Former Dunsmuir mayor Peter Arth is threatening to challenge Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir in court unless the City Council agrees to “reconsider and possibly nullify” a vote held last Tuesday.
In a letter delivered to the city manager last Friday, Jan. 21, Arth said several council members “cheated” last Tuesday when they voted to settle a lawsuit they filed against the city before they were elected into office.
The council voted 3-1 to accept a proposal by the Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir. The group offered to drop the lawsuit challenging utility rate hikes, on the condition that each side pays its own legal costs.
Four members of Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir sit on the council: Mayor Nick Mitchell, vice mayor Chris Raine, and council members Diane Dolf and Arlis Steele.
“They don’t want to admit that they are basically suing themselves,” Arth said.
Arth is asking the council to void Tuesday’s vote – or else he said he will hire local attorney David Hicks to challenge Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir on behalf of the city’s ratepayers and citizens.
He said the city has until 5 p.m. on Wednesday to respond.
(A copy of Arth's letter, in pdf format, is attached in the upper right column of this web page under the word "Downloads").
If the city does not agree to renegotiate, Arth said he will ask the judge presiding over the lawsuit in Siskiyou County Superior Court to erase last Tuesday’s vote. He said he will try to get Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir to pay the city’s attorneys' fees, which are about $4,000.
Arth said he will also try to recover his and Hicks' "advocacy" and legal costs of about $400 to $600 an hour. Arth said he has spent about 20 hours advocating for Dunsmuir utility customers since early December.
Arth, who lost a recall vote in the November election, said one of his biggest concerns was that Raine voted to accept the lawsuit settlement five days after abstaining from a vote on the same issue.
“Once you have declared yourself ‘out’ on an issue, you may not participate any further or try to bias the decision even though (and especially because) you have recused yourself,” Arth wrote in the letter. He said it was a violation of the Political Reform Act of 1974.
Raine said he recused himself at the Jan. 13 council meeting because he was frustrated – not because he had a conflict of interest.
City attorney John Kenny said he’s not aware of a law that prohibits council members from recusing themselves from voting on an issue at one meeting, then participating at the next.
Mitchell, Raine and Dolf said they’re not interested in voiding Tuesday’s vote.
“The lawsuit was essential in preventing the previous council from putting the city 40 years in debt. It served its purpose and now it’s time to move forward,” Mitchell said Monday after learning about Arth’s letter while he was vacationing in Hawaii. He abstained from voting on the settlement because his name is signed on to the lawsuit.
“We wanted to resolve this as quickly as possible because if there’s a lawsuit in place, it holds up the city in getting grants and loans,” Dolf said.
Arlis Steele was out of town and could not be reached.
Ed Steele declined to comment on Arth’s letter. He had opposed taking a vote on the Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir lawsuit last Tuesday. Ed Steele made a motion to table the issue until council members received training on ethics and special responsibilities in Sacramento.
Before the vote, he said he was concerned about a conflict of interest.
“The lawsuit could be dropped at any time; it requires no action by the city council,” he said.
Ed Steele also suggested city manager Jim Lindley be authorized to make payments up to $5,000. That would allow Lindley to pay the city’s $4,000 in attorney fees among other expenses, removing the council from making direct action related to the lawsuit, he said. No one seconded his motion.