Mayor fires city attorney

Assistant moves into post

Former Dillon City Attorney Duke Gilbert is shown during a December meeting of the council. J.P. Plutt photo

At another packed and contentious Dillon City Council meeting Feb. 5, Mayor Mike Klakken made the surprise announcement that he had fired City Attorney Duke Gilbert earlier in the evening, and then saw the Council consent to his appointment of Gilbert’s deputy, Jim Dolan, as the new city attorney

Klakken had attempted to replace Gilbert with Dolan at the City Council meeting two weeks before, but the Council had refused to consent to Dolan’s appointment, by a 3 to 4 vote, with one abstention.

This time, the vote was 8-0, though the issue still generated plenty of debate and ill feelings, and a promise of more to come.

Klakken revealed the dismissal of Gilbert, who had been appointed by Klakken’s successor, Marty Malesich, about an hour into the meeting during a discussion about a resolution that was part of a proposed compromise for Gilbert’s resignation in exchange for Gilbert being allowed to continue representing the city in four cases he had been working on.

“I had Mr. Gilbert come to me stating that he was willing to retire from the city, so we worked out a little resolution, and in the resolution, it basically stated that the Warner, the Brenneke, the Jones and the Johnson cases would still be done by him until they are finished and under the control of the Council,” said City Council President David Spehar.

“So, I took the resolution into Mr. Klakken and showed it to him and said this was a compromise and we would go ahead and appoint Mr. Dolan if we had the resolution first. Now, it comes back that Mr. Klakken didn’t put the resolution on the agenda. So, I guess I’m at a quandary here.”

Klakken answered that he had not included the resolution in the meeting’s packets because Gilbert had refused to hold up his end of the deal and give him a letter promising to retire.

“What I understand is the agreement you brought to me was Mr. Gilbert would retire and he would have a sheet of paper saying he was retiring,” started Klakken.

“I asked him Monday and he said, ‘no, I’m not giving you a piece of paper saying that.’ He said, ‘I will probably retire Thursday, probably.’ And so, because of that I did not have any confirmation from him that he was going to retire. So as far as I was concerned, that other part wasn’t going to be in there either. Our agreement was that if he retires, I would put it [the resolution] in, but he didn’t.

“All I needed was one little sheet of paper from him saying, ‘I will retire.’”

Klakken said that he subsequently fired Gilbert for several acts of insubordination.

“He reports to me,” said Klakken. “He did not follow the rules—I told him to do things, he did not do, so I removed him, because he was insubordinate.”

“You can’t do that without consent of Council,” insisted Councilperson Swede Troedsson.

“Yes, I can,” asserted Klakken, who said that because Gilbert was city attorney, he not enjoy the same protections granted to department heads.

At that point, longtime city resident Jim McIsaac rose from the public seating area to ask the Council to reconsider the appointment of Jim Dolan to replace Gilbert.

“It’s already been brought forward that Mr. Gilbert is already willing to retire, so for goodness sake, why don’t we get on with business? You know that you’re not sticking up for Duke anymore. So go ahead and approve the new appointment or disapprove it,” said McIsaac, a former city councilperson.

“Why drag this out? This is at the expense of the community and taxpayers. We’re not all idiots, you know, even though you like to treat us that way.”

Troedsson then revived the issue of the resolution.

“Our main concern is that Duke be permitted to continue with the cases he’s worked so hard on,” said Troedsson.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” answered McIsaac. “If he’s willing to let go, let go of everything.”

Troedsson asserted the Council had another concern with the issue.

”Our other concern, and I’ll just be upfront with this, is that our current mayor may be using his position to derail the suit of the city vs. Brenneke and Warner,” said Troedsson, referring to two long-running cases involving the installation of city water meters in private residences.

Craig Cornell then rose from the public seating area to offer his view on the proceedings, and of the City Council’s efforts in general since the election of Klakken in November.

“I am friends with both Nils Troedsson and Derek Gore. They’re my City Council representatives. I’m definitely friends with both of them tonight and will be friends with them tomorrow. I’m not throwing arguments out here to end friendships,” said Cornell, a firefighter with the Dillon Volunteer Fire Department.

“This goes to the whole City Council: I am truly embarrassed by the way you have represented yourself to the public. I feel that an election has taken place and a new mayor was voted in by a majority of the people who voted,” continued Cornell.

“You guys standing in the way put yourselves in a position to—I don’t’ know how else to say it—ruin your reputations in the city. The mayor is responsible for his appointments, whether they are good or bad, or if they are repercussions, he’s the one responsible.

“The voters voted in a new mayor, they wanted change, and they would love to see this room be productive, and I believe [the new mayor] deserves a chance,” added Cornell, who said Klakken also deserves to be able to make appointments to his staff, and received loud applause from a number of people in the public seating area as he concluded his comments.

A short while later, the Council voted unanimously to consent to Klakken’s appointment of Dolan as city attorney to succeed Gilbert, which inspired another big round of applause from the public seating area.

Troedsson then revived discussion on the issue of retaining Gilbert’s services for the four cases in the prodigal resolution.

“I would like to point out one other thing that’s in the city ordinances and a power that the Council has, is they can go out and retain an attorney and hire an attorney for a special issue, so that we have the latitude to go ahead and hire Duke,” asserted Troedsson.

“I’m not disagreeing,” answered Klakken, who earlier in the meeting had said, “if the Council wants to take it [the resolution to keep Gilbert working on the four cases] to the Judiciary Committee and go through it with Judiciary and they pass it on to the Council, I can’t stop that, that will happen.”

The Judiciary Committee did just that at its meeting Monday, when it voted 4-0 on a resolution to have Gilbert continue to represent the city as its attorney in the Brenneke, Warner, Johnson and Jones cases.

The resolution was taken up by the full City Council at a special meeting Thursday.

 

Reporter M.P. Regan may be reached at news@dillontribune.com .