Ag Puts Payson On Open Meeting Law Probation

Investigator's report details illegal meeting and problems with agendas and minutes

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Payson Town Council members must attend a one-hour training session and regularly certify they're adhering to the open meeting law for the next two years, according to a ruling by the Arizona Attorney General's office.

The four-page letter essentially puts the town on open meetings law probation after concluding the Payson council violated the state open meeting law on August 19, 2007 when the entire council met over lunch to discuss personnel matters. The letter was sent to Town Attorney Samuel Streichman this week. The letter also criticized agendas and minutes of public meetings.

Streichman declined to release the letter criticizing the town for violating the open meeting law, but the attorney general's office on Wednesday released a copy upon request.

The AG's investigation upheld the complaint of the open meeting law violation and found several problems with minutes and agendas relating to the council's move to force out the town manager and human resources director.

However, investigator Elizabeth Campbell said she found no evidence to support allegations that Councilor Su Connell and former Mayor Bob Edwards broke the law by polling a quorum of the council on the phone to line up votes.

The major problem centered on the Aug. 29, 2007 luncheon at Pasta Pomodoro Restaurant in Scottsdale during an Arizona League of Cities and Towns convention. At that meeting, the council discussed the job performance of the town manager and human resources director and discussed eliminating the human resources department, according to the letter.

Campbell said all meetings of a public body must be public and all discussions among a majority of the council that could "foreseeably require final action" must be conducted in a public meeting or executive session with a proper, publically released agenda.

Because the employment matters discussed could come before the council for action, the lunch was actually a public meeting that should have been announced, had an agenda and been open to the public, Campbell concluded.

The investigator also faulted the preparation of the agenda for the regular Sept. 6, 2007 council meeting, after reviewing video recordings of the meetings. At that meeting, the council accepted the resignation of Town Manger Fred Carpenter as well as a separation agreement with him. That separation agreement extended his salary through the following spring.

However, the awarding of the separation agreement was not listed on the agenda for that meeting. Such agendas must list "specific matters to be discussed, considered or decided at the meeting.

Campbell wrote: "Accepting a resignation is a different matter than accepting a separation agreement. The public reading the agenda would not have understood that the Board was also considering a separation agreement, which included a severance package."

In addition, Campbell concluded that the minutes for the Sept. 6 and Sept. 20 meeting were "inadequate."

The town has a legal obligation to take and make public minutes that contain "an accurate description of all legal actions proposed, discussed or taken, and the names of the members who proposed each motion."

However, the Sept. 6 minutes did not specifically refer to the separation agreement or the motion by which it was approved.

Moreover, the Sept. 20 minutes did not record that Councilor John Wilson had moved to table the matter of abolishing the human resources director's position, a motion that died for lack of a second.

In addition, the minutes of that meeting failed to record the responses to questions about the proposal to abolish the HR director's position, by then Chief Fiscal Officer Debra Galbraith.

Galbraith was subsequently appointed interim town manager, while also handling the top finance and human resources position.

The assistant attorney general proposed several remedies to the violations. These include:

  • The council must accept the attorney general's findings and conclusions at its next regularly scheduled meeting.
  • The council must certify to the Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team of the Attorney General's Office that it is complying with the open meeting law with reports in March, June, September and December of 2008, 2009 and 2010.
  • Each council member must get at least one hour of training in the next six months, including council members Rick Croy, Michael Hughes and Kenny Evans -- who were not on the council at the time of the illegal meeting.

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