Answering a second call for applicants to fill the Libby City Council seat left vacant by Angel Ford’s resignation in January, four Libby men have stepped forward — including all three who previously applied and were turned down.
William M. Holcomb, Hugh Taylor and former City Council member D.C. Orr re-applied, joining new applicant Rob Dufficy, City Administrator Jim Hammons said via email.
The City Council surprised itself — and violated state statute, a complainant alleged — after it interviewed Holcomb, Taylor and Orr on Feb. 20 and failed to nominate any of them.
On Feb. 21, Council Member Gary Armstrong told The Western News that the councilors had gone into the meeting with the mindset that they had to choose someone from among the three applicants.
“We walked in there assuming that we were going to have to walk out with a choice, and we couldn’t make that choice,” he said.
On Feb. 23, former Libby resident Rob Hubbard, in an email sent to Mayor Brent Teske and the three Lincoln County commissioners, alleged council members had violated a state statute — Montana Code Annotated 7-4-4112 (1) — requiring them to appoint someone to fill the vacancy within 30 days.
Ford resigned on Jan. 19, just more than 30 days before the Feb. 20 City Council meeting.
In failing to nominate a new member, Hubbard continued, quoting MCA 7-4-4111 (6), council members 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, after consulting with legal staff, responded to Hubbard’s email Feb. 27, stating “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 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 City of Libby didn’t respond to Hubbard, he said via email March 14, but it did provide a statement to The Western News.
“There is no language in MCA 7-4-4112 that triggers a remedy or penalty if a council fails to make an appointment within 30 days,” City Attorney Dean Chisholm said March 12 via email. “It was probably drafted that way so as to create a 30-day benchmark that city councils should try to comply with, but understanding that there are any number of circumstances in which a a city council acting reasonably could fail to meet that benchmark.”
Explaining his decision to re-apply, Orr said Thursday via email that he “was the most qualified candidate, the best choice for Libby.”
Orr also wrote that Mayor Brent Teske and Council Member Gary Armstrong had not responded to emails in which Orr sought explanations for why the City Council acted as it did.
In particular, Orr asked Armstrong questions in response to a letter to the editor Armstrong sent to the Western News that was published Feb. 23.
“None of the other members have given reason for refusing to discharge the duties of their office,” Orr wrote in his Thursday email to The Western News. “Their silence makes it impossible to resolve the conflict. Government must be transparent in their deliberations.”
Armstrong declined to comment.
The City Council will interview the candidates and make an appointment at a special meeting set for 6 p.m. Monday, March 19, City Clerk Audray McCollum said Thursday morning via email.
The council’s regularly scheduled meeting will start at 7 p.m.