Valley City chief says he's target of 'smear campaign' by city leaders
VALLEY CITY, N.D.
VALLEY CITY, N.D. - This city's embattled police chief defended himself at length Wednesday against recent accusations he mishandled and misspent thousands of dollars in public funds.
Again denying any wrongdoing, Dean Ross said he believes he's the target of a "smear campaign" led by Valley City Administrator Jon Cameron and other city leaders.
Ross and Cameron have clashed since February, when Ross was reprimanded for asking a question during a commission meeting that Cameron told him not to ask.
Last week, Cameron and Commissioner Jon Wagar levied several allegations against Ross and subsequently put him on administrative leave, which ends after today.
Ross called some of the allegations "absolutely ridiculous."
However, he agreed with others but contends he acted for the right reasons in accordance with longstanding practices.
City officials alleged that Ross misspent taxpayer dollars given to the Valley City Police Association and Counter-Act, private groups overseen by Ross or with ties to his department.
The association helps pay for equipment and social activities at the Police Department.
Counter-Act is a drug-and-alcohol prevention program aimed at Valley City youth.
The city hasn't released the amount of money they believe was involved - but by Ross' explanation, it involves more than $10,000 over the past decade.
Ross said he never sought to hide public funds and that he can account for each dollar of the money in question.
He said the money was spent in ways that would benefit Valley City taxpayers - such as acquiring surplus equipment to be used by the police department or later sold for the city's monetary benefit.
"In our minds, we were helping the people of Valley City," he said.
During his emotional 90-minute public statement Wednesday, Ross said again he won't resign - but he also appeared to be readying himself for the prospect that he could be terminated, perhaps as early as Friday.
"I didn't want to go out like this," said Ross, a 38-year veteran of the Valley City Police Department. "It ain't easy. It just isn't easy, but I'm choosing to hang in there. ... I'm not hiding anything."
Cameron said earlier Wednesday that no decisions had been made regarding the status of Ross' employment.
The city has launched a formal investigation against Ross, and officials are still discussing their options with the city attorney about whether Ross can return to work Friday, Cameron said.
Officials could also extend Ross' leave of absence or fire him.
As an appointed city employee, Ross is protected in part by state law - which says an appointed employee can be fired with a majority vote of a city commission but not without just cause.
Accusations that Ross orchestrated large-scale document-shredding at the Police Department late at night are "bogus," Ross said.
He's unsure where the claim originated and said he's only been cleaning up his office in preparation of what he expected could be his last day in the near future.
"Long ago, I packed a lot of stuff out of my office, and I was going to pull the plug," Ross said, choking up. "I didn't do it. Sometimes, I wish I would've - but at this point I'm not going to do it."
City officials have questioned the use of taxpayer dollars to fund the Counter-Act program, which hasn't been in Valley City schools for several years, due to staffing changes in 2005.
Counter-Act continued to receive funding through court-ordered fees until two years ago when city leaders began withholding the funds.
In the absence of the school program, Ross said the money was spent on police equipment and youth programs, like Students Against Drunk Driving.
Ross said Cameron is singling out the Counter-Act program by probing its finances without investigating the finances of other organizations that receive funding through court-ordered donations.
Ross also dismissed allegations of the existence of two police bank accounts that city officials claim weren't authorized.
Ross said the accounts were opened in 1990 and 2002 to manage city and federal funds in accordance with standard practices.
While the investigation continues against Ross, other city officials - including Cameron - are also under fire.
A petition drive seeks to end the position of city administrator, and approval of another petition has been sought to recall the mayor and three city commissioners.
Both petition drives came after Ross' reprimand, and Ross denied claims he orchestrated the petitions.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541