Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Ketchum vs. Hall may see settlement

Hall offers to forego pay as Fire Department employee

Express Staff Writer

A bitter legal dispute between the city of Ketchum and City Council President Randy Hall is apparently nearing resolution, after Hall agreed to forego pay from one of his two city jobs.

Ned Williamson, Hall's attorney, said Tuesday that a city lawsuit against Hall and a countersuit filed by Hall against the city will both likely be settled out of court in the near future.

"In the interest of time and money, neither party has decided to proceed any further with the litigation," Williamson said.

Williamson said discussions about a settlement of the two suits was prompted by an offer from Hall to give up all pay from his job at the Ketchum Fire Department.

Hall said he decided to make the concession because he believes a debate over whether he should be allowed to have two paid jobs with the city was distracting the City Council from effectively completing its work.

"I just think somebody needed to blink and step up and make this go away," he said.

If the case is settled, it would bring to an end to one of the most bitter and bizarre episodes in Ketchum politics in recent years.

The dispute between Hall and the city erupted in September, after Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst asked Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas to prosecute Hall for "multiple criminal and civil conflict-of-interest violations."

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

Then, in October—as Thomas was still considering the request—the city decided to file a civil lawsuit against Hall for allegedly violating state conflict-of-interest laws. The lawsuit was filed in cooperation with the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, the city's insurer.

Although Thomas ultimately declined to prosecute Hall, the city continued to pursue its litigation against the councilman.

Weeks after the city suit was filed in 5th District Court, Hall filed suit against the city, alleging that its decision to sue him was invalid because it was made at an illegal meeting.

At a subsequent City Council meeting, Hall's three council colleagues voted unanimously to validate their first decision to sue him.

Hall has alleged that the suit against him was fostered by Mayor Ed Simon, a well-established political rival. Simon said the matter was initiated by the city attorney, who last summer started investigating whether Hall could hold two paid positions at City Hall.

"The whole thing has been strange," Williamson said.

Now, with Hall only accepting pay for one job, Williamson said ICRMP appears to no longer have a concern about Hall violating any state laws.

Jim Davis, a Boise-based attorney hired by ICRMP to represent the city in the matter, deferred comment to Williamson.

Williamson said ICRMP has tentatively agreed to pay three-fifths of Hall's legal fees. A settlement of the two cases will likely focus on what entities will pay for the thousands of dollars of legal costs, he noted.

Meanwhile, Hall said he is hopeful state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, is successful in a pending effort to have the Idaho Legislature pass legislation that would make it legal for a paid volunteer firefighter or police officer in a small city to hold a paid public office.

Hall estimated that there are "50 or 60 people like him" who serve dual roles for small government agencies in Idaho.

"I just want it to be fair," he said.

Hall will continue to accept $15,000 a year as a city councilman but will lose thousands of dollars per year he gets from responding to emergency calls.

Nonetheless, he said he believes it is his duty to help fill a need in Ketchum for on-call firefighters.

"This whole thing has been an expensive nightmare," he said. "Hopefully, it is over."

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