Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Report on alleged harassment at Sun Valley released

Investigator says councilman did not violate city policy


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

Nils Ribi

A report on alleged wrongdoings at Sun Valley City Hall, a portion of which was recently made public after being filed in court, states that “insufficient evidence” exists to support a charge that City Councilman Nils Ribi violated city policy by harassing former City Administrator Sharon Hammer. Hammer had made the allegation to former Mayor Wayne Willich, as well as in a lawsuit against Ribi and the city following the report’s completion in November 2011.

However, the report, written by Boise attorney Patricia Ball, also states that evidence was presented that Ribi engaged in “disrespectful” conduct toward others.

“Witnesses overwhelmingly stated that Ribi treats others, primarily at City Council meetings, in a disrespectful manner,” the report states. “However, Ribi’s conduct is not directed toward and/or does not target a protected class, including gender. Witnesses also did not support a finding that Ribi has engaged in harassment of Administrator Hammer.”

In the report, Ball states that Ribi denied any “unprofessional” conduct toward city employees or others. In an interview Tuesday, Ribi stood by a statement he made in November 2011 and said he believes the report confirms it.

“The charges against me are baseless and will be proven as such in a court of law,” he said.

The city hired Ball in November 2011, for just under $29,500, to follow up on allegations by city employees that Hammer and then-Fire Chief Jeff Carnes were misusing public funds, and to look into Hammer’s allegations against Ribi. Ball’s report recommended a more thorough examination of the city’s purchasing and personnel policies, but did not recommend a closer inspection of Ribi’s “disrespectful” conduct. However, the report states that if any such conduct continued, it could result in low morale, reduced retention and claims against the city for allowing a hostile work environment.

The city referred Ball’s report to the office of Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas, who determined there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Hammer or Carnes. In November 2012, Thomas released the Hammer and Carnes portions of the report to the Idaho Mountain Express, but did not release the Ribi portion. In a Dec. 5 letter to Thomas, Boise attorney Kirtlan Naylor, who provides special legal counsel to the city, stated that in providing Thomas with the Ball report, the city had not intended to waive attorney work-product privilege.

“Please do not release any further portions of the Ball Reports at this time,” the letter states.

Mayor Dewayne Briscoe said that before Ball began her investigation, the city told its employees that interviews conducted by Ball would remain confidential. He said that’s why the city didn’t release the report itself and also why it has paid Naylor $17,000 to quash a subpoena that demanded that the city release the Ribi portion of the report.

Jim Donoval, Hammer’s husband and sometimes attorney, filed the subpoena in July as part of a defamation lawsuit filed against him by Ribi in Blaine County 5th District Court in December 2011. According to Briscoe, the city would have been vulnerable to lawsuits from the interviewees had it not fought the subpoena, a fight the city won in October.

However, in November, Naylor filed the Ribi portion of the report as evidence in support of Ribi in an Idaho Human Rights Commission investigation initiated by Hammer in November 2011, charging sex discrimination against Ribi and the city.

“The city did not anticipate the report was going to be made public, because Idaho Human Rights Commission matters are typically confidential,” Naylor said.

According to the Human Rights Commission website, both parties involved in a commission investigation are encouraged to keep the proceedings confidential, though they both have access to any documents filed. Donoval said he obtained the Ribi portion of the report through the commission’s proceedings and subsequently filed it on Feb. 28 as evidence against Ribi in Ribi’s lawsuit. That filing made it a public document.

Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com

Read the report

To read the Ribi portion of the Patti Ball report, go to the Idaho Mountain Express website, www.mtexpress.com, and look for “Extras” on the left side of the home page. Click on “Sun Valley Audit: Investigative report Pt. II.”




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