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Crismore vs. City Council

| March 8, 2007 11:00 PM

When it came time for Libby City Council to pay the bills Monday, Councilman Stu Crismore asked a good question: Is the city going to continue fighting in court to remove him from office as the legal bills pile up?

It's already cost the taxpayers well over $7,000, including Crismore's legal fees, which the city was ordered to pay after losing the case. The city needs to cut its losses and move on.

The council could have made a good case for removing Crismore from office last summer. He had failed to attend a majority of meetings, including special budget meetings, over the previous several months due to conflicts with his job. When called on the issue, he told the council about the conflict and admitted that his job had to take precedence over his seat on the council.

But then the council botched it. Instead of giving Crismore an ultimatum - an opportunity to start attending meetings more regularly or resign his seat - it pressed a vote at once and ended up with a 3-3 tie. As allowed for under state law, Mayor Tony Berget broke the tie, voting to remove Crismore.

The problem was a rule on the city's books requiring an affirmative vote of four council members to pass any measure. That makes no room for a tie-breaker by the mayor.

The four-vote rule had been discussed by the council at some length earlier in the year, with Crismore, ironically, arguing in favor of requiring a simple majority and leaving open the possibility of a tie-breaker by the mayor. Even more ironically, changing the rule was put on the agenda last summer, but the matter was tabled because Crismore was absent from the meeting.

In rushing to vote Crismore off the council and ignoring its own rule, the council gave the appearance not of wanting Crismore to start showing up for meetings but of wanting to be rid of him.

When a letter from City Attorney Charles Evans - dated just a few months before the disputed vote and advising the council that the four-vote rule meant what it said - was introduced as evidence, it was clear the city didn't have much of a case. It didn't matter if Crismore was negligent or not; the vote was invalid under council rules.

After the court ruled against the city, Evans filed a motion asking the judge to change his decision. The judge hasn't yet ruled on that motion. The city still has time to appeal the case to the Montana Supreme Court, as well.

My advice to the city is to let it go. Crismore is up for re-election this year, and his case has been well-publicized. Let the voters decide it once and for all. - Brent Shrum