On September 20, I learned that I was one of five defendants in a civil suit filed by Moab’s then-City Manager Rebecca Davidson, her housemate Tara Smelt and Ms. Smelt’s IT company, Tayo, Inc. The pair accuses us of “defamation,” “intentional infliction of emotional distress” and “intentional interference with economic relationships” of Smelt/Tayo Inc. They’re also suing my publication, The Canyon Country Zephyr.
On the advice of my attorney, I won’t comment on the accusations levied specifically against me by Davidson/ Smelt, other than to state categorically that they are false and we will in due time provide indisputable evidence to prove it. And, of course, the evidence is in the 14,000-word article itself. We stand 100 percent behind it.
However, I would like to offer this timeline.
The Zephyr began its investigation of the turmoil at Moab City Hall in October 2015; we spent hundreds of hours gathering documents, conducting interviews, filing FOIA and GRAMA requests in Moab and Kemmerer, Wyoming, requesting and reviewing reports from the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, and assembling that mass of information into an accurate, comprehensive and fact-based article.
To ensure accuracy, on January 11, 2016, I sent 15 relevant questions to Ms. Davidson, seeking clarification on many of the issues she now accuses us of distorting or falsely reporting. Ms. Davidson never replied.
On January 25, 2016, I received a letter from Moab City Attorney Christopher McAnany. He replied briefly to some of the questions and advised me that his letter would be, “in lieu of any further response from Ms. Davidson,” though in fact there had been no response from Davidson at all. We included the 15 questions to Davidson and McAnany’s limited response in The February Zephyr article and on our blog.
On February 1, we posted my 14,000 word, “What’s Past Is Prologue – Three Small Towns and Their Common Bond – City Manager Rebecca Davidson.” Not once in the eight months since the article’s publication did we hear from Davidson or Smelt or any complaint from them that the article was inaccurate or “defamatory.” Nor did they demand corrections of any kind.
On September 13, Davidson was placed on “paid administrative leave” by the mayor, pending an investigation of “internal issues.”
On September 15, The City of Moab received The Zephyr’s latest detailed GRAMA request.
On September 16, Davidson/ Smelt filed their lawsuit – though I’m sure, as Davidson states in her recent T-I comments, their lawsuit has “been in the works for a while…”
And finally, in a special meeting on September 30, 2016, the Moab City Council terminated the contract of its city manager, “without cause,” effective immediately. The vote was 3-1, with Councilpersons Jones, Knuteson-Boyd and Bailey voting to terminate. Councilwoman Heila Ershadi voted “no.” Councilwoman Derasary was not in attendance.
According to Davidson’s contract, she’ll receive “a lump sum severance payment equal to nine months of her Base Salary,” in Davidson’s case, reportedly about $82,000. According to the Moab Sun News’ Facebook page, “The city issued a brief statement on Friday, Sept. 30, thanking Davidson for her ‘hard work,’ and wishing her well in the future.”
The nine months pay provision is the same provided to Davidson when she was terminated from her City Manager position in Timnath, Colorado, in 2011. A non-disclosure agreement, signed by Davidson and Timnath City prevented the city from discussing Davidson’s tenure there when she applied for the position in Moab. However, newspaper accounts of the controversial events in Timnath were easily available via a Google search and the Colorado media.
If the City of Moab now submits to yet another “non-disclosure agreement,” it will be repeating history, to the detriment of the citizens that the council is elected to represent and serve. It does an almost unspeakable disservice to the employees who lost their jobs, or lived in fear of it, during this past 18-month nightmare.
Finally, regarding the lawsuit, I would like to note that my situation differs from my co-defendants. While Davidson/ Smelt took issue with a specific Zephyr article, Janet Buckingham, Chris Baird, Connie McMillan and Annie Payne are being drawn into a lawsuit for simply expressing opinions, some of them at public meetings presided over by Moab’s mayor and council.
With the council’s September 30 decision, there is some hope that Moab can begin to gather the fragments of this broken community and try to make it whole again. In the 30 years I’ve been reporting on politics in Southeast Utah, I have never, ever seen a less responsive, or a more arrogant and insensitive governing body than the current elected Moab council and mayor. One thing is certain; each and every one of them owes its citizens a very public apology. And it owes the defendants in this ridiculous lawsuit an apology and an expression of support as well.