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Moorhead fire chief, city reach resignation agreement -- Hewitt to receive pay for time off, sick leave

Moorhead Fire Chief Joel Hewitt was paid on paid administrative leave in August. Forum file photo

In return for his resignation, Moorhead Fire Chief Joel Hewitt will receive compensation for unused vacation and sick leave as part of an agreement approved by the City Council on Thursday night.

City Council member Nancy Otto said Hewitt will receive about $11,580 for accrued vacation leave and about $11,842 for half of his accrued sick leave.

Hewitt will remain on paid administrative leave until his resignation becomes effective Jan. 3. His salary has been about $86,000.

The city placed Hewitt on non-disciplinary paid leave in August when city officials said he was the subject of an internal investigation into complaints of "official misconduct."

The agreement approved Thursday states that Hewitt "denies the complaints in their entirety," and it says that all of the parties wanted to avoid the time and expense of fighting any employment action the city might take or legal action Hewitt might bring against the city.

City Manager Michael Redlinger said the compensation Hewitt will receive for unused vacation and sick leave is consistent with what the city would do for any other retiring city management employee.

Rich Duysen, Moorhead's fire marshal, remains interim fire chief for now, Redlinger said, adding that how the chief's position will be filled will be a discussion for city leaders in early 2011.

At the time Hewitt was placed on administrative leave, his attorney, Trevor Oliver, said police had indicated to him that they were looking into allegations made by a woman who said Hewitt had disclosed information about a double homicide investigation to someone he shouldn't have.

The Clay County Attorney's Office sent Moorhead police investigative reports regarding that matter to Becker County Attorney Michael Fritz to review for possible charges.

Fritz has informed Moorhead police that he will not file charges against Hewitt in connection with any investigation information he might have told someone.

Fritz has also told Moorhead police that Hewitt will not face charges based on statements exotic dancers made to police alleging that Hewitt solicited them for sex.

In a letter to police, Fritz said a court case would likely not be successful because the statements lacked additional evidence to back them up.

At the request of The Forum, Moorhead police released investigative reports relating to the solicitation allegations.

It is apparent from the reports that that investigation arose out of the probe regarding release of information.

Police have refused to release investigative reports linked to the latter, stating that the information is too closely linked to an ongoing homicide case.

It is likely that the homicide case in question is one involving the deaths of John Cadotte and Megan Londo, whose bodies were found after firefighters arrived at the scene of a suspected February arson fire in Moorhead.

In that case, a grand jury handed down a first-degree murder indictment against Tracy Alan Zornes of Naytahwaush, Minn.

Zornes is in custody and awaiting trial.

Oliver said earlier this week that Hewitt had hoped to return to work after it was announced he would not face criminal charges.

Oliver said Hewitt decided to resign when it appeared city officials were contemplating disciplinary action based on the allegations contained in police reports.

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