Council interviews three to fill vacant council seat, nominates none

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The Libby City Council on Feb. 20 nominated no one to fill a council vacancy, a move that irked the three people who applied, caught even council members by surprise, and caused one council member to regret not postponing the vote so the council could spend more time reviewing the applicants.

Despite the City Council not making a selection, Mayor Brent Teske invited the applicants — William Holcomb, D.C. Orr and Hugh Taylor — to reapply as the city continues its search.

“I was disappointed they didn’t make a decision,” Taylor said the following day. “They had three members of the community that came forward and volunteered their time and services to the people of Libby, and they chose not to either curb the decision (or) curb the vote to a later date. They just didn’t make a decision.”

Tuesday night, each applicant was interviewed by council members while the other two stood out of earshot down a hallway, where all three stood when it came time for council members to deliberate over a choice.

However, when the mayor asked the council for nominations, no council member offered a name.

The three men were then allowed back into Council Chambers and told that no one had been nominated.

“I think it was a surprise to all of us that no one was nominated,” Council Member Kristin Smith said Wednesday via email.

“The mayor has done an excellent job of fostering an environment for open and constructive dialogue free from personal attacks and bullying,” she added. “So there’s a cautious approach to filling the vacancy.”

The surprise was shared by Council Member Gary Armstrong, who said they 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 told The Western News on Wednesday.

Holcomb and Orr, like Taylor, were perplexed and annoyed that no one was nominated.

“I don’t have anything nice to say about it,” Holcomb said Wednesday via text message. “So I won’t say anything at all.”

In a prepared statement emailed Wednesday to local media, Orr, a former City Council member, said all three applicants were qualified, legally and otherwise, to serve on the council, and wondered why the council did not choose from among them.

“The Council, recently ordered by the Commissioner of Political Practices to establish policies for transparency, refused to provide any information for refusing to nominate,” Orr wrote. “It appeared discussion, and decision, had occurred outside of public view.”

The order Orr referred to was part of a settlement of a case in which Montana’s former Commissioner of Political Practices determined state campaign finance laws were violated during Libby’s 2013 mayoral election.

The settlement, which the City Council accepted Oct. 2, 2017, included a stipulation requiring the City Council to hold a “Transparency in Government” week during the first week of June from 2018 to 2021.

“I cannot speak for the rest of the council members,” Council Member Gary Beach said via email Thursday morning, “but I was undecided (Tuesday night) and was waiting on the position of the other members. With no nominations being made I felt they were of a similar mindset.”

Beach wrote that he appreciated the three candidates’ interest and encouraged them to reapply, inviting them to “contact the council members to clear up any questions that they might have prior to the next interviews.”

Council Member Brian Zimmerman echoed Beach’s thanking the applicants and said he, too, “was not set on who I thought might be the best of the three candidates for the position” going into the meeting.

“I was surprised by no one making a nomination for the position,” Zimmerman said via email. “Maybe the other members needed more time as I did, but I cannot speak for them. I wish one of us would have made a motion to at least table the vote until we had more time to review, but that did not happen and I am sorry for that, as I now look back on it.”

Zimmerman also said he hoped that “the three candidates, along with maybe a few others, will come forward again, so that we may make the right choice for our community.”

Orr stated that he would reapply, while Holcomb and Taylor on Wednesday were undecided.

“If your personal opinions are that nobody was worth a damn, then why (should any of us) reapply?” Taylor asked, adding that had it been a typical job interview and no one who applied was hired, “you wouldn’t go back.”

Holcomb said re-applying “might be pointless.”

Teske and Council Member Peggy Williams did not respond to requests for comment by press time Thursday.

The City will soon post ads in local media seeking applications, said City Administrator Jim Hammons via email. He said he is waiting for the application to be revised following suggestions Williams made during Tuesday night’s meeting.

“A strong applicant should have a robust letter of interest and demonstrate how they’ve worked collaboratively with others to advance particular goals,” Smith wrote, noting she was speaking for herself and not on behalf of the entire council. “The council values independent thought and raising good questions and listening to others.”

The next round of applicants probably would not appear before the City Council until its second meeting in March, Hammons wrote.

The opening on the Council is due to Angel Ford’s resignation in January.

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