I’ve been following the effort to recall Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary for a little while now. And after last week’s decision by City Administrator Keith Hunke to not move forward with the recall election, I didn’t think anything with this story would surprise me. Boy was I wrong.
Not only did the City of Bismarck use the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) to investigate petitioners, but we now know through an open records request that Hunke requested that a BCI agent interview 11 employees of the Bismarck Police Department (BPD) who signed the petition to recall Mike Seminary.
To put this newest development into context, perhaps it’s best we backup and look at a timeline of key events.
February 8, 2017– Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin writes a Letter to the Editor for the Bismarck Tribune titled, "Seminary Supports Law Enforcement", and decries the recall effort. In this letter, Chief Donlin assures readers that Mike Seminary "unequivocally supports the men and women of BPD" and defends Seminary’s comments about "stand[ing] in solidarity" with Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.
April 26, 2017– Chief Donlin writes a letter to BCI Director Dallas Carlson explaining that Hunke asked the BPD to "investigate potential fraudulent activity" regarding the recall. But due to "a perception of impropriety", he asks the BCI to take over the city’s investigation instead.
Donlin actually makes it clear he was requesting they take over the investigation when he bolded and underlined the statement, "I am requesting your agency to follow up on the investigation…"
May 11, 2017– Rob Port of the SayAnything Blog writes an article titled, "If You Signed the Petition to Recall Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary You May Get a Visit From a Cop". It is this article that explains that the City of Bismarck asked BCI to help verify the names on the recall petitions, but points out that such a move could "come off as a little intimidating". An excellent point on the part of Port.
But that’s not all. There is a key component to Port’s article that may shed some light on Hunke’s request to interview BPD employees. That key is when Port credits recall organizer Paul Maloney as saying "half" the BPD officers signed the petition to recall the mayor. A statement of hyperbole to be sure, but an important one nonetheless.
May 15, 2017– It is here – just four days after Maloney’s claim in the SayAnything article – that City Administrator Keith Hunke writes his letter to BCI requesting the investigation include interviews of the 11 BPD employees that signed the petition.
And apparently this wasn’t the first contact Hunke had with BCI about that request. His letter begins, "Per our conversation…". Which means they had discussed this before.
Nor was BCI the only recipient of the e-mail request. Chief Dan Donlin was cc’d on it as well. And in a stunning admission, Hunke tells BCI that:
"The list of Bismarck Police Department employees can be obtained from Chief Dan Donlin."
An open records request for any previous conversations have – as of this writing – not been responded to.
This timeline of events results in a series of unanswered questions.
Is it coincidence that just days after Maloney’s comments regarding BPD officers signing the petition that Hunke suddenly requested they be interviewed as part of the investigation?
Why has the city not responded to open records requests regarding any previous conversations?
I am also told that they have not responded to the open records request for the 400 names disqualified for supposedly not being from Bismarck. What’s the hold up with that?
What was the purpose behind singling out and investigating the 11 BPD employees? Hunke seems to question whether they intended on signing another petition regarding Tax Increment Finance (TIF) zones instead. But suppose an individual did sign the incorrect petition. Whose fault is that? It is the responsibility of the signer to read the petition and to know what they’re signing. So, even if someone had signed the incorrect petition, it changes nothing and does not invalidate their signature.
In his Letter to the Editor, Chief Dan Donlin attempts to portray the relationship between Mayor Mike Seminary and the BPD as positive. But how positive can that relationship really be if 11 of their employees signed the recall petitions to oust Seminary? Especially considering that their own Chief is opposed to the recall effort and is a supporter of Mike Seminary?
Whatever the intentions may have been, this does not look good for Administrator Keith Hunke, Chief Dan Donlin, or Mayor Mike Seminary. Think of it, those 11 employees of the BPD are singled out in an investigation just days after it is publicly revealed that they had signed the petition to oust the very Mayor that their Chief publicly supports.
If Chief Donlin had the list of employees that BCI needed, was Donlin then involved in the investigation after appearing to recuse himself?
Coincidence? Intimidation? Corruption? Call it what you will, but something stinks to high heaven in the shadows of City Hall. And the people of Bismarck deserve to know who the stench is coming from.