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Zunski v. Frenchtown Rural Fire Department Board of Trustees

Supreme Court of Montana

September 10, 2013

TAMMY ZUNSKI, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
THE FRENCHTOWN RURAL FIRE DEPARTMENT BOARD OF TRUSTEES, Defendant and Appellee.

Submitted on Briefs: June 26, 2013

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DV 11-1092 Honorable Edward P. McLean, Presiding Judge

For Appellant Daniel J. Flaherty, Attorney at Law, Great Falls, Montana

For Appellee D. James McCubbin, Deputy County Attorney; Fred Van Valkenburg, Missoula County Attorney, Missoula, Montana

Brian Morris Justice

¶1 Appellant Tammy Zunski (Zunski) appeals the decision of the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, that granted summary judgment to the Frenchtown Rural Fire Department Board of Trustees (Board) against Zunski's right to know and right to participate claims. We affirm.

¶2 We address the following issues on appeal:

¶3 Whether the District Court correctly determined that the Board's actions at the August 8, 2011, meeting rescinded the actions taken at the improper July 20, 2011, meeting and thereby defeated Zunksi's open meeting and public participation claims?

¶4 Whether the District Court correctly determined that the Board had responded to Zunski's document request in a reasonably timely manner?

FACTS

¶5 The Board is a subdivision of the State of Montana. The Board's duties include providing personnel for the Frenchtown Rural Fire District (FRFD). The FRFD chief resigned amidst controversy in February 2009. The Board initiated a search to hire a new FRFD fire chief. The Board later considered whether to hire an interim fire chief after a permanent chief applicant declined an offer.

¶6 Mitchell Hicks (Hicks), a trustee on the Board, expressed interest in serving as interim FRFD chief. The Board requested on June 30, 2011, an opinion from a private law firm to address "whether a [t]rustee of the Frenchtown Rural Fire District [sic] be hired as an interim [f]ire [c]hief while the search for a full time [c]hief continues." The Board received the opinion letter on July 1, 2011. The opinion letter concluded that "there is no statute, bylaw or policy that prohibits a [t]rustee from acting as a [t]emporary [f]ire [c]hief." The opinion letter further advised that "as long as the [t]rustee is hired as a [t]emporary [e]mployee, exception to policies regarding selection of the employees based on merit and qualifications need not be met."

¶7 The Board held a special session on July 20, 2011. At the special session, the Board voted to enter into a closed door "executive session." The Board voted to create an interim fire chief position during the executive session. The Board then voted during the executive session to hire Hicks for the interim position and to set Hicks's compensation at $5, 000 per month. Hicks became interim fire chief on August 1, 2011.

ΒΆ8 Zunski challenged the propriety of the July 20, 2011, meeting and the actions taken at the meeting. Zunski filed a request for documents with the Board on August 3, 2011. Zunksi also requested that the Board allow public comment before it hired an interim fire ...


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