By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau
FOR CAUSE: Long-time economic development director Kathy Stremick was fired by the City of Walhalla recently, but city leaders aren’t saying why.
WALHALLA, N.D. — The economic development director for the City of Walhalla has been fired, but officials aren’t telling the public why.
According to the minutes of an Aug. 4 special meeting of the Walhalla City Council, city leaders voted to terminate Kathy Stremick’s employment with the city, acting on the advice of city attorney Larry Dubois. The 4-1 vote came after an executive session that was closed to the public.
The meeting minutes didn’t indicate which member of the city council cast the dissenting vote. All members of the council were present except for Walhalla Mayor Chris Jackson.
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.
In a 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.
Watchdog has contacted Stenehjem’s office for assistance in obtaining open records pertaining to his termination.
Jackson couldn’t be reached for comment on his private cell phone number. City Auditor Shirley Robillard told Watchdog that Jackson is currently on vacation. Messages left for council members LeRae Corrigan and Larry Gapp were not returned.
Stremick garnered statewide attention as a vocal supporter of a controversial bid to have the state purchase and manage the Frost Fire Ski Area near Walhalla. The bid ultimately failed when an appropriation to make the purchase was stripped from the parks and recreation budget.
According to Stremick’s LinkedIn profile, she had worked for Walhalla since 1983. In 2008, she was awarded the ND Tourism Industry Leadership Award by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. That year she also ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the North Dakota House in District 10.
Stremick didn’t respond to a voice mail message left on her personal phone line, or to a message sent to her Facebook profile.