Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sun Valley councilman responds to lawsuit

Ribi denies claims made by city administrator


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

An internal investigation of Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer's "possible misuse of public funds and equipment" was the cause of her being placed on administrative leave two weeks ago, according to an affidavit filed in Blaine County 5th District Court by Sun Valley City Councilman Nils Ribi.

The affidavit is part of a rapidly developing spat between Ribi and Hammer that has produced allegations of dangerous mental instability against Ribi and defamation against Hammer.

Ribi's affidavit was filed Nov. 23 in opposition to a motion for a temporary restraining order seeking an end to Hammer's suspension and to the investigation. The motion and a $1 million lawsuit against the city were filed on Nov. 21 by attorney Jim Donoval, a Republican candidate for state Senate last year and Hammer's husband. The suit alleges that Ribi physically threatened Hammer and tried to get her fired in retaliation for complaining about his behavior.

In his affidavit, Ribi denied those accusations.

He also stated that City Treasurer Michelle Frostenson told him (at an unspecified date) that she had "uncovered evidence that indicated possible wrong doing by the Plaintiff." He said three council members set an executive session to hear that evidence on Nov. 11. Hammer was placed on administrative leave by Mayor Wayne Willich on Nov. 18.

"...[T]he Mayor and Council had reason to believe that the Plaintiff may have committed serious misconduct, including possible criminal violations of statutes dealing with the misuse of public funds and falsification of public records," the affidavit states. "... Because the Plaintiff, in the position of City Administrator, has unfettered access to the records of the City of Sun Valley, including records which may be essential to a determination of whether or not improprieties, misconduct and/or criminal action have been committed by the Plaintiff, it was and is essential that she be placed on administrative leave and ordered not to be in Sun Valley City [H]all until appropriate investigative measures have been completed."

The affidavit states that the administrative leave is not a disciplinary action.

The affidavit does not specifically state the nature of Hammer's alleged misuse of public funds. However, a letter attached to it allegedly written by Donoval on Nov. 12 to Mayor Wayne Willich and copied to City Council members, states that "the two main allegations of impropriety described to Ms. Hammer was (sic) that Ms. Hammer somehow violated City of Sun Valley vacation pay and use of City of Sun Valley automobile policies." The letter also states that "Ms. Hammer un-categorically (sic) denies any such allegations."

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The letter also states that "[s]hould the allegations and proceedings against Ms. Hammer proceed any further, Ms. Hammer will present multiple public officials, Sun Valley employees, and private individuals who have all disclosed to Ms. Hammer that Mr. Ribi has a long history of mental and emotional illness, is verbally abusive, is otherwise unstable, and is most likely emotionally incompetent to assume the public position that he now possesses or any public position he seeks in the future."

Another letter attached to Ribi's affidavit allegedly written by Donoval on Nov. 16 states that "[t]here is no question that due to Mr. Ribi's tenuous emotional health that Mr. Ribi is dangerous to City of Sun Valley employees, and in particular to Ms. Hammer."

Ribi has hired Hailey attorney Keith Roark to address allegedly defamatory statements made by Donoval. In a letter to Donoval dated Nov. 21, Roark stated that "Mr. Ribi has never been diagnosed [with] or treated for any emotional or psychological illness. ..." The letter demands that Donoval retract his allegations of mental instability on Ribi's part in letters sent to the recipients of his Nov. 12 and Nov. 16 letters.

Roark's letter points out that Idaho law precludes the filing of a lawsuit in court against a municipality until a tort claim has been filed with the municipality. Roark contends that no such claim was filed.

"Should you choose to file your 'complaint,' we are prepare[d] to have it dismissed summarily and will bring an appropriate action for malicious prosecution in addition to our claims for defamation and false light invasion of privacy", in his letter.

In an email to the Idaho Mountain Express, Donoval said a hearing on his motion for a temporary restraining order, originally scheduled for Nov. 23, would be rescheduled for sometime this week.

Greg Moore: gmoore@mtexpress.com




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