Lisa Sánchez wants her Boise City Council seat back. ‘Immediately,’ lawyer says
In letters addressed to the city attorney’s office, a lawyer for former Boise City Council Member Lisa Sánchez asked that she be reappointed to her seat “immediately” and argued that she did not actually forfeit it.
She also asserted that city staff may have misled Sanchez about whether her new address was still located in her district.
In two four-page letters obtained by the Idaho Statesman, attorney Wendy Olson argued that no “legal basis” existed for Sánchez to have been removed from the council. Olson confirmed to the Statesman that she represents Sánchez but declined to comment further.
The city concluded in January that Sánchez vacated her seat when she moved to a new address in Boise that was determined to be outside District 3, which she represented, but inside the newly created District 6, which will be used for the November’s council elections. Sánchez has said she plans to run for that seat.
“I am unable to identify any statute or city ordinance that allows the other city council members or the Mayor to remove Council Member Sánchez,” Olson, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho, wrote in one letter.
Council President Holli Woodings told the Statesman by phone in January that under Idaho law, Sánchez had vacated her seat when she moved out of the district.
State law says that vacancies occur when incumbents cease to be a resident of the district in which the “duties of (their) office are to be exercised.”
But Olson disputed this, arguing that past cases and her reading of the law indicate that Sánchez did not actually lose her seat.
“If your office continues to hold the legal opinion that Council Member Sánchez vacated her position, Council Member Sánchez requests that the Mayor appoint her to that position immediately, so she can continue to perform the duties she was elected to perform,” a letter from Jan. 14 read.
The city is looking to fill Sánchez’s vacancy as well as a vacancy created by the departure of Elaine Clegg, a long-time council member who is resigning to become CEO of Valley Regional Transit, the Treasure Valley’s public transit agency.
In a January news release, McLean said she would take “very seriously the will of the voters” who elected Sánchez, but the mayor has been accepting applications from others to fill both seats.
What happened when Sánchez was removed?
On Jan. 13, Sánchez had a meeting with Woodings, Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton and Nicole Schafer, a deputy attorney for the city who is also now serving as interim director of the police oversight office. Woodings told Sánchez at the meeting that “she was removing her from her position,” according to Olson’s Jan. 14 letter.
Olson wrote that Woodings told Sánchez that McLean had offered to appoint Sánchez to fill the vacancy she had created. However, Woodings and others at the meeting eventually “backtracked” and said that appointing Sánchez was an option but was not guaranteed, Olson wrote.
Woodings did not immediately respond to a request from the Statesman for comment.
“Ms. Woodings and Mr. Hallyburton also said that the option of the Mayor appointing Council Member Sánchez was a different option from Council Member Sánchez challenging your office’s determination in court,” Olson wrote.
“In other words, if Council Member Sánchez pursues her legal rights, she would forfeit the option of having the Mayor appoint her.”
In an email, Hallyburton denied this. “I don’t believe this is how the conversation went,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for McLean, Maria Weeg, told the Statesman that the city has hired outside counsel to address the matter. She declined to comment further.
“It’s my understanding that outside counsel and Ms. Sánchez’s attorneys have been in communication with one another on this matter,” Weeg said by phone.
Sánchez did not respond to a request for comment.
What led to Sanchez’s move and removal?
In November, Sánchez told the Statesman that she would have to move because her North End lease was not being renewed.
On Nov. 28, she met with council staff members and asked for assistance about her relocation to ensure that she did not accidentally vacate her district, according to the letters from Olson.
“City council staff failed to assist — or provide accurate assistance — at every step,” the second letter read. It stated that Sanchez asked Amanda Brown, the council’s administrator, for help, and that Brown directed her to the Ada County Elections Office.
“Through her contact ... Council Member Sánchez was informed that she did not need to provide it with any documents showing that any location in which she was staying but that she should come in and update her voter registration after her move.”
Records obtained by the Statesman do not indicate that Sánchez sent the elections office an address to verify.
On Nov. 28, she sent an email to Saul Seyler, the director of Ada County elections, asking for help making sure she stayed in her district. On Dec. 2, Seyler replied and noted that he had asked a county lawyer to “take a look at this” and that he would get back to Sanchez.
Sánchez replied: “Thank you. I have secured housing for myself within my district.”
In response, Seyler said Sánchez should update her voter registration once she had proof of residence.
Sanchez says she texted with city employees
According to her attorney’s letters, Sánchez corresponded with city staff members about potential addresses. Looking at apartments near State Street, she referred to the map on the City Council website, Olson wrote.
“Sánchez also exchanged text messages with Ms. Brown expressing concern about confusion between the map on the City’s website and the map at the Ada County Elections Office,” Olson wrote. “She received no response providing assistance or any resource to navigate accurately the discrepancies between the map.”
On Dec. 9, Sánchez texted Brown for help determining whether information she had gotten from the elections office was correct.
“Text messages exchanged between Ms. Brown and Council Member Sánchez show that Ms. Brown confirmed that the address at which Council Member Sánchez then planned to rent was within District 6, the District in which Council Member Sánchez will have to run in the November 2023 election,” Olson wrote.
“The context of the texts also makes clear that Council Member Sánchez, Ms. Brown, and Hannah Brass Greer all understood that the new District 6 was contiguous with the current District 3.”
Brass Greer is the mayor’s director of strategic initiatives and helped oversee the commission that redrew the council districts last year.
The letters, however, also indicate that Sánchez did not consult with the staff members about the address she eventually settled on. She had texted with them about an address on 21st Street but eventually moved to 19th Street.
She would not have moved to 19th Street, Olson wrote, “had Ms. Brown not assured Council Member Sánchez that she had been consulting the correct map when she moved to a location two blocks further east, and that she was in the correct district boundaries.”
After she was informed that she had vacated her seat, Sánchez moved again, this time to a residence that is within District 3. She terminated the 19th Street lease, the letters said.
Other council members accused of having agenda
At the end of her second letter, Olson accused other City Council members of benefiting from Sánchez’s vacancy.
In November, because of the new district elections, three members would have to face each other if they all chose to run. Hallyburton, Council Member Patrick Bageant and Sánchez all live in the new District 6. Hallyburton announced his candidacy on Friday. Bageant told the Statesman on Friday that he will make a decision soon.
“Some city council members who have participated in interactions with Council Member Sánchez stand to benefit in the November 2023 elections if Council Member Sánchez is weakened as a candidate,” Olson wrote. “Those council members have a clear conflict of interest in participating in any decisions related to her removal or appointment.”
In his email, Hallyburton wrote that no decision about Sanchez’s seat had been made by the council; rather, attorneys had determined the outcome.
“I don’t believe Holli or I had any part in ‘making a decision,’” he said. “As the newly elected City Council President and President Pro Tem, we were delivering the legal determination of the city of Boise.”