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Mayor alone can’t fire city attorney

Legal opinion sheds light on issue

"The mayor has no unilateral powers in this area. Any decision regarding the city attorney must have the consent of the city council."

Susan Buxton, Boise attorney

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum’s debate over firing and hiring a city attorney may be over — or just beginning.

So far, the issue appears to have been the subject of two executive sessions and a hand full of conversations between city officials and officials-to-be.

Mayor-elect Ed Simon told city council members early last month that once he’s sworn on Jan. 7 he would dismiss the city attorney, dissolve the city attorney’s office and hire a contract attorney, Councilman Randy Hall confirmed last week.

But it’s a move that appears beyond the mayor’s exclusive power and beyond the scope of the city council’s wishes. Additionally, City Attorney Margaret Simms was surprised by the proposal and said she had no immediate plans of leaving the city.

In a three-page legal opinion requested by the city council and released to the public last week, Boise lawyer Susan Buxton wrote that a mayor must have a city council’s majority approval to make administrative changes.

"The mayor has no unilateral powers in this area," she wrote. "Any decision regarding the city attorney must have the consent of the city council."

That includes hiring or firing.

Simon confirmed in an interview earlier this month that he planned to replace the city attorney upon his appointment. He made no mention of his plans for the legal department and declined to reveal the person he plans to name to the city attorney’s post.

"I think the voters elected me to effect change in the city government," Simon said in an interview last week. "In order for me to do that, I really do need to have a city attorney who has some fresh ideas and a fresh perspective."

He was unavailable to comment on Buxton’s legal opinion late last week. Meanwhile, the gears of government continued to grind as the Ketchum City Council met in executive sessions Dec. 17 and Dec. 21 to discuss the matter. But public statements from council members are sparse.

Councilman Maurice Charlat said there is no news to report, that the city’s legal department will remain as it is.

Hall said the issue still must play itself out, but added that the idea of replacing the city attorney or dissolving the legal department "defies logic," in his opinion.

The city council unanimously endorsed the decision to seek an outside legal opinion, and on Dec. 13, Hall penned the letter to Boise law firm Moore, Smith, Buxton & Turcke, where Buxton is a partner, to request the legal opinion.

The firm, he said, is "very well respected in municipal law" and represents 10 municipalities in Idaho.

To prepare her opinion, Buxton said she researched Ketchum Code, Idaho Code and Ketchum’s employee handbook. She answered four of Hall’s questions.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.