Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sun Valley administrator sues city

Sharon Hammer alleges misconduct by city councilman, city attorney

Express Staff Writer

Sharon Hammer

Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer is suing the city, Councilman Nils Ribi and City Attorney Adam King for alleged illegal treatment of her as an employee.

James Donoval, Hammer's attorney and her husband, filed the civil suit in 5th District Court on Monday.

"Mr. Ribi has consistently sought to order Ms. Hammer and other Sun Valley employees to report to Mr. Ribi when no such authority exists and has sought the release of confidential Sun Valley and Sun Valley employee records he is not entitled to," the complaint reads. "Mr. Ribi has over the course of Ms. Hammer's tenure as the City Administrator simply refused to stop annoying and abusing Ms. Hammer and other Sun Valley employees. ..."

The complaint claims that the city should have done more to prevent the alleged harassment in accordance with city policy. Hammer alleges that she was asked to resign, but refused.

The complaint states that Mayor Wayne Willich spoke with Ribi about his behavior, but those conversations "did little to stop Mr. Ribi's ever increasing anger and abusive conduct towards Ms. Hammer and other Sun Valley employees."

Hammer also alleges in the complaint that after a disagreement about budgeting procedures, Ribi turned toward Hammer in a "physically threatening manner," causing her to be "in serious fear of imminent physical harm to her body."

She also claims that Ribi launched an effort to get her terminated as retribution for her making allegations against him. The suit states that that effort included obtaining confidential information about her, with the help of City Attorney King.

Hammer is asking the court to grant a $1 million judgment against the defendants, "or such other amount as shall be determined at trial" and to issue an order ceasing investigation of her by the city without giving her a reason.

The complaint also states that Hammer's attorney sent a letter Nov. 16 to the mayor and current and elected council members demanding that the city take disciplinary action against Ribi for his treatment of Hammer and his alleged violations of city policy, and asked them to refer the matter to the Blaine County prosecutor for prosecution of him pursuant to the Idaho Removal of Civil Officers statutes.

In an email sent to the Idaho Mountain Express, Ribi denied the allegations.

"The charges against me are baseless and defamatory, and will be proven as such in a court of law," he stated. "The voters of this County were introduced to Jim Donoval in the last election [when he ran for state Senate] and they have already voted on his credibility."

Hammer alleges that King violated city policies by entering into a "covert operation of discussing and advising Mr. Ribi on how to terminate Ms. Hammer."

She alleges that King, who works on a contract basis, is motivated by a desire "to increase the amount of work and fees that he would generate should Ms. Hammer be removed as the city administrator." Hammer stated that she has worked as a city attorney and has taken on many of King's duties, saving the city money.

King declined to comment on the suit.

The city hired a law firm in Boise as outside counsel on Nov. 14 to perform a special investigation of the matter.

Hammer was placed on administrative leave last Friday, Nov. 18.

Mayor Wayne Willich said Tuesday that he had no comment on the suit or the administrative leave, other than to say the leave is "totally non-disciplinary. It does not have a disciplinary aspect to it."

Hammer's attorney has been granted a motion hearing in front of 5th District Judge John Butler today, Nov. 23, during which he will ask the court to restore Hammer to active status with the city, including her role as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. The motion contends that the city violated the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act by allegedly retaliating against Hammer for her complaints about her alleged treatment by Ribi and King.

"Ms. Hammer has been damaged by the adverse actions of Mr. Ribi, City Attorney King and Sun Valley in investigating Ms. Hammer and by placing [her] on administrative leave, even with pay, by the mere insinuation that [she] is guilty of something that has not even been disclosed to her," the complaint reads.

Rebecca Meany:

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