Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Ketchum to file lawsuit against Hall

Decision announced after illegal City Council meeting

Express Staff Writer

Randy Hall

Ketchum officials announced Tuesday that the city will file a lawsuit against City Council President Randy Hall before the end of the week, complicating an already complex campaign to remove the councilman from one of his two city jobs.

In a prepared statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Hall?s three City Council colleagues stated that they have decided to endorse a plan to seek a ?declaratory judgment action? to determine if Hall ?has violated several laws by holding two paid positions with the city.?

In a twist that could complicate the matter, the decision to file the lawsuit was apparently made pursuant to an illegal, closed meeting of the City Council that excluded Hall.

City Hall on Thursday afternoon issued notice of an executive session of the City Council on Friday, Oct. 8, at noon. City Attorney Ben Worst acknowledged Tuesday that the executive session was not publicly announced at least 24 hours in advance, a requirement of the Idaho Open Meeting Law.

City officials have also acknowledged that the meeting was held to discuss Hall?s situation with Boise attorney Jim Davis, who has been hired by the city?s insurer, the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, to represent the city in the matter.

Because Idaho Code declares void any actions taken at or resulting from an illegal meeting, it appears the decision to bring a lawsuit against Hall could be challenged.

Ned Williamson, Hall?s attorney, said he was ?surprised? by the city?s decision to file a lawsuit and does consider the City Council?s meeting to be a violation of the law.

?It is certainly something that is challengeable,? Williamson said.

Mayor Ed Simon said he could not discuss what occurred at the Friday meeting because he excused himself from the proceedings to prevent any appearance that he was ?unfairly influencing? the discussion.

In September, Hall alleged that Simon initiated the inquiry into his job status as a political move and as a result of Simon?s ?personal dislike? for him.

In addressing the matter Tuesday, Simon said, ?There?s no secret cabal going on.?

Davis said the City Council did not make any formal decision last Friday. He noted that he will file the lawsuit in 5th District Court in Hailey later this week.

The dispute between Hall and the city came to light in September, after Worst asked Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas to appoint a special prosecutor to prosecute Hall for ?multiple criminal and civil conflict-of-interest violations.?

Worst has alleged that Hall has violated Idaho Code because he holds two paid positions with the city, an on-call firefighter/paramedic position with the Fire Department and a seat on the City Council.

Thomas has not issued a decision on whether he will advance the allegations.

In making his determination, Thomas is likely considering an Oct. 5 letter to him from former Ketchum City Attorney Margaret King, formerly Margaret Simms. The King letter states that she concluded in 2002 that ?Hall?s dual service did not constitute a conflict of interest or a violation of the (state?s) Doctrine of Incompatibility of Office.?

In their statement issued Tuesday, Ketchum City Council members Terry Tracy, Baird Gourlay and Christina Potters said unequivocally that they support the city?s lawsuit.

?After careful consideration of the matter, we concur with Mr. Davis that this course of action is necessary,? the statement says.

The council members noted that ICRMP will pay for all of the attorney?s fees and costs associated with the lawsuit.

Davis characterized the case as a ?risk-reduction opportunity? that will ultimately render a clear resolution to the matter.

?We?re not asking for jail. We?re not asking for any money,? Davis said.

However, Davis acknowledged that Thomas or a special prosecutor could still file criminal charges against Hall if evidence of criminal wrongdoing is found.

Williamson said he is perplexed that ICRMP, and subsequently Davis, were brought into the debate. He said he believes the matter could be resolved out of court.

?We?re not threatening a lawsuit,? he said. ?We just want to talk.?

For his part, Hall said he has done nothing wrong and regrets the City Council?s decision to exclude him from discussions about the allegations.

?I think there are more constructive ways of dealing with this,? Hall said.

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