The city of Whitefish announced Friday afternoon that it has filed paperwork in district court over the ongoing planning doughnut dispute with Flathead County.
In a press release, city officials said the action, filed in Flathead County District Court at the direction of city council, is in response to a lawsuit filed in late December by Duncan Scott on behalf of Lyle Phillips, Anne Dee Reno, Ben Whitten and former City Councilor Turner Askew. That lawsuit asks for a district court judge to declare a referendum passed by Whitefish voters in November void. The referendum repealed a 2010 interlocal agreement between the city and county.
“This unexpected action, coming coincidentally right before the normally peaceful Christmas holiday, required the City to respond to the lawsuit,” the press release states, in reference to Scott’s lawsuit. “Thus, the plaintiff attorney’s statements about continued doughnut litigation were not only true, the continued litigation was started and precipitated by their filing. The City of Whitefish is legally required and morally compelled to respond to this lawsuit and defend the constitutionally protected citizens’ right of referendum.”
The city is also seeking to “enjoin and include Flathead County” in the request, as the county is “certainly a party to this legal issue and legal action.” Additionally, the city is asking district court for “an injunction to prevent Flathead County from implementing interim zoning” beginning with a Jan. 12 public hearing.
“The electoral and property rights of Whitefish and doughnut residents can be harmed without recourse if Flathead County is allowed to proceed with interim zoning on January 12th,” the release states.
Scott issued a response Friday afternoon, saying in a statement: “As predicted, the new Whitefish councilors at their first meeting decided to sue Flathead County.” He said the decision was made “in secret executive session, without public notice or public vote.”
“We will urge in the strongest terms that the Court deny this last-minute attempt to stop the county assumption of donut jurisdiction,” Scott wrote in the statement. “If Whitefish wants to control the donut, it should stop using lawsuits and instead follow state law by annexing the areas so the affected people can vote in city elections.”
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