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Wednesday ó February 18, 2004


Council advised on powers, duties

Panel must act only as a Ďbody,í
attorney says

"What you canít do, is you canít start making decisions out of the public arena."

ó JIM PHILLIPS, Hailey attorney

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum City Council members last week were given an explicit education in the roles and responsibilities that come with their elected office.

"As a City Council person, youíre not the same as a CEO," said attorney Jim Phillips, of the Hailey-based Roark Law Firm.

Phillips was invited to speak to the council Thursday, Feb. 12, as part of an ongoing initiative by council members and Mayor Ed Simon to improve communication and cooperation in handling the cityís legislative agenda.

Council President Randy Hall described the exercise as an undertaking to avoid perceived "pitfalls" in the councilís efforts to govern the city "in the last couple of years."

As part of the exercise, Hall said he wanted to clarify what communications between council members is considered illegal. He noted that Simon had criticized him for conducting a poll of his council colleagues by telephone to gauge their interest in removing a planning-related item from one of Simonís past City Council agendas.

Phillips said council members are somewhat free to speak with each other individually about legislative acts, but generally cannot discuss so-called "quasi-judicial" matters outside of a publicly noticed meeting.

"As long as youíre not meeting as a quorum, youíre free to talk to whomever you want (about legislative matters)," Phillips said.

Phillips said council members can seek to remove an item from their agenda, but must do so by a formal vote during a meeting, not through an informal poll.

"What you canít do, is you canít start making decisions out of the public arena," the attorney advised.

Councilman Baird Gourlay said seeing a "huge disconnect" between the City Council and the cityís government departments has left him wondering how council members can be more involved in the day-to-day management of the city.

Gourlay specifically asked if council members who serve as liaisons to a particular department can become active in helping that department to operate successfully.

Phillips said council members have somewhat broad powers of governance, but must be very careful not to strive to run the city as anything other than a purely public entity.

City governments, unlike privately held corporations, must conduct their business openly, he noted.

Council members are not in the "chain of command" in City Hall, Phillips said, and cannot advise city staff on matters pertaining to their jobs. It is the mayorís responsibility to "make sure people are doing their jobs," he said.

Ultimately, Phillips said, the council constitutes the executive, judicial and legislative branches of city government, but must act only as "a body."

The discussion with Phillips follows a set of meetings in recent months between council members, Simon and professional counselor Bob Werth.

Those meetings were designed to promote effective cooperation between the council and the mayor.

Simon last week said Phillips was called upon to clarify the roles of City Council members after questions about their responsibilities arose out of the meetings with Werth.


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