A former library board member is suing Teton County commissioners for removing her from the volunteer post, citing a lack of transparency, evidence and due process.
Dail Barbour retained two lawyers — Cheyenne attorney Bruce Moats and Wilson attorney Len Carlman — and filed a lawsuit Monday, claiming commissioners broke the law and denied her due process.
The filing asks the 9th District Court to reinstate her to the library board and require the Board of County Commissioners to halt filling the library board vacancy until the dispute is resolved. It also paints more detail into an emerging picture of what happened leading up to Barbour’s removal.
Moats, who specializes in public access to government, was talking last week with Deputy County Attorney Keith Gingery to determine if a settlement could be reached out of court. Moats has also represented the Jackson Hole News&Guide in cases regarding open meetings and public records.
He told the News&Guide on Monday night that his talks with Gingery didn’t pan out.
“It was just our inability, given the short time frame we had, to come up with some other way of doing it — resolving it short of litigation,” Moats said.
Gingery, in a legal response filed Tuesday with the 9th District Court, has said that Barbour, as a volunteer board member, does not have the right to due process.
Gingery also asked the court to throw out Barbour’s request to put filling the vacant library board position on hold.
The County Commission has stood its ground, moving ahead with advertising Barbour’s now-vacant seat on the library board.
Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker did not respond to requests for comment, and Gingery referred the News&Guide to his legal response.
Today is the deadline to apply for the vacant library board seat.
More information about Barbour’s ouster
Barbour’s lawsuit accuses two library board members — Chair Mark Hendrickson and Peter Stalker — of bringing complaints about Barbour to the County Commission during an executive session where commissioners deliberated and decided to remove her.
“Barbour was unaware ... that allegations that she had engaged in any kind of misconduct in library board executive sessions were to be leveled against her by Hendrickson and Stalker and that they would request her removal,” Moats and Carlman wrote.
Hendrickson and Stalker did not respond to requests for comment.
The County Commission discussed Barbour’s removal behind closed doors but held in public the vote to remove her, which was 4-1 with Commissioner Luther Propst opposed. Votes on actions discussed in executive sessions are required to be taken in public.
Barbour’s filing also ties her dismissal to events that unfolded after the departure of former library Director Oscar Gittemeier. Some have alleged he was fired, but the library board has said little about his exit. He left his post as library director following an Oct. 29 library board executive session, and draft meeting minutes show Barbour was the lone “no” vote on whatever matter the library board discussed that morning.
Barbour, her attorneys wrote, disagreed with another board member during a Nov. 4 library board meeting about appointing an interim director, necessitated after Gittemeier’s unexplained departure.
After the Nov. 4 meeting, the lawsuit alleges, Hendrickson and Teton County Human Resources Director Julianne Fries met with Barbour, “asking if she had come on a little strong in the discussion.”
Barbour, the lawyers wrote, said “she would think about their concern” and then texted another board member, Grace Robertson, to say she “would take half the responsibility for any issue between them and asked they get together to talk through the matter.”
Robertson allegedly responded, saying that the board was focused on hiring a new director and that the two could talk later without indicating when.
“Contrary to Hendrickson’s assertion during the executive session with the County Commissioners, at no time prior to the Nov. 4 discussion were concerns about [Barbour’s] behavior raised,” Moats and Carlman wrote.
Robertson declined to comment, and Fries did not respond to a request for comment.
Was she denied due process?
Barbour’s legal team and the county disagree on a fundamental point: whether the former library board member had what’s called a “property right” in her volunteer board position.
The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits governments from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
While Barbour doesn’t necessarily have a financial property right in the volunteer board position (a salary, for example), Carlman contended in an interview that she does have three other “property interests.”
Those are her peace of mind, her desire to serve the community and her reputation, which the lawsuit says has been tarnished by the claim that she engaged in “misconduct” or “neglect of duty,” the two reasons for which commissioners can remove library board members from their positions.
Because Barbour had a property interest in her volunteer role, Carlman contends that she has the right to due process. And, because the former library board member was given neither notice of the meeting about her nor the option to make that meeting public — a right her lawyers say is enumerated in Wyoming statute 16-4-405(a)(ii) — Moats and Carlman say the County Commission violated Barbour’s right to due process.
But Keith Gingery claimed that Barbour does not have a property right and went further to argue that the Wyoming Legislature “did not provide for an opportunity for a library board member to request that the proposed removal action be taken in a public meeting.”
Gingery referenced a number of other statutes regarding dismissal on other county-appointed boards: planning commissions, county boards of health and the like. The Legislature specifically gave members of those boards the opportunity to request a public hearing when confronted with dismissal, Gingery wrote, but not members of a library board.
“The Wyoming Legislature made no provision for the library board member to request a public meeting, thus there is no implied requirement for notice,” Gingery wrote. “Thus, a library board member has no statutory right to due process — notice and a hearing — prior to removal.”
Gingery also disputed Moats and Carlman’s claim that statute 16-4-405(a)(ii) gives Barbour the right to request a public hearing about her dismissal.
Filling the seat — or not
Moats and Carlman argue that filling Barbour’s former seat before the issue is resolved would create a headache.
“If Barbour’s seat is filled and the court then declares the dismissal null and void, the thorny issue of the legitimacy of Board decisions made without the input or vote of the legitimate board member will arise,” they wrote.
The lawyers went on to argue that, if commissioners filled Barbour’s seat before the legal spat was resolved, “the commissioners may contend that the Barbour cannot be reinstated because a replacement has been selected and is serving on the Board.”
The attorneys requested the court hold a hearing soon on the request to block commissioners from filling Barbour’s seat while the full case will take longer to resolve.
Gingery argued that’s not needed because commission Chairwoman Natalia D. Macker has said the earliest the board would consider library appointments is Jan. 11.