McKenzie Co. Commission holds special meeting to discuss removal of sheriff, lieutenant

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WATFORD CITY, N.D. - McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger says the County Commission has no right to remove him or one of his lieutenants from office.

Commissioners are seeking his dismissal because of complaints about workplace bullying and retaliation.

The McKenzie County Commission held a special meeting Monday to talk about the pending disciplinary actions against Lieutenant Michael Schmitz and whether the acting state’s attorney will send a petition to the governor’s office for Schwartzenberger’s removal.

More than a week has gone by since an investigation of the sheriff's department found cases of bullying and retaliation. Commissioners are giving Lieutenant Schmitz an opportunity to speak up.

“If he feels doesn’t think what was in that report was right, we can listen to that," says Richard Cayko, McKenzie County Commissioner.

Acting County State's Attorney Todd Schwarz told the commission he will make a decision this week about petitioning Governor Dalrymple's office to remove Schwartzenberger.

“I am in the process of reviewing all of the information. As far as accuracy and determination, I have verified things with written documents,” says Schwarz.

Schwartzenberger says he believes that since he is an elected official, the commission doesn't have the right to interfere with his office.

“I believe what the commission is doing is illegal and unwarranted," says Schwartzenberger.

Last week, Schwartzenberger filed court papers requesting commissioners to rescind their decision to ask the governor for his removal.

“I believe this is a personal vendetta against Lt. Schmitz and myself. The petition, I believe, is unwarranted based off the bias information in the investigation,” says Schwartzenberger.

Schwartzenberger says he is working with his attorney and the National Sheriff's Association to send their own letter to the governor. Commissioner Cayko says he wants everyone to continue to work together.

“The employees are excellent people here. I just don’t like to see that being undermined by whatever is that undermines it. That’s all I want, get it back to normal here,” says Cayko.

The commission will host a hearing on Nov. 15 to let Lt. Schmitz tell his side of the story.