Payson Town Council members faced-off over a proposed executive session this week.
The agenda listed one of the reasons for the Feb. 18 executive session as:
"Discussion or consideration of records exempt by law from public inspection: a confidential report in Case No. 001102 ... Discussion or consultation with the town's attorneys for legal advice concerning the Open Meeting Law, confidential report (above) and related documents and issues and intergovernmental relations."
The executive session was blocked when Town Attorney Sam Streichman distributed a memorandum from Police Chief Gordon Gartner, which said, "It is my position that this executive session is aimed directly at me and is unlawful for many reasons."
The Gartner memo was followed by Streichman telling the council he could not be part of the executive session because he was not only its attorney, but also the police department's. This sent the proceedings into a tailspin.
An executive session for legal advice could not be held without anyone available to give the advice, according to Shelley Cutts, attorney with Brown & Bain, Phoenix, which handles the state press' Media Hotline for legal information.
The report, released to the Roundup by Mayor Ken Murphy and Town Manager Fred Carpenter, deals with an internal investigation by the sheriff's department, prompted by allegations by Gartner, that two Drug Enforcement Task Force agents may have compromised service of a search warrant in a drug manufacturing case.
Murphy said he did not care if it was discussed in executive session or not, "Let's just get all the dirty laundry out there."
Vice Mayor Barbara Brewer and Councilor Dick Wolfe felt the police chief should be present for an executive session on the report.
Since the report was about Gartner and his staff, discussing it would be a discussion of those employees, not just the report.
State law allows employee matters to be discussed in executive session, but it also provides that the employee(s) in question be notified of the meeting 24 hours in advance. The employee has a right to the minutes of the meeting and access to the discussion. They also have a right to demand the discussion be held in a public meeting.
"This is illegal. The employees involved were not notified," Wolfe said.
Councilor Dick Reese said he thought the proposed executive session was to find out how to proceed with the report, not discuss the personnel involved. He said it was very frustrating that with Streichman's declared conflict, the council could not move forward.
Murphy said it appeared the only way the council could get the report reviewed was to have it investigated by yet another agency.
Streichman offered to recommend other attorneys to assist the council.
Murphy told the attorney he either had a conflict or he didn't. If he did, he needed to go back to the audience and sit down.
Streichman left the staff table and Carpenter took up the microphone. The town manager said, "I'm not sure it's wise to discuss this any further," and suggested ending the meeting.
Murphy adjourned the meeting and left the building.