Libby City Council to require background checks of potential appointees

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The Libby City Council is fast-tracking revisions to policies and procedures — including those related to appointing council members — following the Jan. 19 resignation of Angel Ford.

“I am hoping to have something to present to council at the Feb. 5 meeting,” Mayor Brent Teske said in an email sent Jan. 24 to The Western News and to the City Council and related staff. “We are currently working on policy for appointees and requesting that (potential appointees) submit to a background check.”

Ford resigned Jan. 19 following revelations of prior felony convictions in Oregon and a campaign-related fine in Washington.

The Libby City Council appointed Ford on May 30, 2017 to replace Allen Olsen, who retired April 27. She was the only person to apply for the vacant seat. She was then elected by acclamation to the City Council Sept. 5 after no one ran in opposition.

Up to and including Ford’s appointment, the City Council’s procedure for appointing people had been to request a resume and letter of interest and to interview applicants as a body before voting.

The City Council did not require applicants to submit to a background check, an issue raised by some residents on social media after word first got out in late summer about Ford’s felony background.

“There has been a lot of discussion on social media, and I understand most don’t know what the law allows,” Teske wrote. “As we discovered when we first found out about Angel’s felony convictions, there wasn’t much we could do” given that she had already been appointed.

Teske noted that State law and the Montana constitution are clear in that felony convictions do not disqualify someone from running for office or seeking appointment to an office. He also noted that, though the City has learned it can ask that an applicant for appointment submit to a background check, it can’t ask the same of an elected official or someone running for office.

“As long as there aren’t any restrictions by law for that person to hold office, it is up to the voters to verify,” Teske wrote.

Teske acknowledged that by not disclosing the convictions, Ford had caused distrust among the City Council and the public.

He also expressed his appreciation that Ford resigned ”in a timely manner, like she stated (she would), to avoid any further embarrassment to the City.”

“If Angel would have disclosed the felony convictions when she was appointed, would the Council still have voted to accept her?” Teske wondered. “I don’t know.”

In his email, Teske also addressed social media discussions saying the City Council overlooked other candidates when it selected Ford.

“At the time of Angel’s appointment, she was the only applicant and because we were up against the 30-day time frame that MCA 7-4-4112 states, the council filled the seat,” Teske wrote. “The seat again became open at the next general election … (but) no one but Angel filed for that seat and she was elected by acclamation. Therefore she was legally and duly elected at that time, (and) no longer an appointee.”

To fill the vacancy left by Ford’s resignation, Teske encouraged “interested, legally qualified applicants” to submit a letter of interest, a resume with current references, and a willingness to submit to a background check to City Hall before 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12.

“This has been an unfortunate learning experience,” Teske wrote. “But from it we are making policy, so that it doesn’t happen in the future.”

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