Teton County is seeking to dismiss former library board member Dail Barbour’s lawsuit against the County Commission, which removed her behind closed doors in November.
At the heart of its argument is that Barbour is “not entitled to relief.”
Meanwhile, people who gave public comment at the Teton County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday meeting asked for Barbour to be reinstated. Her removal was requested by other members of the library board, who alleged that she created a “toxic” environment. But Barbour said that didn’t happen and that proof is on the public record, which she doesn’t think anyone has reviewed.
A GoFundMe to pay her legal fees has raised over $10,000. Barbour is a former county commissioner, and facilities manager at the Teton County Library. She was the only member of the library board to have in-library experience.
“I do support reinstating Dail Barbour,” former County Commissioner Sandy Shuptrine said Tuesday. “I know that she’s a dedicated and competent person who’s given a lot of service to the library.”
In a filing, the county’s co-counsels, Deputy County Attorney Keith Gingery and Rawlins attorney Thomas Thompson, bit back against Barbour’s lawyers’ claims that commissioners broke the law and denied her due process.
Thompson is on the case as co-counsel because Teton County could have to pay Barbour if her due process claim is successful. He is representing the county through Local Government Liability Pool, which Gingery said “is similar to an ‘insurance’ company for the county, however it is actually a ‘pool’ made up of local governments across Wyoming.” The pool will pay Thompson’s expenses and costs, though the county will have to pony up a deductible.
Attorney Bruce Moats is representing Barbour along with Wilson attorney Len Carlman. Moats specializes in public access to government and has represented the Jackson Hole News&Guide in cases regarding open meetings and public records. He said their team would file a response to the county’s motion and didn’t think its argument “merits dismissal.”
“We’ll be making that case in our response,” Moats said.
If Barbour’s lawsuit makes it to a courtroom, Tori Kricken, a Laramie 2nd District Court judge, will hear her case. Jackson’s 9th District Court Judge Timothy Day earlier bowed out of the proceedings because he knew people involved.
Barbour’s claim that the commission broke the law rests on its failure to give her notice that the board was holding a closed, executive session to consider her dismissal.
In Barbour’s second claim, her lawyers have asserted that while she was an unpaid volunteer she had “property interests” in her role: her peace of mind, her desire to serve the community and her reputation, which her lawsuit says has been tarnished by her removal amid claims of “misconduct.” Because she has that interest, her lawyers assert that she has the right to due process enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment.
The county’s arguments for dismissal were similar to those it has already made, though its recent filings went on to cite Wyoming Supreme Court opinions asserting that “courts are not free to legislate” but rather “only to interpret and declare what the law is, not to be responsible for its defects.”
The Wyoming Legislature, Gingery and Thompson reiterated, did not provide library board members the option to make hearings on their dismissal public. They said it did so for other boards like county planning commissions in 2012, when Gingery was a state representative.
They also relitigated their argument that Wyoming statute 16-4-405(a)(ii), which Barbour’s attorneys claim gives her a right to hearing and notice of it, does not do so.
Gingery and Thompson claimed that statute is for an “investigation” with “witnesses” to hear “complaints and charges,” which they said commissioners did not do.
Barbour’s previous filings, however, allege that the commission heard complaints from two library board members — Chair Mark Hendrickson and Peter Stalker — in the closed meeting where it decided to remove her.
“Even though the Petitioner may want an exception carved out just for her to allow her to request a hearing, whether public or private or to receive notice of a hearing, the Wyoming statutes do not allow for such an exception and the court may not legislatively carve out such an exception,” Gingery and Thompson wrote.
The county’s attorneys also debated Barbour’s claim to due process.
She “has no property interest in her position as a volunteer county board member,” they wrote. “There is no harm to [Barbour] in being removed from a volunteer county board position.”
The commission initially moved ahead with filling Barbour’s now-vacant seat on the library board, but those plans are currently on hold. Gingery said in a filing that the commission would wait until Mar. 31 to appoint a new board member, though both sides will have to agree to a few timeline-related issues before that’s finalized.