BY LINDA BENTLEY | APRIL 24, 2013
Vice mayor votes against following open meeting law
CAREFREE – Prior to the April 16 budget workshop, Town Attorney Michael Wright informed council that Carefree citizen Jim Peirce had filed seven open meeting law complaints with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
He said the AG had found in favor of the town in six of the complaints but in a letter from the AG dated April 1, it found Vice Mayor Melissa Price was in “inadvertent violation” of the open meeting law (OML) in connection with her contacting each member of council to discuss their views on four-year staggered terms.
In his letter to the town, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Munns explained, “The OML requires that all meetings of a public body be held openly where members of the public can attend and listen to the deliberations. All deliberations and legal actions regarding board business must take place in a public meeting.”
Munns stated, “By proposing a legal action – enacting four-year staggered terms – Ms. Price inadvertently created a nonpublic meeting of the quorum of the council in violation of the OML.
This conduct violates the OML. In mitigation, however, it must be considered that Ms. Price did not act to intentionally circumvent the OML and that the council thoroughly discussed this matter in open meetings both prior and subsequent to these communications.”
He also noted, as of this date, no action has been taken by council regarding four-year staggered terms.
Munns noted the violation demonstrated council is unfamiliar with certain provisions of the OML and as a resolution to the matter council would be required to take the following actions:
1. The Council will discuss the concerns listed in this letter with its counsel in open session during a properly noticed public meeting.
2. Each member of the Council will participate in a training session with a representative from the Arizona Ombudsman's Office or other provider approved by this Office, held in a public meeting, regarding the requirements of the OML, with special emphasis on the posting of notices, agendas, and minutes. The training session shall occur within three months of the execution of this letter agreement. Within five days after the training, the Board will submit a copy of the training materials and each member of the Board will submit a signed statement to this Office affirming his or her attendance at the training session … This training session may be combined with the training required by this Office for other violations of the OML arising from a complaint filed by a member of the public.
Wright said the AG’s office originally requested two months but extended it to three so it would include the newly seated council.
With Councilman Arthur Gimson absent, council voted unanimously to sign and accept the AG’s letter and remedy.
A second letter from Munns, also dated April 1, stated, during the course of its investigation after reviewing some agendas provided by the council, his office noted some deficiencies.
He cited a Saturday, Nov. 5, 2005 agenda stating, “This is a meeting open to the public to exchange information with citizens. No legal decisions will be made.”
Munns said, “This provides no notice to the public as to what the Council will consider or discuss.”
The OML requires agendas to “list the specific matters to be discussed, considered or decided at the meeting” and “contain such information as is reasonably necessary to inform the public of the matters to be discussed or decided.”
Mayor David Schwan stated, in the future, they would not hold those types of town hall meetings with a quorum of council present.
Upon review of council’s postings on its website for January 2013, Munns said the notice of possible quorums of the council also contained deficiencies.
He stated, “Although not required by the OML, it is best practice for public bodies to post courtesy notices when a quorum of the body will be present at certain events or meetings. This notice should state that although a quorum may be present, council members will not discuss official business or take legal action.”
Munns proposed the same resolution for the second violation.
This time, however, the vote was 5-1 in favor with Price, who said that was no way to treat their citizens, dissenting.