The Gila County Board of Supervisors had a training session on the open meeting law at its April 27 work session.
Normally the training, or new supervisors orientation, takes place shortly after the supervisors are sworn into office. But with the circumstances of the 2020 election this was changed.
County government is relatively complex and highly regulated so, it is extremely important for newly elected members to receive a thorough orientation to ensure their effectiveness in serving the citizens of the county, said James Menlove, manager for Gila County.
“On Nov. 3, 2020 General Election, Tommie Martin, Tim Humphrey and Woody Cline were re-elected as Gila County supervisors for Districts 1, 2 and 3 respectively.
“On Dec. 10, 2020, the Honorable Tommie Cline Martin, District 1 Supervisor, passed away. On Jan. 12, 2021, the board members and the clerk of the board appointed Steve Christensen to fill the vacancy for the office of supervisor for District 1,” Menlove said.
He added, supervisors orientation is offered for newly appointed county supervisors, and is recommended for support staff needing a refresher on the powers and duties, financial responsibilities, open meeting law restrictions, public records law and decision-making processes of the Gila County Board of Supervisors.
“County supervisors are very limited in what they can do. They can only do what is allowed by state statute and the constitution,” Menlove said.
Jeff Dalton, civil bureau chief and deputy county attorney, presented the bulk of the training.
“The open meeting law is weighted in the public’s favor and designed to assure the work of the government is conducted in the open,” Dalton said.
“At what level can we not have a conversation?” asked Christensen.
“There can be no email or phone conversations (regarding another supervisor’s position on an issue). You can go to the manager and ask him to talk to the other supervisors,” Dalton said.
Menlove added he will visit with each supervisor for direction, but will not disclose what has been said. “I can’t be a messenger. I can’t do polling,” he said.
Christensen asked, “When we have an agenda item and a presentation is made and we have questions that reveal our positions, is that OK?”
“You’re in an open meeting, so it’s the time to do it. It’s the time for open deliberation and sharing what you’re thinking,” Dalton responded.
“Our assistants talk to each other. Is that OK?” Christensen asked.
Dalton said they can talk to each other, they don’t know the way the vote will go, but they can’t be messengers either.
Cline asked about posting events where two or more of the supervisors are attending.
Marian Sheppard, clerk of the board of supervisors, said her office always posts a notice if two or more supervisors are going to be in the same place.
“When there are two or more board members at a meeting where they’d be voting, I needed to be there,” she said, referring to a time when the supervisors would have meetings with the leaders of other municipalities. If they were meeting with members of the Payson Town Council, she would be there recording the minutes and someone would also be recording minutes for the town.
Cline asked if it is posted when they are at a lunch following a meeting. Dalton said, “Use your personal discretion about the appearance of transparency.”
Christensen said he tries hard not to give direction to staff, “That’s not our job, but a lot of people think this is where the buck stops (with the supervisors).”
“If it is for a public purpose, not to benefit just an individual, supervisors are free to go to a department head and alert them to the issue,” Menlove said.
“Everything is open. Information is what we need to get things done,” he said.