Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson filed suit this month against one publication and five people who have frequently questioned her ties to a computer consulting firm that the city hired last year on a short-term basis.
Davidson is currently on paid administrative leave, pending an outside legal counsel’s evaluation of unspecified “internal issues” involving her.
Word of Davidson’s lawsuit comes at a time of continued transition within the city’s top administrative ranks, as Moab City Police Chief Mike Navarre formally announced his retirement this week, effective Wednesday, Sept. 21. (See related story below.)
Davidson, along with her housemate Tara Smelt and IT consulting firm Tayo, Inc., are “demanding” a jury trial in 7th District Court to determine “reasonable” punitive and general damages against the defendants. Their legal complaint names Grand County Council member Chris Baird; Canyon Country Zephyr Publisher Jim Stiles; local residents Annie Tueller Payne and Janet Buckingham; and Kemmerer, Wyoming, resident Connie McMillan; as well as the Zephyr itself.
In court documents, plaintiffs’ attorney Gregory R. Stevens of Salt Lake City claims that Davidson and Smelt suffered damages to their personal and professional reputations, based on the statements that the various defendants have made. Among other things, the documents also allege that those statements caused Davidson personal humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress, while damaging Tayo’s reputation and its ability to find work in the community.
Stiles and Buckingham could not be reached for comment, although Baird gave the Moab Sun News a brief written statement in defense of his past comments.
“My sole intention has been to protect my community against government corruption and cronyism,” he said in the statement. “And, I’ll defend that intention in court.”
Moab City Recorder Manager Rachel Stenta told the city council in June that she hired Tayo, Inc., under an “emergency situation” exemption that allows the city to authorize expenditures without having to advertise and solicit sealed bids.
At the time of the company’s formation, Davidson asked Stenta if she needed to disclose her relationship with Smelt, as well as the fact that they lived together, the legal complaint says.
Stenta, who is currently serving as acting city manager while Davidson is on paid administrative leave, said at the time that no conflict of interest existed, according to Stevens’ complaint. Likewise, he wrote, Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany informed Davidson that by making that disclosure, she had done everything that she needed to do.
Baird, however, said earlier this year that the city’s decision to retain the consultant’s services amounted to a “very clear and obvious” conflict of interest because any profits that Tayo, Inc., gained could increase Davidson’s household income. Based on that belief, he called for a state auditor’s investigation into the city’s procurement of Tayo’s services.
In response to Baird’s allegations, the city hired an independent accounting firm to conduct a limited review of the concerns that he and others raised. The report also looked at all transactions for a three-year period ending on June 10, 2016, including emergency purchases; expenditures for IT and engineering consulting services; and all expenditures over $7,000.
Larson and Co. certified public accountant Russell Olsen said his firm reviewed the city’s purchasing policy to make sure that it was compliant with state regulations. Moreover, he said, the state auditor confirmed that a city has, by ordinance, the right to create its own purchasing policy.
His firm ultimately found no evidence of procedural wrongdoing on the city’s part when it hired Tayo, Inc., for the temporary contract work.
Chief finalizes resignation after withdrawing it in May
Navarre submitted his resignation this week, four months after the Moab Sun News first reported that he was planning to retire.
At the time of that report in late May, Baird and others received an email from a Moab City Council member which stated that Navarre had not resigned. But according to a Sept. 21 statement from the city, Navarre did, in fact, tender his resignation in May.
At Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison’s request, Navarre agreed to stay on in his position as a “convenience to the city,” to assist with the resolution of “outstanding department business,” the statement says.
“The City wishes him well in his future endeavors and thanks him for his years of excellent leadership and service to the Department and our community,” the city says in its statement.
Navarre joined the city’s police department in 1988, and after a brief stint as acting chief, he was appointed chief in June 2000, replacing former Chief Alan West.
Sakrison, who considers the chief to be a good friend, said that after three decades of service in local law enforcement, Navarre is ready to move on to the next chapter in his life.
“He’s at the age where it’s time to retire,” Sakrison said. “I can’t blame him.”
The mayor said that Navarre’s public service and his approach to community policing has been an asset not only to the city, but to the community as a whole.
“There was not any issue that he was afraid to tackle and meet,” he said.
Navarre’s resignation comes one week after the Moab City Council voted unanimously to approve a $33,928 purchasing exception for outside legal counsel to review matters that appear to involve personnel-related issues within the police department.
Stenta said that in the past, the city has not utilized the services of outside legal firms for such investigations, which was not to its advantage, she said.
Davidson said that the city had to ask for guidance on Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA) requests related to the department’s employment issues.
“So we had to ask what (we can) release and what we can’t,” she said during the council’s meeting on Monday, Sept. 12.
Copies of invoices from the Salt Lake City firm of Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless have been heavily redacted, and Moab City Council member Kalen Jones said he doesn’t have much to go on about the nature of the work that it performed.
“Because it’s so redacted, it’s unclear to me what we’re spending that money (on),” he said.
Jones questioned aloud whether city officials could discuss any of the related issues.
“We probably shouldn’t,” Sakrison said.
The Moab Sun News has not been able to verify some of the more serious allegations that it received from an anonymous source about some department employees. Other allegations claim that two lower-ranking department employees may have attended an underage party where they consumed alcohol with minors.
Moab City Council member Heila Ershadi said it’s understandable that council members have sticker shock over the bill for nearly $34,000.
“However, the severity of the matter and I think what Rachel said – that attorney’s services were not utilized in the past and it’s not to the city’s advantage – I take that to heart,” she said.
In unrelated move, city’s police chief formalizes resignation