FARGO — North Dakota state authorities will investigate Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney after he publicly revealed a name from a list of police chief applicants — a list that state law says must be kept confidential.
Interim Police Chief Ross Renner told The Forum he received word of the probe from the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation on Thursday, Aug. 6.
"I did speak to the BCI, and they are looking into it at this point, and I think they'll talk to some people over here about it and go from there," Renner said.
The BCI has been asked to investigate whether Mahoney committed a Class C felony when he told a Forum reporter on July 24 that Deputy Chief Joe Anderson was an applicant for the permanent chief position and that Renner would be the best interim chief because he was not applying for the job.
Renner said he contacted the BCI, an outside agency, about conducting the investigation because Mahoney is technically his boss.
"If we were investigating an officer, obviously they're lower in the chain of command than we are, so, there is not going to be a whole lot of influence on that investigation or the perception of that. Well, the mayor is obviously the leader of the city, and he's the boss to all of us, so it makes total sense to be investigated by an outside agency," Renner said.
When asked for comment about the BCI investigation, city spokesman Gregg Schildberger said: "The referral of this question to the North Dakota BCI is within the standard procedures for both the Fargo Police Department and The City of Fargo to ensure impartiality. The City will fully cooperate with all aspects of the inquiry in full transparency.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 5, before starting the Police Chief Selection Committee’s closed-door session, Mahoney acknowledged his disclosure of an applicant, saying the disclosure was necessary to “insure that Fargo PD would be led successfully until its permanent chief is hired.” Former Chief David Todd stepped down from his post on July 31.
The issue of Mahoney's disclosure came to light after Black Lives Matter organizer Jamaal Abegaz filed a public records request with the city that revealed that members of the Police Chief Selection Committee, including Mahoney, had to sign confidentiality agreements requiring them to keep secret the applicants' names, with the exception of the finalists.
On July 16, Mahoney signed the agreement agreeing not to disclose information about police chief applicants or he could face a Class C felony charge. A Class C felony carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $10,000, according to the North Dakota Century Code.
When asked Wednesday about Mahoney's disclosure, Schildberger wrote in an email to The Forum that, "When considering the manner in which the information in the mayor's possession was used, it is important to distinguish his role as a hiring manager for the position of interim chief from his role as a member of the selection committee."
According to the law, Mahoney can continue as mayor unless he's found guilty and sentenced.
The North Dakota Century Code states that the office of an elected official is forfeited if and when convicted and sentenced of a felony. An appeal will not reverse the decision, but if the conviction is eventually reversed, the defendant is restored to public office.
“As long as there is just an investigation there isn’t much, the presumption of innocence carries forward. The statutes that deal with this provides for them being guilty of a crime rather than just an investigation,” said John Bjornson, director of the North Dakota Legislative Council.