Following two rounds of applications and interviews — and allegations it had run afoul of the law for doing so — the Libby City Council on Monday, March 19, appointed Hugh Taylor to fill the seat left vacant by Angel Ford’s resignation in January.
Taylor was appointed at the end of a special 6 p.m. meeting that included moments of heated debate between one of the applicants and some of the council members.
“I’m just looking forward to getting to work for the people of Libby and seeing what we can get accomplished,” Taylor said Thursday morning, taking a momentary break from his job as shop foreman at Kootenai Truck Repair.
Only a few days into his appointed term, Taylor didn’t yet know which committees he might participate on.
Asked why he applied again after being turned down, he said “I believe in Libby and I want to try to help. That’s my only motivation. I don’t own any property, I don’t own a business, I don’t have anything to gain other than trying to help Libby.”
Controversy over procedure
Taylor was one of three people who applied twice to fill the vacancy. The first time, he and applicants William Holcomb and D.C. Orr were turned down on Feb. 20 when the City Council failed to nominate any of them. Nonetheless, all three were invited to reapply and did. A fourth candidate, Rob Dufficy, also applied.
The City Council’s failure to fill the vacancy on Feb. 20 caused former Libby resident Rob Hubbard to allege dereliction of duty in an email he sent Feb. 23 to Mayor Brent Teske and the Lincoln County Commission.
Citing two state statutes, Hubbard alleged the City Council not only broke the law by not appointing someone within 30 days of the vacancy, but in failing to do so had shown “open neglect or refusal to discharge duties,” thereby immediately vacating all five members and requiring the Commission to appoint six new council members.
The Commission, after consulting with legal staff, said it would do so only “if the proper jurisdiction, or authority, of government rules that they are indeed in violation and remove all six from office.”
Libby City Attorney Dean Chisholm said Council members had not neglected their duties, stating that the statute Hubbard cited “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 city council acting reasonably could fail to meet that benchmark.”
Chisholm’s explanation didn’t sit well with either Hubbard or Orr, who had voiced his own concerns over the situation with Teske.
Orr also had emailed Council member Gary Armstrong concerning a letter to the editor Armstrong wrote to The Western News, believing that in it Armstrong had admitted to colluding with other council members to not nominate either Orr, Holcomb or Taylor, and also had defamed Orr when he described Orr “as one who delights in using criticism, insult and embarrassment as his primary means of communication.”
Further, Orr had Doug Scotti of Frampton Purdy Law Firm in Whitefish write Chisholm on March 16, stating in part that Orr “has standing to file a declaratory action in the District Court, which would ask Judge (Matt) Cuffe to declare that the Council violated Montana law” — a violation, Scotti contended, that therefore caused a second round of applicants to also violate the same law.
Scotti also asked that Armstrong “resist any future urge to publicly insult or defame D.C. Orr.”
At the March 19 special meeting, the interviews proceeded after Orr made sure the Scotti letter was placed in the official record, and after Teske said that Chisholm had advised the interviews could proceed as scheduled.
The Council’s interview of Orr was the last and the lengthiest, and included some exchanges that prompted Orr, the mayor or a Council member to exclaim “point of order” to ask whether a line of questioning was inappropriate or going off topic. Orr questioned Council members on whether they believe they need to follow the law, among other items, and fielded questions that included whether he believes Council members need to work well together.
As 7 p.m. and the start of the regular Council meeting approached, Teske called to wrap up the proceedings and asked the Council for nominations. Taylor and Dufficy were nominated; Council members Brian Zimmerman, Kristin Smith, Gary Beach and Armstrong voted in favor of Taylor while Peggy Williams opposed, and Zimmerman, Smith and Beach voted in favor of Dufficy while Armstrong and Williams opposed.
Taylor was soon sworn in by Teske, and took his seat alongside the rest of the Council for his first meeting as a Councilman.