Officials in Valley City rocked by allegations, begin counter-offensive
VALLEY CITY, N.D. -- Allegations of sexual and other criminal misconduct against several city officials in Valley City burst into the open Thursday when those same officials issued a statement through their lawyer that they were the victims of a "shameful" smear campaign.
City Administrator David Schelkoph, City Attorney Russell Myhre, Police Chief Fred Thompson and Police Lt. David Swenson want state law enforcement to investigate whether the allegations against them are defamatory.
The officials also suggested the allegations could be considered an attempt to threaten or influence public officials, which is a felony.
In a statement, the officials' lawyer, Joseph F. Larson, accused Mayor Robert Werkhoven of helping to spread the allegations and called on him to "publicly disavow them."
Mayor Werkhoven said in an interview he had no role in spreading the allegations.
The man making the allegations is resident Robert Drake, a restaurant and rental property owner who has a history of clashing with officials in Valley City, a city of 7,000 people 60 miles west of Fargo.
Drake is leading a controversial petition to disband the Valley City Police Department and put the sheriff's department in charge of the city's policing.
In a letter to media, Larson listed the allegations made by Drake. Among them:
- Chief Thompson engaged in unspecified sexual harassment.
- Lt. Swenson had sex while on duty, refused a lie detector test in a forgery investigation, and conspired with a woman to arrest her husband for DWI and drugs.
- City Attorney Myhre bought alcohol for minors.
- City Administrator Schelkoph illegally gave a 1 percent pay raise to city employees, incorrectly classified homes purchased for flood protection and gave the city bad advice about frequencies for smart meters.
Larson said in a statement that the allegations were not only false but "absolutely shameful and disgraceful.
"These allegations impugn their integrity and there is not a shred of truth to them."
Drake laughed when he heard that the officials want the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation to open an investigation.
Drake said of the officials: "You know, usually when you dig a hole and you get in too deep, you stop digging. These guys don't."
He welcomes being criminally charged so that he can have the legal right to discovery and produce supporting evidence in court.
"The only thing I'm guilty of is asking for the truth," he said.
Werkhoven noted that he has been "stepping on some toes" lately, in ways that may have displeased other city officials.
For example, Werkhoven recommended that a citizen make a formal complaint an incident in October when Chief Thompson pulled a gun on the citizen, who was playing with toy guns with his kids in their front yard.
"I recommended to the citizen to go to the sheriff and make a statement, which he did, and of course, the police chief didn't like that," the mayor said.
Chief Thompson said in October that he planned to resign this month.
The mayor also may have angered City Administrator Schelkoph. The mayor said he recently finished an evaluation of Schelkoph "which was not stellar," he said. "He has, in my opinion, had some problems."
The mayor said he also recently ran into issues with City Attorney Myhre when he formed a committee to search for a new police chief without notifying city commissioners.
Drake sent a long list of allegations and questions in a request for information filed with the city Dec. 8.
At least one of the allegations, that Myhre provided booze to minors, has been referred to the state Bureau of Criminal Investigations by Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin. Myhre, the Barnes County sheriff, the state's attorney and the BCI have declined comment on the investigation
Other allegations target city officials other than the four who spoke out Thursday.
Werkhoven said he had nothing to do with publicizing Drake's list of allegations.
But in their statement, the four officials suggested otherwise.
"We hope that Mayor Werkhoven has played no part in the raising of these allegations. We call on him to publicly disavow them and declare them what they are--a cheap political sham to smear and assassinate the reputations of four City officials and employees.
"Drake's accusations in concert with Mayor Werkhoven may very well be criminal conduct."
Drake's petition to disband the police department was filed with the city. It will need signatures from 15 percent of Valley City voters before getting on the ballot later this year.
The police chief has said disbanding the department is a bad idea; the sheriff has declined to take a stance.
The last police chief, Dean Ross, resigned in 2011 after allegations, which were later dismissed, that he mishandled public money.