Friday, December 14, 2012

Donít blame messengers for the circus at City Hall

When things go wrong, it’s human nature to want to find someone to blame.

Sun Valley residents went to the Sun Valley City Council meeting last week for a discussion of city operations in the wake of findings by a private consultant, a forensic auditing company and the Idaho Attorney General, and a decision by Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas not to prosecute any city employee or elected official responsible for those operations.

Residents in the packed chambers roasted the council about the reports and the cost of the investigations. They railed about the prosecutor’s finding that there was not enough evidence to support criminal charges. They said the attention on City Hall was embarrassing.

Some tried mightily to lay blame for the circus at City Hall on Mayor DeWayne Briscoe and council members Nils Ribi and Bob Youngman, three of five active elected officials who were on the council during the period covered by the reports. However, given that the three were part of the legislative branch of city government, not the administrative branch, it’s hard to lay the bulk of the blame at their door.

Not present to hear the public’s consternation was former Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich, who was in charge of the city’s executive branch during the period investigated. It was clear in the prosecutor’s letter that Willich played an important role in city operations at the time. He’s been out of the public eye since his defeat by a small margin in last year’s election.

For example, Thomas wrote that “Despite the fact that use of a City vehicle for personal use is strictly prohibited by City of Sun Valley Policy 3.13, Mayor Wayne Willich expressly authorized [City Administrator Sharon] Hammer to use the City vehicle for business and personal use, citing her standing as an on-call EMT in support of her need to use the vehicle on a full-time basis.”

Thomas also wrote that interviews “revealed that many of the excessive and unwarranted credit card purchases were arguably pre-authorized based upon undocumented discussions between Willich and [Fire Chief Jeff] Carnes, and an understanding that the City would provide certain gear, clothing and equipment to Chief Carnes and other employees of the fire department.”

In analyzing the likelihood that anyone who came under scrutiny would be convicted of criminal wrongdoing, Thomas wrote, “In the context of government employees, the most common of these defenses is that the employee was given permission, or was authorized, to engage in the particular act(s) of alleged misconduct.”

The public should take care not to blame the messengers who simply described for them the circus at City Hall.


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