Questions continue to swirl about the suspensions of Chief Keith Schroeder and Capt. Barnett.
The fallout from the suspensions of the two top cops at the Devils Lake PD continues.
Chief Keith Schroeder appeared at a special City Commission meeting Monday to defend himself against allegations in an operations assessment which revealed several issues at the department.
The assessment, which consisted of anonymous responses from DLPD officers to questions about leadership, showed that officers had very little confidence in either Schroeder or Capt. Jon Barnett, also suspended indefinitely. That revelation led to the city’s decision during a session that was closed to the public to discipline both officers.
Neither officer is likely to return to the force, though Schroeder indicated during Monday’s meeting that he was willing to “work with the city and department staff to...work towards resolving these issues.”
He also claimed that during his years running the force, his annual performance evaluations were positive. That claim appears to be true.
A review of Schroeder’s evaluations since 2010 shows little mention of issues related to Schroeder’s leadership of the department. His first evaluation, done by former police commissioner and mayor Fred Bott, called Schroeder “very professional” while pointing out the new chief’s lack of familiarity with city procedures.
Schroeder’s evaluations from 2011 were conducted by current police commissioner Craig Stromme. Stromme noted in 2012 that one of Schroeder’s objectives should be to “enhance overall moral (sic) of department,” which is repeated in 2013, along with a suggestion to “promote department to community.”
Both of those issues were mentioned in the recent assessment. However, it is unknown if Stromme noted improvements or other suggestions in future evaluations.
That’s because Schroeder’s 2014 and 2015 evaluations are missing. A clerk at the city offices indicated that the evaluations either weren’t done, weren’t given to the city, or lost. Schroeder’s 2016 review was barely filled out, with the only comments being “organization skills” and “satisfactory performance.” The numerical portion of the 2016 evaluation, which rates areas such as “initiative” and “reliability” on a 1 - 5 scale, was left blank.
Questions arise. If 2014 and 2015 evaluations don’t exist, and 2016’s evaluation was nearly bereft of information, what other indication did Schroeder have that his department was plagued with issues? Where are the missing documents, and why was the police chief’s 2016 performance barely reviewed?
Stromme refused to comment for this story in order to clear up the discrepancies between Schroeder’s performance reviews and the operations assessment and discuss what happened to the missing years of evaluations.
Schroeder himself seemed to take a somewhat lax attitude toward Barnett’s performance reviews.
After 2010, in which Schroeder suggests that Barnett needs to work on “following a task to completion,” the reviews are positive. Narratives about Barnett’s performance are repeated from year to year, with minor changes. No narrative exists from 2014 to 2016.
Those reviews exist in stark contrast to reviews of Barnett’s performance conducted from 2009 and earlier by former chief Bruce Kemmet and former captain Nannette Martin. Findings from those reviews will be laid out in a future story.
Where it stands now
As of now, both officers remain on indefinite suspension pending a severance package agreement that either officer may accept or decline. It is unknown if either Schroeder or Barnett plan to take legal action against the city.
The conduct of the meeting at which Schroeder and Barnett were suspended is also under review by the attorney general’s office. The decision to close that meeting to the public is at odds with both the North Dakota Century Code and recent precedent, as personnel decisions are clearly to be made in public.
The Journal, KZZY-FM’s news dept. and Forum Communications have filed complaints about the meeting to the state’s top attorney. It is not known when the AG is expected to make a decision on the legality of the meeting, but when the city was found to have violated the open meeting regulations in 2014, the decision came in about three weeks.
If it is found that the city violated the open meetings regulation as it pertains to personnel decisions, a tape of the closed session in which the suspensions were discussed will become public record.