Libby City Council backed Mayor Peggy Williams’ appointment of Samuel Sikes as city administrator this week, but not before opposing the process.
Sikes, the current treasurer and city clerk, will succeed Jim Hammons, who will take the reins as county administrator in the coming weeks. Williams proposed Sikes’ name at a special meeting on October 4 after a city hiring committee recommended him for the job.
Williams cited Sikes’ involvement in city affairs and his experience, including time in the US Marine Corps, as the main reasons for his decision. Libby City Council blessed Williams’ choice of Sikes with a 4-1 vote supporting his promotion.
Neither the meeting nor the subsequent vote of the city council was necessary for the ascension of Sikes. Under Libby’s charter, the mayor has the power to appoint a city administrator. The document does not specify any defined procedure, leaving the decision solely in the hands of the mayor. Williams chose to strike a hiring committee, take the issue to city council for public debate, and seek their support.
The way these last two stages were handled drew criticism and accusations of wrongdoing from several candidates in the November municipal elections.
Councilor Hugh Taylor, who competes with Williams for mayor, withdrew from the vote after challenging the legality of the meeting. City Councilor Rob Dufficy, a political ally of Taylor who is running for reelection this year, voted against supporting Sikes’ nomination, saying he would rather see officials widen the pool of candidates.
And resident Darrel “DC” Orr, who faces a felony charge in Lincoln County District Court for allegedly attempting to overthrow a woman in May, ruled the meeting “illegal” while addressing Councillors. Like Dufficy, Orr is running for one of three Libby City Council seats in the November ballot.
The claim that the meeting violated the law comes from the addition of a single line to the special meeting’s agenda: “closed for personnel matters”. As the agenda was posted online and at town hall, emailed and distributed to the press, Taylor feared the extra punishment – buried in the middle of the six standard lines of text at the top of each agenda – deters residents from participating.
In an October 5 interview, Taylor said he was unaware the meeting was open to the public until he arrived at Town Hall.
â€œIt was listed as a closed meeting, in other words, you can’t participate,â€ he said. â€œHow can the public participate? “
Ahead of the vote, Taylor rejected assurances from City Attorney Dean Chisholm that the meeting was in accordance with the law. The language allowed city councilors to meet behind closed doors if the discussion turned to Sikes’ employment history with the city, Chisholm said in a separate interview.
â€œIn cases where you have a closed meeting, what you usually do is open the meeting by making a decision on the right to privacy and go in camera,â€ Chisholm said. â€œThen you open the meeting again and at that point the board votes and takes comments from the audience. “
At no time did city councilors meet behind closed doors on October 4.
When Taylor raised his objection during the meeting, Chisholm noted that the agenda included standard information on how members of the public should behave when addressing city council.
“The notice in these cases allows participants to express their opinions – whether open or closed,” he told Taylor.
â€œIf it’s closed, they’re not allowed to speak or be here,â€ Taylor said.
“It is not true,” replied Chisholm.
Orr, the only member of the public in attendance, accused city councilors of trying to evade public scrutiny with the unnecessary meeting for Sikes’ nomination.
â€œThe postingâ€¦ indicates that the special board meeting is closed for personnel matters. What this tells the public is that they are not allowed to be here. It’s illegal, â€he said during the public comment period. â€œYou cannot exclude the public from your deliberations. “
As city councilors prepared for a vote, Dufficy attempted to join Taylor in recusing himself. When Councilor Brian Zimmerman, recently appointed panel chair, insisted for a reason, Dufficy hesitated before finally deciding to vote no.
Zimmerman joined City Councilors Gary Beach, Zach McNew and Kristin Smith in voting for the mayor’s choice.
“While [the hiring process], I discovered things I didn’t completely know about Sam and like I said afterwards it was for me – hands down – the right thing to do right now for this community and this town, â€Zimmerman said of Sikes’ appointment.
Smith praised Sikes, praising his experience and skills, and thanked Williams for allowing city council to influence the mayor’s decision.
“Thank you for bringing this to the board for our contribution [though] you don’t have to, you can make the appointment yourself, â€Smith told Williams.
For his part, Sikes said he was excited to take on the role. He looked forward to leading infrastructure projects and further developing the city’s capital improvement plan in the months and years to come.
“I think I can keep doing what [Hammons] was doing and leading the city in the right direction, â€he said. â€œI really think I can help and build this infrastructure without going into debt. “
During the Oct. 5 interview, Taylor said he was not opposed to the appointment of Sikes, but rather to the handling of the meeting and the vote, which he called an “illegal act”.
Acknowledging that Williams didn’t have to hold the meeting in the first place or seek advice from city council, Taylor lamented the lack of input into the selection process. Like Dufficy, Taylor said he would have preferred the mayor to open the post to the public before picking a candidate.