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North Dakota tax commissioner to resign after alcohol incident; will leave office Jan. 3

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State Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger will resign and leave office Jan. 3, a decision made following his detainment in jail Monday for detoxification after he caused a disturbance at a Bismarck hotel.

Police records obtained by the Tribune on Tuesday indicate it was the second time in less than four months that Rauschenberger was taken to detox for his own safety.

The tax commissioner notified Gov. Doug Burgum of his decision to step down. The governor will appoint a tax commissioner to serve the rest of Rauschenberger's term, which ends Dec. 31, 2022.

“We are deeply grateful to Ryan for his dedicated and effective service to the citizens of North Dakota for more than 13 years, and the first lady and I applaud him for having the courage to take the steps necessary to prioritize his recovery, health and well-being,” Burgum said in a statement Tuesday.

Rauschenberger, 38, was "taking personal time today to determine what is best for his future plans," state Tax Office spokeswoman Rachael Flagstad said in an email Tuesday to the Tribune.

He also was on personal leave Monday, she said. Deputy Tax Commissioner Sandy McMerty is running the office in his absence.

The state Tax Office has a two-year budget of $64.4 million and is authorized for 118 full-time employees. The tax commissioner's annual salary is $121,814.

Flagstad said Rauschenberger may be available later this week or next week. It's unclear when he will be back.

"He is just taking some personal time right now to focus on his personal recovery and just do what he needs to do while we continue to do the work of the office here," Flagstad said.

Rauschenberger didn't respond to messages the Tribune left on his cellphone.

Rauschenberger, who has a history of alcohol problems, was brought to the Burleigh Morton Detention Center in Bismarck about 1:30 p.m. Monday after entering a hotel room that was being cleaned and shutting the door. A Bismarck police officer opened the door and found him passed out, face-down on the bed.

"Ryan was woken up and it was determined he was intoxicated beyond the point of being able to take care of himself," Officer Brandon Rosen wrote in a report.

Rauschenberger was never under arrest. He was unable to find anyone sober to take custody of him, according to Rosen. Department protocol for such situations is to bring the person in for detox, Police Lt. Luke Gardiner said.

Rauschenberger was released from the jail about 8 p.m. Monday after being released to "a responsible party last night," Burleigh County Sheriff Kelly Leben said Tuesday.

Previous incidents

Court documents show Rauschenberger pleaded guilty three months ago in Bismarck Municipal Court to having an open container of alcohol in his vehicle and paid a $100 fine. The police citation shows the incident happened at 1:22 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 1, on East Main Avenue downtown.

A police report filed by Officer Joseph Gebhardt said Rauschenberger was passed out behind the wheel of his car outside Blarney Stone. Gebhardt said he found no keys either on Rauschenberger or in the vehicle, but he did find two open containers.

"Ryan's level of intoxication posed a threat to his own safety," Gebhardt wrote. "I subsequently transported him to Sanford where he was placed for detox."

Rauschenberger, who has been tax commissioner the past seven years, was arrested for drunken driving on Expressway in Mandan about four years ago.

He was pulled over at 10:18 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2017, according to a North Dakota Highway Patrol report. A preliminary breath test indicated his blood alcohol content was 0.208%, more than twice the legal limit for driving, while a later test showed a level of 0.206%.

He pleaded guilty in October 2017 to misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol in a plea agreement with prosecutors and was ordered to serve almost a year of unsupervised probation, pay $1,250 in fines and fees, and obtain a chemical dependency evaluation. He completed a recommended outpatient treatment program in March 2018.

Rauschenberger in 2014 took a leave of absence to seek professional help for alcohol problems, and he completed a 20-day inpatient treatment program in Minnesota.

His alcohol issues came to light when he loaned his vehicle to a Mandan man who crashed it in September 2014 while driving drunk. Rauschenberger wasn't in the vehicle at the time. He loaned it to a man he had met while undergoing treatment earlier that year at a Bismarck alcohol and drug treatment facility.

He said after his 2017 arrest that he had “let his guard down” and would go back into treatment with a new counselor.

Rauschenberger, a Republican, was serving as deputy tax commissioner when then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple appointed him commissioner after Cory Fong resigned from the office at the end of 2013 to take a private sector job.

Rauschenberger won a full term in 2014, beating Democrat Jason Astrup with 57% of the vote. He won reelection in 2018, defeating Democrat Kylie Oversen with 59% of the vote. He would have been up for reelection next year.

(Reporter Travis Svihovec contributed to this story.)

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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