LAPWAI, Idaho – Conflict within the Lapwai City Council continues, with two members protesting that a man hand-picked by the mayor for the five-member panel was allowed to vote on his own appointment – before he was officially on the board.
Mayor James Angle said he was using his “emergency powers” when he asked the three current council members Wednesday to affirm Gary Taylor as a member. Robert Brown, who was appointed by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to the council last week along with Charles Spensor, voted against the appointment, while Taylor and another council member, David Holt, voted in favor. The mayor broke the tie.
Asked whether it was appropriate for Taylor to vote on his own appointment, City Attorney Michael Cherasia said he could – provided he didn’t have a conflict of interest – and told those at the evening meeting that Taylor could serve at least until the Nov. 8 election.
This is the latest development in a town-hall squabble in this 2,200-soul burg on the banks of the Clearwater River that’s seen three council members resign since Aug. 3, the cancellation of the city’s insurance policy, the departure of the police chief and two city attorneys since January – and finally, the governor’s intervention. Two former city clerks are also suing the city for $550,000, claiming they were forced out after questioning financial transactions by Angle.
The Idaho attorney general’s office has said that frustrated residents can hire a lawyer and sue if they believe something inappropriate has occurred. Some feel the mayor is running the city as a personal fiefdom with little respect for the rules.
“When the governor appointed the two people, we thought this might straighten this out,” Corky Fazio, a member of a group raising money for a legal fight, said in an interview with the Associated Press. “But the mayor continues to conduct things as he sees fit. We’re going to contend he’s conducting that illegally.”
Fazio questions computer purchases, money transfers and Angle’s use of a Lapwai police vehicle, which he says was personal: The Chevrolet Tahoe sport-utility vehicle was seen parked at the mayor’s house and at City Hall, Fazio said.
Attempts to reach both Holt and Angle were unsuccessful.
A phone call to Cherasia seeking comment on why he deemed it appropriate for Taylor to vote on his own appointment to the council wasn’t returned. Idaho law allows the mayor to make an appointment if there is a quorum, but doesn’t allow him to vote unless there is a tie among sitting council members.
“It’s the law – it was an emergency appointment,” Gary Taylor told the Associated Press on why he was allowed to vote, adding that Brown and Spensor are just trying to grab power. “If we could get together and talk it out together, there wouldn’t be no dispute. But they want to argue, so there’s nothing we can do.”
Brown, sitting near Spensor at Wednesday’s meeting, attempted to protest Taylor’s appointment as illegal, before being cut off by Holt, who said, “I’d like to protest the two of you also” before the session was adjourned.
Fazio, who directs the city of Lewiston’s parks maintenance department, said he’s hoping the November election will help bring about a changing of the guard. He’s not completely certain.
“You’re talking Lapwai,” he said. “It’s a pretty small town.”
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