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Dave Olson, Published December 22 2010

Attorney: Moorhead fire chief to resign

An attorney for Moorhead Fire Chief Joel Hewitt said Tuesday that his client will resign Thursday, when he’s expected to reach an agreement with the city.

“Joel just decided it was time to stop dealing with it,” said lawyer Trevor Oliver, referring to the paid administrative leave Hewitt was placed on in August when city officials said Hewitt was the subject of an internal investigation into allegations of “official misconduct.”

Since then, Becker County (Minn.) Attorney Michael Fritz has informed Moorhead police he will not file charges against Hewitt after reviewing a police investigation into claims that Hewitt solicited exotic dancers for sex.

Fritz also told police he won’t file charges against Hewitt on allegations that he shared information about an investigation with someone he shouldn’t have.

Oliver said Hewitt was looking forward to returning to work after the prosecutor’s decisions became public, but he said Moorhead city officials made it clear late last week that they were exploring whether the allegations against Hewitt constitute violations of city policy, which could possibly lead to termination.

“Through their labor attorney, they pretty much said that was the direction in which they were leaning,” Oliver said Tuesday.

A proposed agreement that will be presented to City Council members Thursday evening is essentially a retirement agreement, Oliver said.

“He’s not getting anything out of the city that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise: the ability to cash in vacation balances, things like that,” he said.

City Manager Michael Redlinger has consistently declined to comment on Hewitt’s status. The city is barred from commenting on the fire chief’s “non-disciplinary” paid leave due to Minnesota statutes, Redlinger said.

Under Minnesota law, if a public employee is disciplined, the reason for the disciplinary action can be made public once the appeals process is exhausted, or the time period in which to file an appeal expires.

If a public employee resigns before a disciplinary action becomes final, the reason for the action remains confidential.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555