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Police chief awaits judge's decision

VALLEY CITY, N.D. - Valley City's embattled police chief will find out by Sept. 9 whether an oral reprimand issued against him by the city administrator will stand, a judge said Thursday.

VALLEY CITY, N.D. - Valley City's embattled police chief will find out by Sept. 9 whether an oral reprimand issued against him by the city administrator will stand, a judge said Thursday.

Regardless of which way the ruling goes, Dean Ross said he wants to remain as Valley City's police chief.

"We want it removed just for principle's sake," he said of the reprimand.

Southeast Judicial District Court Judge Daniel Narum said he'll issue his ruling on or before Sept. 9.

Narum heard arguments during a court hearing Thursday morning from Dan Gaustad, an attorney for the city, and Joe Larson, Ross's attorney.

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City Administrator Jon Cameron reprimanded Ross in February for disobeying an order during a Barnes County Commission meeting. Cameron had told Ross not to ask commissioners why the county wanted to move 911 operations, but Ross asked the question anyway.

Ross contends that under city ordinance all orders to the police chief must come from the City Commission president. Ross wants the court to cancel the verbal reprimand and remove evidence of it from his personnel file.

Gaustad argued that the action Ross is asking the court to take is beyond its authority. He said the court can't force a quasi-judicial body such as the City Commission to change its 3-2 decision to uphold the reprimand.

"You may not agree with the decision, judge, but that does not give you the right to mandate a different result," Gaustad said, calling it a "separation of powers argument."

Larson reiterated that under city ordinance Ross is subject to orders only from the president of the City Commission - the mayor - and not Cameron.

"It's a matter of a total failure to follow the law," Larson said.

Gaustad noted that Ross had previously signed a form stating he would adhere to the city's Employees Policy & Procedure Manual, which says in part that employees must perform their duties "under the direction and supervision of the City Administrator." Cameron's job description also states that he oversees city department supervisors.

Larson said that an employee manual and job description can't amend city ordinance. He said Ross and Cameron have an administrative relationship, "not a chain-of-command relationship."

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The city placed Ross on paid administrative leave about six weeks ago amid allegations that he mishandled or misspent thousands of dollars in public funds given to the Valley City Police Association and CounterAct, two private groups overseen by Ross or with ties to the police department. Ross denies any wrongdoing.

An attorney for the city wouldn't comment on the investigation Thursday.

Meanwhile, a special election is scheduled for Oct. 4, when Valley City voters will decide whether to eliminate the city administrator position. The City Commission voted to have the election after a petition to put the issue on the ballot garnered the required 491 signatures.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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