Year After Close Mayoral Election, Complaint Filed Against Libby City Attorney

Residents still arguing about the outcome of Libby's contested mayor race a year later

By Justin Franz

A year after Libby’s hotly contested mayoral election between Doug Roll and Allen Olsen, some citizens are still arguing about the outcome.

In late September, former city council candidate Arlen Magill filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices accusing Libby City Attorney James Reintsma of changing the outcome of the 2013 election because he filed a lawsuit against Olsen alleging he was not a city resident and could not run. Roll, the incumbent, beat councilman Olsen by just 13 votes.

“It was a dirty tactic and had he not filed that lawsuit Libby might have a different mayor today,” Magill said.

Reintsma, who will be leaving his office at the end of the year after his wife took a new job in Oregon, said that this is the third time supporters of Olsen have tried to go after him. He said two similar complaints to the Montana Bar Association have been dismissed before.

“It’s all been shot down before and I’m sure this one will be shot down, too,” he said.

Last year, just days before the election, Reintsma filed an injunction against Olsen in hopes of delaying the election. The request was overruled and the mayoral race went forward. In August, attorneys representing the city and Olsen faced off in court to determine if Olsen lived in Libby.

Reinstma argued Olsen began renting a home in Libby for $1 a month just so he could run for city office and that he actually lived just outside of town at his place of business, Antler Tree Nursery. Olsen said that he would stay at the tree nursery only during the busy months, but that most of the year he was living in town.

Various witnesses also testified that they had visited Olsen unannounced and said that the home within city limits, located at 703 Louisiana Ave., appeared to be lived in. District Court Judge James Wheelis eventually determined that Olsen did live in Libby.

Magill argues in his complaint that by filing the lawsuit, Reintsma broke Montana Code Annotated 13-35-218, which prohibits someone from trying to prevent someone from voting for the candidate of his or her choice.

Jonathan Motl, the commissioner of political practices, said if his office did find that Reintsma broke the law the Lincoln County Attorney’s Office would have 30 days to press charges against the city attorney. If it did not, the complaint would go back to the political practices office and a civil lawsuit could be brought against Reintsma. However, Motl said it’s too early to tell what might happen.

“We’re treating this case just like any other and we hope to find an answer pretty quick,” he said.

Olsen and the rest of the city council, especially Mayor Roll, have had a troubled relationship ever since Olsen was elected in 2011. In 2012, Roll refused to put Olsen on any committees because he alleged the councilor did not live within city limits. Then, in 2013, Olsen blasted Roll for fixing a city-owned truck at his garage. Roll said no other garage was able to make the repair quickly but later reimbursed the city.

A few months later, Olsen and Roll butted heads again over the lease of a city-owned asphalt zipper. Then in September 2013, City Attorney Reintsma threatened Olsen with censure after he continued to criticize the work of a local water irrigation company during city council meetings. Olsen’s tree nursery does water work.