Ag: Previous Council Broke Meeting Law

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The Payson Town Council violated the state's open meeting law when it met over lunch during a Scottsdale conference and discussed personnel changes, the attorney general's office concluded this week.

Reportedly, the council at that meeting discussed complaints about then-Town Manager Fred Carpenter and other top town employees.

Subsequently, the council voted to offer Carpenter about six months' salary if he would resign and eliminate the town's personnel department, which forced the departure of Robert Smith, the HR director. Smith was also given a buyout when he left.

Investigators for the Attorney General's Office concluded that the Payson council met illegally last fall when it had a lunch meeting at a League of Arizona Cities and Towns convention in Scottsdale.

"We have a report back from the attorney general about the open meeting laws for the previous council," said Mayor Kenny Evans, who was not on the council when the illegal meeting took place. "We're going to have to pay the price" for the actions of the previous council.

The Roundup could not obtain a copy of the report before deadline and representatives for the attorney general's office and the town attorney's office had not returned calls at press time.

Typically, the attorney general's office requires council members to attend training sessions after finding a violation of the open meeting law. Sometimes, the state also appoints a person to monitor town meetings and policies to prevent future violations. The state can also overturn actions taken as a result of an illegal meeting.

The meeting took place under the direction of then-Mayor Bob Edwards and involved several council members who have since left the council. Edwards is out of town and was not available for comment.

Councilor Su Connell said that she'd been told that councilors were free to meet in groups at the League of Cities and Towns convention. However, other council members have said the discussion clearly strayed into areas that should have been limited to a regular, public meeting.

The council then appointed finance manager Debra Galbraith as the interim town manager, finance manager and personnel director. The council has since appointed Galbraith the permanent town manager and hired a new finance director.

Glen Smith, a former finance manager and the father of former personnel manager Robert Smith, filed an open meeting complaint with the attorney general several months ago, which triggered the finding this week.

The open meeting law requires elected bodies to hold all their major discussions and take all of their actions in public, after listing all the topics they'll discuss on an agenda.

The law allows two or even three council members to discuss things they will later vote on, but strictly limits discussions involving a quorum -- or a voting majority.

The law prevents council members from effectively rounding up votes and figuring out how they'll vote. Even a telephone conversation or a forwarded e-mail that indicates how council members will vote can violate the law.

The law makes only certain narrow exceptions, including executive session discussions of lawsuits and personnel matters.

However, those executive sessions have to be announced and the council must stick to a public agenda.

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