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Man pushing to disband police department barred from addressing Valley City commissioners

Bob Drake of Valley City, N.D. is leading an effort to ask voters to disband the Valley City Police Department and make the Barnes County Sheriff’s Office the law enforcement agency for the city. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

VALLEY CITY, N.D. -- Bob Drake, who has been pushing to eliminate the city police department, was removed from the City Commission agenda and barred from addressing leaders at their meeting today.

Drake had been placed on the agenda and was going to urge commissioners to immediately terminate Chief Fred Thompson, who last month announced he would resign in January. Thompson's announcement came days before it was revealed that he had pointed his gun at a father playing war games with his sons using toy guns. No action was taken against Thompson, who said he thought the father was toting a real semi-automatic rifle.

After that incident, Drake, a frequent critic of city government, proposed eliminating the police department and having its services provided by the Barnes County Sheriff's Office to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Drake received notification over the weekend that he had been removed from the agenda for today's City Commission meeting.

Russell Myhre, the city attorney for Valley City, said officials were concerned that Drake planned to level new allegations against Thompson, which could violate the police chief's due process rights.

City Administrator David Schelkoph wrote Drake to explain the city's position, including a memo from Myhre explaining the due process concerns, which give public employees the right to defend themselves when accused of improper conduct.

"It is my hope that you will see the necessity of protecting city employees from an unfair and unconstitutional process that does not give the accused proper legal protections," Schelkoph wrote Drake. "Everyone is entitled to a fair and discrimination free work place."

But Drake, who said he was not planning on leveling new accusations against Thompson, believes he is being unfairly muzzled. He said he knows citizens are not allowed to stray beyond the reason they provide for addressing commissioners, which Drake said was to press for Thompson's immediate termination.

"We don't owe him anything," Drake said of the police chief, who took over the department in 2012 after serving in Nevada. "Let's err on the side of caution and tell him to go back to Nevada now. That's basically was what I was going to say."

Myhre said the city cannot summarily dismiss an employee, and has to go through proper procedures before disciplining or terminating employees, including providing a hearing.

City Commission meetings, which are televised, are not the proper venue for airing grievances against employees, Myhre and Schelkoph said. Complaints should be submitted in writing, they said.

"We're not trying to stifle the free speech rights of any citizens of Valley City," Schelkoph said, adding that the city must follow procedures. "They need to go through proper challenges," he said of citizens with complaints against employees.

But Drake said that he believes his free speech rights are taking a back seat to Thompson's procedural rights.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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