Posted 8/08/17 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
Last Friday’s decision by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum to reinstate Gary Schwartzenberger as McKenzie County’s Sheriff finally brings to close a very long process, which began on Nov. 23, 2016, when then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple placed Schwartzenberger on interim suspension upon the recommendation of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem after the McKenzie County Commission voted in favor of a petition for removal.
In the nearly 9 months that have ensued between last November and Gov. Burgum’s final decision on Aug. 4, the process has quite literally torn the county apart as there never appeared to be common ground between those that supported the county commissioners’ decision to act to remove Schwartzenberger and those that supported the sheriff. As a result, friendships were ruined and business relationships were damaged. And worse, people’s lives and careers were destroyed.
What is now known is that the decision by the McKenzie County Commissioners to vote for the petition calling for Schwartzenberger’s removal was ill advised. Each and every one of the charges that they levied against him were found to be unjustified in the removal hearing by Commissioner Karen Klein.
Which is why Gov. Burgum made his decision to reinstate Schwartzenberger.
But even with the final reinstatement decision being made, that is not to say that everything that Schwartzenberger did while in office was acceptable. Some of the practices that he was accused of committing, in particular those of heavy-handedness, crude and unprofessional behavior, and non-collaborative actions, must be corrected going forward.
In his order to reinstate Schwartzenberger, Gov. Burgum clearly spells out the challenges for McKenzie County saying that this presents a crossroads for McKenzie County. “It will either be an opportunity for a fresh start or a continuation of local conflict, angst and contention,” he wrote. “Understandably, a fresh start will be difficult and will require introspection, humility and forgiveness by many parties. Sheriff Schwartzenberger’s reinstatement and return to his elected position is his opportunity to lead with humility, integrity and respect -- and to treat every employee, every elected official and every citizen with fairness.”
Profound words by Burgum. And words that everyone in the county, including the county commissioners and the sheriff, as well as the supporters of both sides of the issue, need to read and reread. And then take them to heart.
The road going forward is not going to be an easy one. The damages caused and the feelings that were hurt are not going to be easily mended. But it is a road that we must be willing to go down if we want to move forward.
As taxpayers and citizens of McKenzie County, we should expect our elected leaders to act in a professional manner not only to the people that they represent, but also among themselves.
The road to healing is going to begin and end with the way that the county commissioners and Sheriff Schwartzenberger can mend their differences, change the way that they communicate and interact with each other, other county employees and the citizens of McKenzie County.
The healing must begin. And it must begin now.