Libby City Council did not neglect duties, city attorney says

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The Libby City Council did not neglect its duties Feb. 20 when it failed to nominate any of the three men who applied to fill a vacant seat, the City Attorney said in response to allegations that council members had violated a state statute.

Former Libby resident Rob Hubbard made the dereliction of duty allegation in an email he sent Feb. 23 to Mayor Brent Teske and the three Lincoln County commissioners.

Hubbard’s argument began with Montana Code Annotated 7-4-4112 (1), which states that council members must appoint someone to fill a vacancy within 30 days.

The vacancy was created by the resignation of Angel Ford on Jan. 19, just more than 30 days before the Feb. 20 City Council meeting, where council members interviewed applicants William Holcomb, D.C. Orr and Hugh Taylor.

Hubbard next referred to MCA 7-4-4111 (6), arguing that the council members, by failing to nominate anyone within 30 days, had shown “open neglect or refusal to discharge duties,” thereby immediately vacating all of their seats.

Finally, Hubbard pointed to MCA 7-4-4112 (2), which grants county commissioners the authority to appoint city council members in the event of across-the-board vacancies.

The County Commission responded to Hubbard’s email Feb. 27. Stating it had consulted with Montana Association of Counties and County Attorney staff, the Commission seemed to agree with Hubbard’s reading of the code but said what the statute “does not provide for is the authority for county commissions to declare or rule on neglect, refusal or discharge of duties of other elected officials.”

“If the proper jurisdiction, or authority, of government rules that they are indeed in violation and remove all six from office, we would exercise our duty per MCA 7-4-4112 and appoint a new city council,” the Commission wrote.

The code Hubbard referred to doesn’t indicate where such authority rests, nor does it designate any penalty for failing to fill a vacancy within 30 days.

The code also does not account for contingencies such as a lack of applicants or the inability of a city council to reach the required majority vote in nominating or appointing a new member.

In a March 6 email, Chisholm wrote that “The council has taken a reasoned approach to filling a position under imperfect circumstances.”

Chisholm did not clarify by press time Thursday what he meant by “imperfect circumstances,” nor did he respond to Hubbard’s allegations, including that the City Council violated the law.

Hubbard said via email Thursday, March 8 that the city had not responded to his email.

“The statute is clear,” he wrote. “They have 30 days (to appoint).”

When told of the response Chisholm provided to The Western News, Hubbard responded that “they may feel it’s a reasoned approach and a reasonable decision, and it may very well be,” but wondered whether it violated statute.

“(Chisholm) wants to focus on reasonableness of their action and inaction without focusing on whether or not it is violating the law,” Hubbard wrote.

At the Feb. 20 City Council meeting, Teske invited the three men to reapply and noted that the city would soon advertise the vacancy once more. The application deadline is 5 p.m. Monday, March 12.

City Administrator Jim Hammons said Thursday via email that no one had applied to fill the vacant seat.

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