David Blackham files defamation suit against Mt. Pleasant council
By James Tilson
Mt. PLEASANT—A former mayor of Mt. Pleasant has re-opened litigation against the city, accusing the city and council members of defamation and breach of a confidentiality agreement.
David Blackham, mayor of Mt. Pleasant from Jan. 6, 2014 to May 31, 2017, filed a lawsuit in the 6th District Court against the City of Mt. Pleasant, and council members Dan Anderson, Justin Atkinson, Kevin Stallings, Heidi Kelso and Keith Collier.
The complaint alleges 10 causes of action. They are defamation, invasion of privacy, public disclosure of private facts, invasion of privacy, breach of confidentiality, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith, negligent employment and supervision and promissory estoppel (a legal principle that a promise is enforceable by law).
According to an open letter to current Mt. Pleasant Mayor Anderson, Blackham stated the basis of the lawsuit came out of the actions of the council on Sept. 11, 2018. On that day, the council read a letter into the public record during a council meeting, and then had the letter published in two local newspapers.
The council’s letter dealt with the circumstances surrounding Blackham’s resignation as mayor a year earlier. The letter made reference to a meeting on April 26, 2017, where allegations against Blackham by other city employees were discussed.
The council’s letter stated, in part, “[I]t was agreed by the council that Mayor Blackham had in fact made inappropriate sexual related comments and accusations to, or about many of our city employees.”
The council’s letter also stated the outcome of the meeting. “Because [Blackham] later chose to resign, no further action was taken by the council or the State Labor Relations board.”
“You purported to sign this letter in your official capacity as members of the City Council but did so only to defend your own pride and not for any legitimate City purpose,” said Blackham. “The truth is that there was no city purpose for the letter. It was instead a personal political action done by each of you to deflect criticisms of how you were doing, or not doing, your elected jobs.”
In a letter from Blackham’s attorney, Steven Tycksen, to the city of Mt. Pleasant, Tycksen says the allegations in the council’s Sept. 11, 2017 letter falsely accused Blackham of sexual harassment, as the allegations were never fully investigated by the council, nor any other official body. Further, the allegations were discussed by the council in a closed meeting, which was confidential and protected under Utah state law.
The council and Blackham, at the time of his resignation, agreed to keep the reasons confidential, for the benefit of both the city and Blackham. According to Tycksen, by divulging those reasons in their letter, the council also breached their agreement with Blackham.
Tycksen describes the actions of the council as “outrageous and intolerable,” because “being falsely accused of sexual harassment is highly offensive to the ordinary person and would be especially offensive to Mayor Blackham.”
As of time of press, the city of Mt. Pleasant and the council members have not made any public comment on the suit, other than to refer inquiries to their attorney, Heather White of Salt Lake City.
White said, “The city, the mayor and the city councilmembers will respond to plaintiff’s complaint on August 30. That court filing will also serve as the response by [the defendants] to Mr. Blackham’s open letter. It is important that we do not share the specifics before we file.”
Blackham had filed a lawsuit against the city in Oct. 2018, alleging the council members had exceeded their authority by taking over mayoral duties, and engaging in nepotism in the awarding of city contracts. All of the claims in that lawsuit except one were dismissed for lack of standing by Blackham to pursue the lawsuit. The one claim, for which the judge had asked both sides for more information, was settled out of court.