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Illegal commission meeting?: Legality of Stark County assembly to ask for removal of sheriff questioned

Attorneys for the North Dakota Newspaper Association and Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy believe the Stark County Commission may have met illegally to request the dismissal of the sheriff, but the county state's attorney said Wednesday he thinks otherwise.

The commissioners asked Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning on Tuesday to file a complaint against Tuhy with Gov. Jack Dalrymple's office during an executive session at the Stark County Courthouse. The commission requested he be removed based on a workplace investigation of the Stark County Sheriff's Office that determined Tuhy was "ineffective and incompetent" as sheriff.

Tuhy will continue his duties until the governor responds.

A letter signed by Chairman Ken Zander stated the commissioners are concerned about "the safety and security of the citizenry of Stark County and the traveling public may be seriously endangered by (Tuhy's) reaction to the filing of this complaint."

A governing body can go into executive session to discuss litigation matters or issues leading to litigation. It must also inform the media prior to the meeting and provide a reason for the closed session.

The office of the state's attorney called Monday to inform The Dickinson Press of the executive session.

"They are allowed to meet with them in private if it involves lawsuits, or something like that," said Jack McDonald, legal counsel for the North Dakota Newspaper Association. "The issue that I would have is that this was simply a personnel decision at this time."

McDonald said there was no indication at the time the matter would result in a lawsuit, but Henning disagreed.

"This is a complaint. It is litigation," the state's attorney said. "This is not litigation that is commenced in a courtroom. It's commenced with the governor, so it is under the governor's authority."

The North Dakota State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police is investigating the meeting's validation, said Michael Geierman, the organization's and Tuhy's legal counsel.

The county may have to hold a public meeting and recreate the discussion, McDonald said. The attorney general would make the final decision if the meeting was illegal.

The complaint against the sheriff included Bismarck-based Vogel Law Firm's report on the workplace investigation, which was filed Tuesday. It includes testimony from 14 employees, former employees, Dickinson Police Department staff and Commissioner Duane Wolf.

A former deputy called the office "one of the best in the state," in the report, adding, "Now it's a joke."

"I have never worked in a place where it made me physically ill just knowing I had to return to work and that there was a very real possibility that my path would cross with Clarence," he said in the report.

Dalrymple is aware of the complaint against Tuhy and his staff is also reviewing it, according to the governor's office.

The governor must appoint a special commissioner to take testimony and report back to him. Dalrymple will make the final decision, according to state law.

Tuhy previously told The Press he did not know about the meeting. Henning would not comment on whether the commission should have informed the sheriff for legal purposes.

"I think because he was the subject of the meeting, it would have been appropriate to notify him," Geierman said. "Whether it was required under the law to notify him is another issue."

Tuhy did not return messages left at the Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, and representatives asked The Press to defer questions to Henning.

Tuhy is also under investigation involving an alleged theft at the House of Manna in Dickinson.