Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sikes appointed city administrator of Libby

Daily Inter Lake | October 8, 2021 7:00 AM

Libby City Council backed Mayor Peggy Williams’ appointment of Samuel Sikes as city administrator this week, but not before clashing over procedure.

Sikes, the municipality’s current treasurer and clerk, will succeed Jim Hammons, who takes the reins as county administrator in the coming weeks. Williams put Sikes’ name forward during an Oct. 4 special meeting after a city hiring committee recommended him for the job.

Williams cited Sikes’ involvement in city affairs and his experience, including time in the U.S. Marine Corps, as the main reasons for her decision. Libby City Council gave Williams’ choice of Sikes its blessing with a 4-1 vote supporting his promotion.

Neither the meeting nor subsequent city council vote was necessary for Sikes’ ascension. Under Libby’s charter, the mayor holds the authority to appoint a city administrator. The document does not specify any set procedure, leaving the decision solely in the hands of the mayor. Williams opted to put together a hiring committee, bring the matter before city council for public discussion and seek its support.

How those last two steps were handled drew criticism and accusations of wrongdoing from several candidates running for municipal seats in the November election.

City Councilor Hugh Taylor, who is vying with Williams for the position of mayor, recused himself from voting after challenging the legality of the meeting. City Councilor Rob Dufficy, a political ally of Taylor who is up for reelection this year, voted against supporting Sikes’ appointment, saying he preferred to see officials expand the applicant pool.

And resident Darrel “DC” Orr, who faces a felony charge in Lincoln County District Court for allegedly trying to run down a woman in May, deemed the meeting “illegal” while addressing city councilors. Like Dufficy, Orr is vying for one of three seats on Libby City Council on the November ballot.

The claim that the meeting violated the law comes from the addition of a single line on the special meeting’s agenda: “closed for personnel issues.” While the agenda was posted online and at City Hall, sent out via email and distributed to the press, Taylor worried the extra sentence — buried amid the six lines of standard text topping every agenda — deterred residents from participating.

In an Oct. 5 interview, Taylor said he was unaware that the meeting was open to the public until he arrived at City Hall.

“It was listed as a closed meeting, in other words you can’t participate,” he said. “How can the public participate?”

In the lead up to the vote, Taylor rejected assurances by City Attorney Dean Chisholm that the meeting complied with the law. The languaged allowed city councilors to enter into closed session if the discussion veered into Sikes’ employment history with the city, Chisholm said in a separate interview.

“In cases where you have a closed meeting, what you typically do is open the meeting by making a determination about the right to privacy and you go into closed session,” Chisholm said. “Then you open the meeting back up and at that point the council votes and takes public comment.”

At no time did city councilors go into closed session on Oct. 4.

When Taylor raised his objection during the meeting, Chisholm noted that the agenda included standard information as to how members of the public should comport themselves when addressing city council.

“The notice in these cases allows for participants to voice their opinions — whether it’s open or closed,” he told Taylor.

“If it’s closed, they’re not allowed to speak or be here,” Taylor said.

“Not true,” Chisholm replied.

Orr, the sole member of the public in attendance, accused city councilors of attempting to evade public scrutiny with the unneeded meeting for Sikes’ appointment.

“The posting … says special council meeting closed for personnel issues. What that tells the public is that they’re not allowed to be here. That’s illegal,” he said during the public comment period. “You can’t lock the public out of your deliberations.”

As city councilors prepared for a vote, Dufficy attempted to join Taylor in recusing himself. When City Councilor Brian Zimmerman, recently named president of the panel, pressed for a reason, Dufficy hesitated before ultimately deciding to vote no.

Zimmerman joined city councilors Gary Beach, Zach McNew and Kristin Smith in voting to back the mayor’s pick.

“During [the hiring process], I found out some stuff I did not completely know about Sam and, like I said, afterward it was to me — hands down — the right thing to do right now for this community and this city,” Zimmerman said of Sikes’ appointment.

Smith congratulated Sikes, praising his experience and skill, and thanked Williams for allowing city council to weigh in on the mayor’s decision.

“I appreciate you bringing this to council for our input [though] you don’t have to, you can make the appointment on your own,” Smith told Williams.

For his part, Sikes said he was excited to take on the role. He looked forward to spearheading infrastructure projects and further developing the city’s capital improvement plan in the coming months and years.

“I think I can keep doing what [Hammons] was doing and take the city in a good direction,” he said. “I really think I can help out and get this infrastructure built up without incurring debt.”

During the Oct. 5 interview, Taylor said he does not oppose Sikes’ appointment, but rather the handling of the meeting and the vote, which he described as an “illegal act.”

Acknowledging that Williams was not required to hold the meeting in the first place or turn to city council for advice, Taylor lamented the lack of input in the selection process. Like Dufficy, Taylor said he would have preferred the mayor open the position up to the public before settling on a candidate.