Barnes County Water Resource District board members Pat Hurley and Duane Lettenmaier are good friends, but on Tuesday, they could not have been further apart.
The two faced off against each other Tuesday afternoon as the commission voted to remove Lettenmaier for misconduct in office. The charges were brought by the water board’s vice president Hurley. Hurley often portrays a jovial demeanor at public meetings, but was notably dour during the hearing to remove Lettenmaier and after the commission made it’s final decision on Tuesday.
“I don’t have any comment. This just sucks; we’re friends,” he said as he walked out the back door of the courthouse.
Lettenmaier, on the other hand, wore a smile as he spoke with reporters on the front steps of the courthouse after his 19-month ride on the water board was cut short, saying he was relieved that the ordeal was over with and he planned to leave on a family vacation within hours.
Barnes County State’s Attorney Lee Grossman said Lettenmaier has the option of appealing the commission’s decision, but Lettenmaier said he had no plans to do so.
“It’s foolish to appeal,” he said. “It was probably foolish to go this far.”
The accusation of misconduct was brought up following work on a drain near County Road 11 north of Sanborn. The original scope of the work was to clear out some cattails with a payment ceiling of $10,000, but the actual work done included digging a 3/4 mile ditch that mainly benefited Lettenmaier as a property owner.
Lettenmaier said when he was appointed to the board by the commission he had told them he had personal water issues that he wanted to address as a board member.
“If you said that, I took it in jest,” said County Commissioner John Froelich. “If I thought you were serious I sure wouldn’t have voted to put you on the water board.”
Before making his yes vote to remove Lettenmaier, Froelich said “With me, it’s about anyone using an official position for personal game, and the testimony to me indicates that that’s what happened, and as a commissioner, I can’t support anyone in any position in Barnes County that would be guilty of that.”
Commissioner Cindy Schwehr said she found the hearing particularly difficult.
“I have a deep amount of respect for what Duane’s done and what Pat does and what the whole board does,” she said.
“We’ve come such a long ways to being a strong team and I think Duane was the guiding force behind fixing a lot of issues over in Sanborn, I won’t argue that. I think the worst part of this is the stress it’s put on a neighborhood, a community and a friendship. This is very difficult to me; I don’t do well in these situations. I could never be a judge or an attorney because I take everybody’s side.”
Schwehr ended her statements saying a motion to needed to be made for the hearing to proceed, which was followed by an uncomfortable silence, made worse by the stuffy air that filled the room as the air conditioner was turned off hours earlier to allow the hearing to be recorded.
Commissioner Phil Leitner eventually pulled the trigger, which was seconded by Froelich, and in a roll-call vote, the commission unanimously voted to remove Lettenmaier at 4:23 p.m., ending a hearing that began at 1 p.m. and a commission meeting that began at 8 a.m.
Lettenmaier and his lawyer, Tami Norgard, of the Vogel Law Firm in Fargo, presented the commission with a petition of 200 signatures asking that Lettenmaier not be removed from the board. After the hearing, the former board member said he found solace in that support.
“The neighbors supported me very well, there must of been 30 of them here. And the petitions had a couple hundred signatures, which I guess don’t carry no weight, obviously,” he said.