Friday, December 10, 2004

Hall: 'Hopefully, this thing is over'

Ketchum City Council president wants Legislature to address dual-service issue

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum City Council President Randy Hall said he believes his decision to "fall on his sword" by foregoing pay for his job with the city Fire Department is appropriate, but hopes state legislators might soon make it legal for him to hold two paid positions at City Hall.

Hall's comments came this week as he made public his efforts to achieve a settlement of a strange and sometimes caustic legal battle with the City of Ketchum.

"It doesn't matter who's right or wrong anymore," Hall said Tuesday, as he announced that he will no longer accept pay for working as an on-call city firefighter and paramedic.

Hall said he made the concession to prompt the city to settle an October lawsuit filed against him for allegedly violating state conflict-of-interest laws by holding two paid positions with the city. In addition to being paid for responding to Fire Department emergencies, Hall is paid $15,000 a year to serve on the City Council.

Hall's attorney, Ned Williamson, said Tuesday that the city's suit against Hall and a countersuit filed by Hall against the city will both likely be settled out of court in the near future. With Hall only holding one paid position, he said, the city's legal concerns should be alleviated.

With confidence, Hall said he believes he would have been successful challenging the city's lawsuit against him in court. However, he added, he thinks it would be best to concede pay for one of his jobs to bring the city into settlement discussions, in part so litigation does not disrupt business at City Hall.

"I will fall on my sword so the lawsuit goes away," he said.

Meanwhile, Hall said he is hopeful the Idaho Legislature will address the debate over whether elected officials in small communities should be allowed to hold a paid position with a public agency.

State Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, this fall drafted a piece of potential legislation that would make it legal for elected officials in small cities to hold paid positions with law enforcement or emergency-services agencies.

The draft language for the legislation states explicitly that it shall not be considered a conflict of interest for a volunteer firefighter or police officer to seek election to the city council of a city with a population less than 5,000. In addition, it states such a person shall be able to receive some compensation for both positions.

On Thursday, Jaquet said she is now working on two different pieces of draft legislation but has not determined if she will advance either one of them to the Legislature when it reconvenes in January.

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

Indeed, one need only look as far as Sun Valley to find someone in the same position as Hall. Sun Valley resident Blair Boand serves on the Sun Valley City Council and as a paid volunteer for the Sun Valley Fire Department.

"I think that the state Legislature has to do something with the 50 or 60 of us who are elected officials and also serve on a fire department or emergency-services agency," Hall said. "I just want it be fair. I would accept whatever the state decides."

Although Hall will likely lose thousands of dollars per year from responding to emergency calls, he said he believes it is his duty to help fill a need in Ketchum for on-call paramedics.

"There will be financial ramifications for me," he said. "If it turns out that I will continue to not be paid, that's OK."

Williamson said settlement discussions will focus mainly on who will pay for thousands of dollars of legal fees that have accumulated in the city's attempt to prevent Hall from holding two paid city jobs.

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

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