineering assistant and served as assistant director of public works for about seven years before becoming director in 2013. His personnel file included numerous letters of commendation, and annual reviews recorded his performance as meeting or exceeding most categories.

However, in August 2018, Brungardt received a written warning from City Administrator Tina Fisk regarding his leadership style. Fisk said Brungardt "has not dealt with many issues brought forward by staff in an effective manner, which has led staff to either being uncomfortable discussing their concerns or feeling their concerns are dismissed."

Fisk went on to say staff had reported inappropriate comments and jokes made by Brungardt and that he had not appropriately addressed the "abrasive leadership" of a supervisor in his department or a staffer's potential violation of the city's drug and alcohol policy.

In the warning, Fisk said Brungardt's disregard for who might hear inappropriate comments was a liability. "This could be cause of a potential harassment suit and the city itself could be liable for these as actions as well as Chris personally," Fisk wrote.

Brungardt was also asked to lead by example and hold Ryan, specifically, accountable for his actions. "Chris has been made aware of the lack of leadership of Ryan James on several occasions, including leading by intimidation of employees, bullying, etc., which have been dismissed many times," Fisk wrote.

West Fargo's Public Works Department has more than 50 employees and is responsible for streets, snow removal, sewer and water, sanitation, forestry and buildings.

In his letter of resignation, Brungardt thanked the public works department staff for their hard work over his more than 20 years with the city and said the relationships he's built with all of the staff over the years will be greatly missed.

Brungardt said he's had many personal and professional achievements while working for West Fargo, including starting the first, single-sort recycling system in the metro area; decommissioning the city's lagoons; the start of redeveloping Sheyenne Street; and the upcoming Lights on Sheyenne 32 development.

"It's difficult to leave while there are still so many things left undone," Brungardt said.