The city of Sun Valley has not found a suitable tourniquet to stop its recent hemorrhaging of money in the form of legal fees, though elected officials are desperate to “make it stop.”
The City Council on Thursday, Nov. 1, unanimously approved the expenditure of an additional $15,000 requested by Mayor DeWayne Briscoe to cover legal fees associated with subpoenas issued for privileged documents and general litigation related to a public records lawsuit recently filed against the city.
On Oct. 18, the council had already approved an additional $14,000 for the same purposes. On Aug. 24, the council approved an original amount “not to exceed” $13,000. The money is to pay increased expenses incurred by Boise-based law firm Naylor & Hales, which provides special legal council to the city through attorney Kirtlan Naylor.
The $15,000 approved Thursday will bring the total appropriated by the city since Nov. 5, 2011 for legal fees associated with personnel actions and lawsuits to $111,478.
That number does not include money spent on a forensic audit commissioned by the city in April to investigate potential fraud in its financial affairs during fiscal 2011 (which cost the city about $160,000, according to figures provided by Virginia Egger, interim executive assistant to the mayor) or money paid to several city employees for paid administrative leave over the past year (which exceeds $225,000, according to Egger). The total paid by the city since Nov. 5, 2011, for personnel-related matters is at least $496,478.
“Is there any way our attorneys can stop these requests?” asked Councilwoman Michelle Griffith at the meeting Thursday, referring to numerous public document requests recently filed by attorney Jim Donoval, who is representing former City Administrator Sharon Hammer.
“He’s abusing the system. He’s running up the bill for the taxpayers of Sun Valley,” Councilman Nils Ribi said.
City Attorney Adam King said it’s hard to get someone to stop filing lawsuits or public document requests.
“Only a judge can do that,” he said.
Briscoe said Naylor has successfully defended the city against five of nine lawsuits or public document requests filed by Donoval, including a request for City Council member evaluation files, which Briscoe said don’t exist. He said Naylor was making good progress and was helping to turn the tide against all the lawsuits.
“We’re being used as a pawn in other cases. We have to protect ourselves,” Briscoe said.
The “other cases” Briscoe was referring to include a $3 million lawsuit filed by Donoval and Hammer against Ribi, alleging assault, defamation and wrongful termination of Hammer. Briscoe said Donoval was juggling multiple lawsuits and document requests against the city to harvest more information than he would otherwise be able to obtain through the lawsuit against Ribi alone. Briscoe said Donoval might use that additional information in the lawsuit against Ribi.
One of these requests includes a public records lawsuit filed by Donoval on Aug. 20 naming both the city and the Idaho Attorney General’s Office as defendants. In the complaint, Donoval challenges the credibility of the forensic audit, which was received by the city on Aug. 24, but has not been released to the public.
Ribi abstained from the vote to approve the $15,000 appropriation and abstained from most of the discussion, which Briscoe tried to move into executive session numerous times due to its involving matters of litigation. After hitting his gavel and saying firmly “We should really discuss this in executive session,” the council members acquiesced.
Before the doors were closed, Griffith said, “I’m not trying to turn the tide. I’m trying to stop it.”
Brennan Rego: firstname.lastname@example.org