Court says Huetter mayor can stay in office

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Huetter has a mayor, and Brad Keene has vindication.

The Idaho Supreme Court released an opinion on Wednesday reversing a District Court decision that had removed Keene as mayor of the 98-population town two years ago.

"It was a position where I knew I was in the right, and I'm glad the Supreme Court agreed with me," Keene said on Wednesday. "I might crack open a bottle of wine."

According to the Supreme Court's opinion, the District Court had misinterpreted state statute in 2008 in concluding that Keene's position became vacant when his voter registration was temporarily canceled after his election.

"In order to assume the office, the person must be elected and qualify," the opinion reads.

Keene was elected, sworn into office, and didn't fail to qualify, the opinion states, "therefore, there was no vacancy."

It further reads that the temporary failure of Keene to remain a qualified elector didn't constitute an abandonment of office.

Keene's attorney Susan Weeks said she wasn't surprised by the opinion.

"The Supreme Court followed the arguments I presented on how the statute should be interpreted," she said.

Keene will be reinstated as mayor, she said, leaving his current council position vacant.

Keene acknowledged that the decision won't significantly impact the governing of the city, as he has been acting mayor since he was elected to the City Council last November.

"I don't think this will change us as we're going forward," he said.

He isn't sure if his council position will be filled immediately, or left vacant until next November's elections.

"I'm not going to presume anything about it. We will talk about it," he said.

Huetter's city attorney Dana Wetzel said she wasn't surprised by the Supreme Court opinion.

"It was more of an esoteric question than a practical question," she said. "The impact to the city of Huetter is just that Brad Keene's course is clear to accept the position of mayor."

She added that the council members have all changed since the election quandary first arose.

"This won't be a big disappointment to anyone on the council," she said.

Keene had been elected mayor in November, 2007. A District Court ruled in May 2008 that Keene was ineligible to serve his term because Kootenai County had kicked him off voter registration rolls earlier in the year, a result of his not responding to challenges of his Huetter residency during the election.

Keene had appealed the decision. In the ensuing two years the city of Huetter, which lies between Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls along Seltice Way, had no official mayor, due to the litigation over the position.

Wednesday's opinion also reversed the District Court's removal of Jennifer Brown, who was also elected to the Huetter City Council in 2007 and removed for the same reasons as Keene.

Brown has since moved out of Huetter, and her council position was filled.

Although the Supreme Court awarded appellants costs to Keene, he will be taking care of the costs himself, Weeks said.

"He doesn't want the taxpayers to pay for it," she said, estimating the amount comes to $1,200.

Weeks worked pro bono, she added.

"Election laws are important," she said. "Some might say, 'Well, it's just a small city,' but next time it might be a big city."

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