A long-awaited settlement may soon happen in a case in which state campaign finance laws were determined to have been violated during Libby’s 2013 mayoral election.
Jeffrey Mangan, Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, proposed the settlement to Magill v. Reintsma, City of Libby, et al in mid-July. The city on Monday provided a copy to The Western News.
Arlen Magill of Libby filed the complaint in September 2014. Originally filed against City Attorney James Reintsma, whose contract had run out before Magill filed his complaint, it alleged the misuse of public funds and resources to interfere in the mayoral race of incumbent Doug Roll and Allen Olsen.
As the election neared, Reintsma reignited the question of Olsen’s residency, first in a memo and then in the threat of legal action. Reintsma withdrew his request six days before the election, which Olsen lost by only 13 votes.
Upon review of the complaint, Jonathan Motl, then Commissioner of Political Practices, added to it the City of Libby, Doug Roll and five members of the 2013 Libby City Council — Robin Benson, Barbara Desch, Vicky Lawrence, Peggy Williams and Bill Bischoff.
Part of the proposed settlement is that the City of Libby will, in the first week of June for four years, “host a ‘Transparency in Government’ week of informational and educational events.” Timed to occur prior to filing deadlines for candidates of local and municipal offices, “the purpose of the events should be to provide information on how local and municipal government works.”
Also under the terms of the proposed settlement, “the Commissioner agrees not to pursue any further administrative or court proceedings” against the named defendants, and the City of Libby acknowledges the “Summary of Facts and Finding of Sufficient Evidence to Show a Violation of Montana’s Campaign Practices Act,” issued May 12, 2015 by Motl. In it Motl determined that the defendants “failed to comply with certain campaign finance and practices laws and administrative regulations.”
According to a background document accompanying the proposed settlement, “the issue is the use of the City of Libby’s name, personnel time, and tax dollars spent by the Mayor and named Council Members to affect the outcome of an election.”
Libby City Attorney Dean Chisholm on Monday said the settlement was “merely a proposal” and has not yet been acted upon. He said it’s been shared with City Council members for individual review, and thought it might be discussed at the Sept. 4 meeting.
The background document states that the Commissioner of Political Practices “made a settlement offer to each of the named individuals, and to date has been unable to reach resolution.
Those who wanted fines or additional litigation “may not agree with this approach,” he said in a Monday afternoon phone interview. “I hope (residents) can see the bigger picture, the value of what we think this will accomplish.”
One of the primary concerns he weighed in his decision, Mangan said, was the cost of additional litigation to city and state taxpayers.
“I saw more value in seeing how to make this work for the citizens of Libby in the years to come,” he said.
Mangan said his office explored coming to Libby in June for a public meeting to discuss the proposed settlement. According to the background document, “the identified parties (other than the City of Libby), through counsel, rebuffed the attempt.”
“I do appreciate the mayor, city attorney and city council agreeing to take a look at it,” he said.
Mayor Brent Teske did not reply to a request for comment by deadline on Monday. City Council Member Peggy Williams said via email “I have no comment.”
When told of the proposed settlement in a Monday afternoon interview, Magill sounded pleased even as he acknowledged “it’s not going to make certain people happy.”
“It needs to come to a close,” he said. “I don’t want our city or state taxpayers to have to foot another dime in any of this. It’s been too costly and if (civic) education-wise something good can come out of it, I think it’s a win.”