Star Valley is currently under investigation for possibly violating the open meeting law, but this isn’t the first time the town has been accused of breaking the law.
In July, the Attorney General’s Office concluded the town violated the open meeting law when the council discussed former town manager Lanny Sloan’s employment in a 2006 executive session.
In light of the recent claims by Star Valley Councilor Gary Coon over the town’s former town manager Vito Tedeschi’s contract and possible open meeting law violations, Sloan discussed the 2006 allegations he made against the town, which were not reported at the time because the town did not discuss the case during an open council meeting. The open meeting violation was only talked about during a closed, therefore secret meeting, held by the then-town council.
Sloan told the Roundup he turned the town in to the Attorney General’s Office after the council failed to notify him of an executive session on Sept. 19, 2006, during which councilors discussed his employment.
“They had these meetings to talk about my employment without letting me know,” Sloan said.
Star Valley Town Attorney Tim Grier told the Attorney General’s Office in a letter that the meeting held in September 2006 was to discuss the general selection process for a new town manager and the discussion did not relate to Sloan’s employment.
At the time of the meeting in 2006, Star Valley was searching for a permanent town manager.
Sloan had been working for the town on a temporary contract since March 2006 to oversee the town’s incorporation.
Sloan’s contract was scheduled to end in September 2006, but he had expressed interest in staying on permanently.
“Some of the council wanted me to stay on as manager,” Sloan said.
On the afternoon of Sept. 19, 2006, hours before the executive session, Sloan withdrew his name from consideration for the permanent town manager position.
According to Roundup archives, Sloan said he concluded that it would be better for him to move on than stay with the town.
“I knew then that the town was looking in a different direction,” he said.
After a two-year investigation, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Maxie-Mullins determined that Star Valley had violated the open meeting law on several levels regarding the executive session held in 2006.
Maxie-Mullins said in an August 2008 letter to the town that she determined “that the purpose of the executive session was to discuss the selection process for the new town manager, but board members diverted discussions and began to discuss the current manager’s employment.”
Arizona Open Meeting Law prohibits public bodies from conducting lengthy information-gathering meetings in executive session and it requires that the affected employee be notified if the executive session is planned.
Besides discussing an employee without notice in executive session, Maxie-Mullins determined the town failed to give notice to anyone of the executive session.
Under Arizona law, if an executive session is planned, notice must be given to the public.
“The agenda fails to provide specific notice of the executive session and also does not provide “generic” language referencing a possible executive session,” Maxie-Mullins said. “Thus, the executive session was held in violation of the Arizona Open Meeting Law.”
In addition to the above violations, the minutes failed to state who was present at the executive session.
“It appears that the work study executive session minutes are combined with the common council executive session minutes,” Maxie-Mullins said.
“As a better practice, I would recommend that the minutes be separated or at least include a notation that all persons present at the work study executive session were also present at the common council executive session.”
Sloan also alleged that councilors discussed the content of the executive session with the media, thus violating the law again because the minutes and discussions of executive sessions are confidential.
Sloan claimed that then-mayor Chuck Heron’s comments to the Rim Country Gazette violated the law. Heron was quoted in the article saying that the executive session was used to “clear the air.”
Maxie-Mullins determined that the mayor’s comments were not specific, so no violation occurred.
“The main goal of the investigation was to get the council of Star Valley to follow the laws and I had explained to them what the laws are countless times,” Sloan said.
In consequence, for violating the open meeting law, Maxie-Mullins recommended Grier meet with council and discuss Arizona’s executive session requirements.
At an Aug. 14 meeting, Grier spoke with the council during executive session regarding the law to fulfill Maxie-Mullins recommendations.
Sloan said he thought Grier should have spoken with the council during regular session where the public and press could hear the discussion.
Sloan said he was surprised to hear the town was being investigated again for possibly violating the open meeting law because “they knew about this stuff.”
Star Valley is not the first town in the Rim Country to violate the open meeting law.
The Payson Town Council is on what amounts to open meeting law probation, because of actions of the previous council majority under the leadership of then-mayor Bob Edwards.
The Attorney General’s Office concluded the Payson council broke the law by holding a lunch meeting at an out-of-town conference to discuss the performance of the town manager.