Hamilton’s City Council squeezed every last drop out of the eleventh hour Friday, Dec. 30, when it held a special evening meeting to replace Councilman Bob Scott, whom it expelled Dec. 20. The appointment of Scott’s seat ensued despite a lawsuit filed by Scott and the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance (BHRA) alleging Scott’s expulsion and the attempt to replace him was illegal. The Council voted 4–1 to expel Scott on grounds of misconduct, claiming he created a hostile environment for the Council and city employees. Since Scott was elected in 2003, Hamilton’s Council has been rife with contention, and many have complained about Scott’s aggressive, confrontational style. While Scott defends his behavior, BHRA’s main concern is that established, democratic process has been ignored and that the outgoing Council acted in its last remaining hours to change the composition of the incoming Council. Scott and supporting Councilman Robert Sutherland have been minority voices in the past, and the two Council members taking office Jan. 3 likely would have shifted the balance of power in their favor, though Scott’s removal effectively neutralized that possibility.
John Schneeberger, coordinator for the BHRA, said Scott’s removal never appeared on the agenda, so the public had no way to know an elected official was on the chopping block. Then, at the Dec. 30 special meeting, only three of six Council members were present. While then-Mayor Joe Petrusaitis, whose term ended after the meeting, said state law considered a quorum to be a majority of the Council and that a majority was present (since Scott had been expelled), Schneeberger and others point out that Council-approved rules clearly state that a quorum requires four.
The whole matter seems to leave new Mayor Jessica Randazzo, who took office Jan. 3, and the new Council in an awkward position, since the city must address the suit, which asks the court to rescind Scott’s expulsion and replacement. Schneeberger urged the city to do this on its own, without waiting for the court’s direction: “We don’t want to cost the city a bunch of money and tie up city business. We want them to do the right thing and fix this.”