Gila County Supervisors clashed Tuesday over whether to honor a recently surfaced 2004 agreement between the county and the San Carlos Apache Tribe that requires the county to blade the tribe’s dirt roads.
Ultimately, Supervisors Shirley Dawson and Mike Pastor outvoted Supervisor Tommie Martin’s deep opposition to what she says is a misuse of taxpayer money.
The agreement, signed by then-Supervisor Jose Sanchez, obligated the county to blade 50 miles of reservation dirt road twice a year, and six miles of another highway “as reasonably needed.” The contract renews every year unless canceled with 30 days notice.
The county never honored the agreement. Dawson, who represents San Carlos, said the tribe has been asking the county for the past five years to blade the roads.
Pastor said he never heard of any requests, but Dawson told him he was wrong.
Tuesday’s short, but heated, discussion prefaced a long executive session after which supervisors emerged for the vote.
As Martin wondered if one board could obligate another board to an agreement, Dawson interrupted saying, “Can I remind you that Harry Jones’ letter was honored for many years?”
Martin ignored her.
Harry Jones has been working for the county as a water consultant, but nobody agreed if he actually had a contract. A 2003 letter outlined a scope of work, but listed no end date. A June debate left the situation unresolved, and Martin said she must now pay Jones out of her budget for “constituent funds” if she wants his services.
The crux of both issues involved contracts signed by previous board members with no start date and no end date. The 2004 agreement with the San Carlos tribe renews annually unless either party gives 30 days notice.
The difference between the two contracts, according to Dawson, is that the San Carlos agreement “is a legally binding document.”
When Dawson motioned for public works to begin blading the roads, she also instructed county staff to rework the agreement and include an end date.
Paying to fix 56 miles of San Carlos dirt roads could cost the county anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000, Public Works Director Steve Stratton estimated. Funding could come from state highway funds the county receives. Last year, that fund totaled $3.6 million.
However, county officials question whether using highway money for reservation roads is legal. Dawson said it is. County Chief Deputy Attorney Bryan Chambers didn’t respond to a phone call before press time for clarification.
Martin criticized using taxpayer money to blade reservation roads and said, “I’m not sure one board can obligate another board to anything.”
Northern Gila County residents pay two out of every three property tax dollars, and Martin said money spent on the reservation is money not spent elsewhere in the county. She would, however, support teaching San Carlos residents how to blade their own roads.
Dawson disagrees. “I believe that residents of Arizona, whether they live on reservations or not, are citizens and have rights to services.” She added that reservation residents still pay gasoline and sales taxes and support local businesses.
Tribal liaison Mary Kim Titla told the board the broken agreement amounted to “a broken treaty,” and that recreation users frequent the roads in question, which are public.
“The good people of San Carlos have contributed millions of dollars to the county over the years,” she said. “This document is an agreement; a legal agreement.”
Martin disputes that the roads are public, and she also doubts the tribe has contributed money to the county. She also said county equipment on the reservation roughly a decade ago was vandalized. Titla promised supervisors a secured site for equipment to avoid damage.
For five years, the agreement remained dormant, and Dawson said after the meeting that Titla’s new position as tribal liaison spurred Tuesday’s action.
“They kept saying that there is a MOU (memorandum of understanding) and we kept saying no, there isn’t,” Dawson said.
Then, the county found the agreement.
Dawson said that county staff is compiling all contracts, and the board will likely review the ambiguous ones. “We shouldn’t have anybody on a contract that goes on for eternity.”