(Editor’s note: The following was submitted by Libby City Council Member Gary Armstrong to explain his decision Feb. 20 not to nominate any of three applicants for a council vacancy. He also responds to applicant D.C. Orr’s above statement.)
To the editor and citizens of Libby:
As one of the five Libby City Council members who failed to nominate a single candidate out of three choices, in order to fill a City Council seat last Tuesday evening, I feel that an explanation for my action would be in order.
The fact of a vacancy on any city council is a rare and infrequent occasion. They generally only occur when illness or age is a factor.
Libby has had to fill nine vacancies in the past two years. The council in years past has been riddled with controversy and infighting, which has led to many of the personnel changes. I was the second-to-the-last appointed member of the Council, just prior to Angel Ford’s appointment. The controversy surrounding her tenure has not only caused the City to now conduct background checks for all parties stating interest in a City Council opening, but I believe it has also made all of the remaining council members to be more circumspect in our choices for City Council.
Filling a vacancy on the City Council forces us into conflicting situations; on the one hand, we are making a hiring decision, acting on behalf of the Citizens of Libby, to hire the best applicant we can find. They will have to become familiar with city, state and federal law, and that requires a great amount of self-education and commitment. We council members are the face of the City, the ones who write and pass the laws that run the City. We are also responsible to the entirety of the citizenry, for doing the right things for the benefit of the City. Making decisions for the benefit of this community is my primary motivation and task.
On the other hand, we are also forced to pick only from those few people who reside within the Libby Corporate limits; have taken the time to keep up on recent affairs; take time to read the paper and see the notice; and may or may not have the qualities, education and training that we would like to see on our council.
Prior to the meeting on Feb. 20, I had discussed with other councilors and the Mayor various issues surrounding this vote. Whether we can legally not appoint to a vacant seat when there is only one candidate, and the consensus was yes, you are allowed to not-appoint in this circumstance. We also had discussions in the case of there being more than one candidate for a vacant seat, and that it would be terrible optics to not appoint one of them.
We faced three candidates, then, and I know that all of us on the City Council fully expected to have a new member by the end of the meeting.
I had asked other councilors for any feedback they might have on the two unknown-to-me candidates. There was little that I learned, and so I had to rely solely on the interview. The third candidate, Mr. Orr, is known to everyone on the council, as one who delights in using criticism, insult and embarrassment as his primary means of communication.
The interviews concluded, and the Mayor called for any nominations. With no knowledge of what anyone else had decided, or was thinking, I could not make a choice amongst the three. It was my honest assessment of the situation. I could not in good conscience choose any one of the candidates and support them with a nomination.
All five of us were stunned; all of us come from pretty different places, but nevertheless, we came out with a unanimous decision. That must mean something.
In a statement provided to local media, Mr. Orr wrote that he “...look(s) forward to meeting the person Council has already chosen.” I would reply to Mr. Orr that the person we have chosen has not yet applied for the position. We’re still waiting for her to do so. The person we have chosen is collaborative, consensus-building, knowledgeable in funding and finance, well enough read in the law to understand contracts and policy, has some planning, ED or infrastructure knowledge, is willing and able to spend the time and put out the effort to accomplish the business of the city, and is comfortable in the public eye. Or as close to all that as possible.
It seems to me that if the Council is given the discretion to choose amongst multiple candidates for any one position, they should also have the discretion to choose not to appoint, if that be their decision.
I am proud of the work that I do for the City of Libby, and I am proud of the four current council members and Mayor that I work with, and all of the work that they do.
My apologies to those applicants who might have felt insulted by my and our actions in not nominating one of you; We are all acting on behalf of our perception of the best interests of the City of Libby.
Libby City Councilman