Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Ketchum Council decides to sue Hall?again

In contradictory move, city council 'ratifies' filing of suit against its president

Express Staff Writer

The ongoing saga that has pitted Ketchum's top leaders against City Council President Randy Hall took another bizarre twist this week, when Hall's council colleagues unanimously decided to reaffirm their October decision to sue him for allegedly violating state conflict-of-interest laws.

The decision was announced late Monday, Nov. 15, after two City Council executive sessions, one of which was called into question because two of the four council members did not participate.

"I believe that we need a judge or an arbitrator to decide this issue," said Councilman Baird Gourlay, just before he issued a motion to "ratify" the city's Oct. 15 filing of a lawsuit against Hall.

Seconds later, the motion was approved 3-0, with Hall sitting in the back row of the empty council chambers, excluded from the proceedings.

The strange course of events that unfolded over a four-hour period Monday came as an apparent reaction to Hall's move on Nov. 5 to file a countersuit against the city, alleging that the city's lawsuit against him came out of an illegal meeting.

The scenario started near the beginning of the council's Monday meeting, when Mayor Ed Simon told an audience of some 70 area residents that the council would have to leave the room for a brief executive session.

After the council split votes on whether to do so, Simon broke the 2-2 tie, and led council members Gourlay, Christina Potters and Terry Tracy out of the room. Confused as to whether he could participate, Hall stayed behind.

Minutes later, Potters returned, as Hall voiced his disgust.

"Enough is enough," he said, seemingly satisfied that Potters was affording him support.

Then, Simon, Gourlay and Tracy returned. Hall asked if the group had made any decision or had a decision to announce.

"We have not made a decision," Simon replied.

"So, you haven't made a decision?" Hall pressed, as scores of citizens looked on.

"No," Simon said.

Hours later, after the audience had dwindled to one citizen and two members of the press, Gourlay asked to speak.

"This has moved in a direction I don't particularly like or want," he said, preparing to issue a motion to address the Hall dispute.

Suddenly, Hall interrupted, objecting that a decision was being made, after the mayor had told the long-dissolved crowd that no resolution had been reached.

In addition, Hall said, the hours-old executive session was questionable because he and Tracy voted against it, and then Potters refused to participate.

Hall characterized the proceedings as "dishonest," before asking City Attorney Ben Worst if he would have been welcome in the executive session.

"I cannot have communications with you in absence of your counsel," Worst insisted.

Gourlay then moved to resume the executive session, with Tracy saying she voted against the first session only because she did not want to keep the public waiting. The motion was approved.

When the three council members came out of the second executive session, they promptly voted in favor of Gourlay's motion. Hall exited the room without further objection.

On Tuesday, Hall's attorney, Ned Williamson, said he is disappointed the council decided to endorse the city's lawsuit a second time without first conferring with him and Hall about alternatives to litigation.

In his Nov. 5 countersuit in defense of Hall, Williamson alleged the city's decision to sue Hall for alleged conflict-of-interest violations should be deemed "null and void" because it was made during an Oct. 8 executive session that violated the Idaho Open Meeting Law.

Williamson said Tuesday that he is "not surprised" the council opted to "cover" the disputed decision by issuing a fresh ruling that the city should pursue its lawsuit.

"My hope was they just wouldn't address the procedural point," Williamson said. "My goal was to have a meaningful conversation."

The dispute between Hall and the city surfaced in September, after Worst asked Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas to prosecute Hall for "multiple criminal and civil conflict-of-interest violations" because he holds two paid positions with the city.

Hall is paid as a councilman and also as a part-time, on-call firefighter. He has said the city needs his services and believes the suit against him is the work of Simon, his political rival.

With both parties' lawsuits still in effect, it now appears the matter will be settled in court.

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