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Published December 16 2010

Moorhead mum on fire chief’s future

Moorhead’s city manager remained silent Wednesday on the future of Fire Chief Joel Hewitt following the release of investigative reports into alleged wrongdoing.

City Manager Michael Redlinger, who has the authority to hire, discipline and fire city employees, would say only that Hewitt remains on administrative leave with pay and benefits and that the city is investigating complaints against him.

Hewitt and his St. Paul attorney, Trevor Oliver, both said they hadn’t heard from city officials as of about 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Hewitt said he was “a little disappointed” with an article in Wednesday’s Forum about investigative reports released by Moorhead police. The reports revealed that three exotic dancers told investigators Hewitt solicited them for sexual acts.

Becker County Attorney Michael Fritz told Moorhead police in a letter that Hewitt won’t be charged based on allegations that he hired prostitutes because “the allegations of the co-conspirators lack sufficient corroboration.”

“I guess I’ve been vindicated,” Hewitt said Wednesday.

Oliver said Hewitt wants to go back to work.

The attorney said he reviewed the city’s personnel policies and doesn’t believe there’s “anything in there that would be grounds for discipline or termination,” especially given Fritz’s opinion that Hewitt didn’t violate Minnesota’s Data Practices Act during his alleged job-related misconduct.

Fritz sent a letter to Moorhead police last month stating he would not be filing charges against Hewitt in connection with information Hewitt may have disclosed that would be classified as criminal investigative data.

In the letter, Fritz said there was no evidence indicating Hewitt obtained the information through investigative reports and Fritz said that in his opinion the conduct at issue did not violate a criminal law.

Fritz’s letter doesn’t indicate which investigation was involved, but Oliver said last summer that Moorhead police were looking into whether Hewitt disclosed information about a double-homicide.

Moorhead police said Wednesday they would not be releasing incident reports related to that investigation because it was related to an ongoing homicide investigation.

“I don’t believe there’s grounds for any further action in this. Like I said, it’s only the second day after this has broke,” Oliver said, referring to the release of the reports Tuesday. “I assume they’re working on what they want to do in bringing him back in. But I suppose if it drags on much longer than that, I’ll have to arch an eyebrow and wonder what’s going on.”

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said the City Council will become involved only if Hewitt is fired or disciplined and he decides to appeal.

“So, we won’t as a council talk about this until some sort of final disposition’s made by (Redlinger),” Voxland said.

The mayor wouldn’t comment on whether he believes Hewitt could return to duty with the public’s trust intact, saying he hadn’t seen the investigative reports.

“We’re isolated from this whole thing. We haven’t seen any of the information,” Voxland said.

“I know Mike has tried to keep the chief to be held harmless in this situation until he makes a decision, so that’s why (Hewitt was) put on paid administrative leave, so they can sort it out,” Voxland added.


Forum reporter Dave Olson contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528