North Dakota Economic Development Director Fired, But City Leaders Won't Say Why

The City of Walhalla has fired their long-time economic development director Kathy Stremick. Stremick has worked for the city since 1983, and SAB readers will probably remember her as the local official who was pushing for Legislators to purchase a ski resort for the sake of local tourism. Stremick also ran for the state House as a Democrat in 2008, but was unsuccessful.

So why did Walhalla fire Stremick? That’s a good question. The city used executive sessions to discuss the termination, and when I reached out to the city’s attorney and members of the city council I got refusals to comment, or no response at all, beyond confirm that Stremick had been fired for cause.

I wrote about it at Watchdog.org today:

Reached for comment, Dubois refused to provide details about the termination.

“I will not comment on that,” he told Watchdog, though he did confirm the termination “was for cause.”

A request for public records pertaining to Stremick’s termination sent to Dubois resulted in copies of minutes from the city council’s meetings on July 29, Aug. 4 and Aug. 5 at which executive sessions were held to discuss Stremick. Also provided were 73 pages of expense receipts and reimbursement claims filed with the city by Stremick. No explanation was provided for what these documents have to do with Stremick’s termination.

Council member Mike Belarus also refused comment on Stremick’s termination.

“I’m not really willing to talk about that right now,” he said.

These efforts to keep the facts behind Stremick’s termination from the public may backfire on the city. Just last week Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office issued an opinion regarding the City of Belfield’s use of executive session to discuss the termination of a police officer found to be having sex while on the clock:

In an opinion released Friday, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem ruled the City of Belfield’s use of executive session to discuss the termination of a police officer found to be having sex on the job was a violation of open meetings law. Stenehjem wrote in the opinion it was acceptable to hold an executive session to consult with legal counsel, but it wasn’t acceptable to use an executive session to discuss personnel issues.

“Portions of the executive session held June 2, 2014, in which the Council received its attorney’s advice regarding pending and reasonably predictable litigation and considered a memorandum containing exempt information, were authorized by law, however, other discussions regarding personnel issues were improperly held during the executive session,” Stenehjem wrote of the Belfield situation.

I’ve got to think that applies to Walhalla as well. And, indeed, shortly after I posted my story at Watchdog the AG’s office got back to me saying that local leaders have seen the error of their ways and will be forwarding me all the information from the executive sessions.

So I should have more information about this tomorrow.

UPDATE: The Grand Forks Herald has picked up on the story now that SAB has brought it to light.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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