Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Former city administrator files another lawsuit

No light yet at end of Sun Valley’s legal tunnel

Express Staff Writer

    Former Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer has filed a lawsuit in 4th District Court in Ada County against one former and one current city employee alleging that they were involved in a “malicious scheme” against her.
    The lawsuit is the eighth suit or countersuit—four pending, four closed—filed by Hammer or Jim Donoval, her husband and sometimes attorney, related to city personnel issues that came to a head in late 2011.
     In October 2011, then-Finance Manager and Treasurer Michelle Frostenson told then-Mayor Wayne Willich that she had detected problems in the city’s financial affairs. She alleged that Hammer and former Fire Chief Jeff Carnes had misused public funds. Her complaint triggered several internal and external investigations into the city’s personnel and finances.
    Donoval, as Hammer’s attorney, filed the new lawsuit on March 5, against Frostenson and Mal Prior, interim assistant fire chief for command and special projects. Prior was a paid on-call firefighter when the personnel issues came about in late 2011.
    The suit’s 176-page complaint lists 36 counts of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud against either Frostenson or Prior.
    Donoval said in an interview that the suit was filed in Ada County because Frostenson and Prior each live in different counties and because as city employees they are likely to be represented by attorneys from Boise-based Idaho Counties Risk Management Program. Donoval also said he and Hammer now live in Ada County.
    The complaint denies Frostenson’s initial allegations and similar allegations made by her and Prior against Hammer during the follow-up investigations.
    It claims that Frostenson’s allegations were part of a “malicious scheme” by Frostenson to hide “her own financial mismanagement and mistakes,” to retaliate against Hammer for “investigating and disclosing” that alleged mismanagement and to have Hammer fired because Frostenson “coveted the job of city administrator.” The complaint states that Frostenson made “numerous errors” in managing the city’s finances during 2011 and prior years.

The suit’s 176-page complaint lists 36 separate counts of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil fraud against either Frostenson or Prior.

    Under its fraud allegation, the complaint states that Frostenson “destroyed many, if not all” credit card payment approval forms for city credit cards issued to herself, Hammer and Carnes, and “forged” replacements “in an effort to assert that Ms. Hammer had allowed Sun Valley credit card invoices to be paid without City Council approval.”
    “Michelle Frostenson has some serious explaining to do under oath about whether she either lied for three years to the City Council when she was approving everything, or whether she lied during the investigations,” Donoval said in an interview.
    The complaint provides no evidence to back up the claim that Frostenson destroyed the forms on her own volition, but it does assert that unspecified Sun Valley employees observed Frostenson shredding forms “at the direction of Sun Valley Interim Executive Assistant Virginia Egger.” In an interview, Egger called that allegation “a fabrication.”
The complaint states Prior’s allegations were also part of a “malicious scheme” to have Hammer fired, though on Prior’s part in a “vindictive and retaliatory effort” in response to a refusal by Hammer to allow him to work and be paid for more hours than city policy then allowed for on-call firefighters.
The complaint also alleges that Prior “destroyed Sun Valley Fire Department payroll and other records” located at the city’s Elkhorn Fire Station and “claimed that the records were destroyed by someone who broke into” the station. In a Sun Valley Police Department report on the apparent break-in, Prior states that personal documentation of hours he worked without being compensated went missing. The complaint provides no evidence that Prior destroyed the payroll records himself.
Frostenson declined to comment on the suit. Prior did not return calls seeking comment by press deadline Tuesday.
    Donoval said Hammer did not “pick this fight.”
    Referring to his and Hammer’s prolific litigation related to the personnel issues, Donoval said “a lot of bad people have done a lot of bad things to Sharon. Each act subjects the actors to potential lawsuits for the damages that they individually caused.”

Brennan Rego:

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