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Council restores faith by upholding electorate's choice

| January 24, 2006 11:00 PM

To the Editor:

People often ask why I've stopped writing letters blasting the city council and a recent action has provided the perfect opportunity to explain.

There have been some questions pertaining to Walt McElmurry being both a city employee and a councilman. After he was elected in November, city attorney Charles Evans issued an opinion, requested by Mayor Berget, stating that it is against state law for him to be employed by the city and hold elected office. This "opinion" cited no state law as a reference, only an irrelevant attorney general's opinion concerning an obscure "common law doctrine" which is contradictory to statutory law and doesn't relate specifically to this case.

Mr. Evans then states without equivocation that Mr. McElmurry must either quit his job or give up his council seat, again, citing no legal basis for taking an outrageous position that would steal your vote. Our city attorney then called a meeting of the personnel committee to discuss the matter.

By this time I was greatly interested in attending the meeting and hearing the arguments. From my point of view it seemed the mayor and his attorney weren't happy with the election and were trying to manipulate it through the back door and create a situation where the mayor could appoint someone to the seat rather than trust the judgment of the voters. All they had to do was intimidate and harass a councilman into giving up his seat and they could hijack a legally-binding vote of the people. Business as usual in the smoke-filled backrooms of city hall.

Many have been the victims of harassment and intimidation from these folks, including myself. I don't believe civil government should employ criminal tactics using lies and deceptive practices such as these. That negates the whole authority and history of balanced government in America. It boggles my mind that the mayor and his attorney think they are above the law. The mayor has done a fine job of surrounding himself with like-minded people. From city clerk to heads of departments, the mayor is influencing the character of city government by influencing these appointments.

The meeting called by the city attorney was not properly posted or advertised as required by law. Mr. McElmurry was notified by the mayor personally with little time to prepare a defense. He wasn't even advised of the nature of business at this illegal meeting. Simply being a personnel committee meeting would indicate that his employment was in jeopardy. As an employee, he would also have a definite right to privacy in the proceedings unless he waived that right.

The topic of conversation revolved around Mr. McElmurry's council seat. It is a somewhat complicated issue, but basically once the personnel committee addressed Mr. McElmurry's council seat, Mr. McElmurry switched hats from employee McElmurry to Councilman McElmurry. At that point the meeting involved a quorum of the council and a whole new set of legal issues were violated. Mr. McElmurry as a councilman has no right to privacy, he is an elected public officer. I have to think our city attorney understood these issues when he tried to hide this from public scrutiny as a personnel issue. It is his job to know these things. He alone knew the topic of action in advance of the meeting. I told council that they had better shorten his leash and make sure that any action he undertakes in their name should have prior approval from the council. I hope he writes a letter to explain his position in initiating this illegal maneuver.

Now, the reason you don't hear from me anymore on these issues. The personnel committee recognized that they had been conned into a bad situation. The committee report on this meeting stated that they unanimously recognized that Mr. McElmurry has an "exemplary" employment history with the City of Libby. They also reported that any issues involving his council seat were out of their realm of authority and a matter that the voters had already decided. Then came the kicker. The committee apologized to Mr. McElmurry for putting him min an uncomfortable situation.

I've taken to calling them the "new honest and intelligent" council since the old council fled the scene. This was a masterful attempt at manipulation of the political process by the mayor and his lawyer. They had the attorney general's opinion before the election but chose to keep it secret until after the election. It was forwarded by the Montana League of Cities and Towns, a private corporation which lists Mayor Berget as an officer. Obviously a lot of planning went into this charade and the council shut them down completely.

The council people on that committee had to decide that their legal eagle was leading them in the wrong direction and take action that was against his advice. Action that was legally, ethically and morally required of these elected officials regardless of the unlawful position taken by the city attorney. That is the American experiment in representative government in action at its best. It is an almost constant battle to adhere to the rule of law.

There will always be those who gravitate to positions of authority for personal gain. The checks and balances in our system create a powerful means to discourage the self-indulgent in public matters. It simply requires participants who are aware of constitutional issues and are willing to take a stand for progress in ethical practices. The oldtimers called it vigilance and I'm thrilled to see a fully functional council that practices it. This will ensure that city business will be exercised for the benefit of the people. You will be amazed at what this means for the future of Libby.

Thank you Libby City Council for restoring my faith.

D.C. Orr

Judging Northwest A speech and drama called rewarding

To the Editor:

I just finished my second year as a judge for the High School Northwest A Division of speech, debate and drama. I just want to share how very rewarding and fun, being a judge for this event, is for me.

The high school students for this year's competition arrived from the following high schools: Bigfork, Columbia Falls, Polson, Ronan, Whitefish and Libby.

The students are dressed appropriate for their presentation, be it suit, Elizabethan costume, ragged jeans with suspenders and everything in between. They participate in a number of events so may change several times throughout the day.

I was assigned this year to judge Classical Duo where I, along with two other judges, watched spellbound as a Shakespearean duel was re-enacted before me much to the audience's delight. I was a solo judge for performances in Serious Solo, Humorous Solo, Memorized and Analyzed Great Speeches, etc. The subject matters portrayed for my judging included such subjects as domestic violence, incest, women's rights movement, Louis the 11th, child tried in court as an adult, death row, schizophrenia, Nazi camp survivor, Atlantis, pandemic, teenage suicide, a Nobel Prize winner's speech, a Will Roger's comedy routine, Rosa Parks, McCarthyism, Lacy Peterson and even "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" performance. The performances were superb. The students are orderly, self-disciplined, respectful and amazing.

Locally a lot of work goes into bringing this together for our town. Lead drama Coach Shelley Fischer, assistant Coach Cindy Curtiss, volunteer Coach Travis Wetzel and many others work throughout the year with the drama students helping them practice and then dealing with the myriad of details to bring all the schools to Libby.

Unbelievably, the drama students have a challenge getting enough adult judges to the high school to judge these events. In my mind, this is because the people of this community don't know what an honor and just plain fun it is to be a judge.

You are treated like royalty from the minute you get there with oral and written directions of what you are judging, where and when and a highly organized scoring system to make sure everything is fair. You don't have to be an expert or thespian. There is coffee, tea, donuts, bagels, fresh fruit for snacking in the morning followed by pizzas, subway sandwiches, fresh veggies, brownies, cookies and many home made crock-pots of tempting dishes to sustain you throughout the day.

You can volunteer as a judge for as little as one hour or take on the entire day, as I did. The judges get a large room set aside for them to write up their comments to the performers, eat and talk amongst themselves. You meet the greatest people.

The education, entertainment and camaraderie I get out of judging this event sustains me through the long winter with a satisfaction that the kids I have witnessed at this drama competition are the future of our country. I believe we are in good hands.

I understand that the competition will be in the fall next year. Call the high school and let them know you are interested in judging. I promise you that your life and the lives of the students you judge will be enriched for it.

Barb Guthneck