Whitefish Councilor Threatened With Lawsuit Over Residency

By Beacon Staff

On Dec. 26 an attorney representing a local political action committee sent a letter to Whitefish City Councilor John Muhlfeld asking him to clear up concerns about the legality of his residency by Jan. 2 or he would face a lawsuit.

Duncan Scott, an attorney representing Common Sense in Whitefish Government PAC and Rick Blake, raised several concerns in his letter regarding whether Muhlfeld was a Whitefish resident as required by state law when he ran for city council in the fall; whether he knowingly broke the law by residing with his fiancée outside of city boundaries and leasing out his in-town residence; and whether he improperly spoke with City Attorney John Phelps about how to retain eligibility for his council position.

Muhlfeld could not be reached for comment.

Scott, in an interview, said he and his clients would file a lawsuit in Flathead District Court to declare Muhlfeld invalid to serve on the Whitefish City Council if the councilor – current and re-elected for next term – could not provide proof of residency. Scott also said his clients would seek an injunction preventing Muhlfeld from being sworn into office on Jan. 7, the official start of the next term.

“I think it’s general knowledge that Mr. Muhlfeld had the public appearance of not residing in the district,” Scott said. “And my clients had grave concerns about that because if true it violates state law to allow him to serve.”

Phelps said he never acted as Muhlfeld’s personal attorney, but instead answered Muhlfeld’s questions about a city issue – a task he says is within his role as city attorney. Phelps told Muhlfeld that since his intent was to reside in town he was a legal Whitefish resident. By state law, Phelps said, residency is all a matter of intent – people can live wherever they want for “a substantial period of time” as long as they intend to ultimately reside within city limits.

“I had researched the law and advised him that he was perfectly legal and I haven’t changed my mind,” Phelps said. “He was a lawful resident of the city and still is today and I don’t think there’s anything to it.”