It was a lengthy, two-hour meeting for the Star Valley council Tuesday night that handled a dozen decisions ranging from an audit to councilors speaking with the press.
Town Manager Tim Grier said he wanted to revisit an Oct. 21 decision that named him the sole public information officer for the town. At the time, some councilors suggested Grier be made the “one voice” to handle questions from the media.
Grier asked the council to reconsider if this ruling needed clarification because currently “it makes it unclear if it is appropriate for you to discuss policies and town business.”
“It is important for each of us to communicate with the press and reach the citizens,” he said. He added it is the council’s First Amendment right to express viewpoints “un-tethered.”
Grier suggested the council keep him as PIO. Councilor Barbara Hartwell agreed and made the motion to keep Grier the town’s PIO but allow the council free will to speak with the press. The council unanimously agreed.
Every year the town is required to perform a financial audit. Last year, Larson Allen LLP performed the audit and found no major irregularities. This year, the council decided to continue with Larson Allen.
Councilor Gary Coon asked Grier if the auditors could go into greater depth in certain areas where he had concerns. Primarily, with allegations that former town manger Vito Tedeschi and mayor Chuck Heron made pay increases without the council’s approval.
Grier said the council would have to decide what areas they wanted Larson Allen to look into and the extra cost involved.
Coon pointed out that Larson Allen asks the town in a letter to inform them of all known or suspected fraud.
“Do we have to sit down and tell them everything in case they run into things during their audit,” Coon asked.
Grier suggested the council hold a work-study session with the auditors where they could discuss concerns.
Councilor Vern Leis said if there was fraud, Larson Allen should find it during its regular checks and balances.
“If something were askew, it should be pretty obvious,” he said. “If we want to tell an auditor how to audit, my answer is euphorically no.”
Grier said last year’s four-day auditing process was very thorough. Mayor Bill Rappaport said this year’s audit would not take into account the period when Tedeschi was employed or as he referred to it “the former regime.”
With that, the council moved on to other business.
The council approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Gila County Public Works Division regarding purchasing agreements with vendors. This agreement could allow the town to get better deals on services and products by using the county’s purchasing power.
The council decided to continue allowing Grier to make merit raises for town employees without their approval. Grier was concerned the personnel manual and town code were too vague on if the council should approve raises. Leis said he was confident Grier could make appropriate adjustments to salaries without their oversight.
Council will still consider town manager raises.
Also at the meeting:
• Hellsgate Fire Chief Gary Hatch explained that if an emergency broke out in Star Valley, like a wildfire similar to the Water Wheel Fire several weeks ago, the Hellsgate Fire Department would coordinate and manage it.
Some individuals had expressed concern that no one was appointed emergency management coordinator, but Hatch reiterated that the fire department has always been in charge of emergencies, just like it was before the town incorporated. If a wildfire started, Hatch would notify the town manager and then the mayor.
• Adopted the 2009 tax code amendments.
• Had a first reading on the rural street naming and property numbering ordinance.
• Approved a special survey for the Valley Road crossing by Cindy Schofield of the Central Arizona Association of Governments. The survey is needed to qualify for Community Development Block Grant funds.