Posted 11/01/16 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
In what has been an ever escalating conflict between Gary Schwartzenberger, McKenzie County’s sheriff, and the McKenzie Board of County the situation has now reached the point where the commissioners have petitioned North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple to remove the sheriff from office.
For most county residents, the courthouse drama is both a source of bewilderment and embarrassment. Other than what most residents have read in the McKenzie County Farmer or heard on the street about the charges and allegations from both sides, people are confused as to how this situation has now reached this level.
From all the information that we, at the McKenzie County Farmer, have been able to access, it appears that the issues between Schwartenberger and the county commissioners began shortly after he was elected in November of 2014 when he was charged by the county with Misapplication of Entrusted Property, a Class A Misdemeanor, for allegedly using a county credit card, without the county’s approval, to charge almost $1,000 during a trip to Las Vegas in 2015.
Since that time, a 2015 audit discovered over $8,400 was missing from the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office in 2014, and there was an investigation of the sheriff’s department on charges of bullying and retaliation of department employees, as well as often heated meetings between the commissioners and the sheriff regarding his department expenditures, and the commissioners requesting that one of the sheriff’s deputies be placed on administrative leave with the possibility of termination.
And now in the last two weeks, the commissioners approved a motion asking the McKenzie County State’s Attorney to file a petition with the governor asking for Schwartzenberger’s removal from office with Schwartzenberger subsequently filing a lawsuit against the county commissioners claiming unlawful interference with his office.
The question that begs to be answered in all of this is, “why didn’t the county commissioners and the sheriff, at some point very early on, sit down and have an open and honest discussion of their concerns and reach an amicable solution?”
But that question, and its answer, is now a moot point. Governor Dalrymple has now turned the county’s request over to the Attorney General’s office for investigation.
While the court system will ultimately decide on the lawsuits between the sheriff and the county, the much bigger question is now whether or not Gary Schwartzenberger will remain as McKenzie County’s sheriff. And that decision will be reached by either Governor Dalrymple or his successor following the Attorney General’s investigation.
From the standpoint of everyone involved, as well as the citizens of McKenzie County, let’s hope that Governor Dalrymple chooses to make his decision before he leaves office on Dec. 15.
Not only do Schwartzenberger and the county commissioners need to have this issue resolved quickly, but so do the citizens of McKenzie County.
The tragedy in this entire process is that no one will emerge as a winner in the final analysis. The reputation of the county commissioners, as well as the sheriff, have been tarnished.