Since it’s inception, during the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA) meetings, the Call to the Public has taken place right after the Roll Call and the Pledge. This allowed members of the Public to comment in advance on the agenda items, or on any other issue they felt the Board should be aware of. Now that's been changed.
CAFMA is a blended Board of Directors between the Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) and the Chino Valley Fire District (CVFD). Three members from CYFD and two members from CVFD, all chosen by their respective Boards, make up CAFMA, which now controls all assets, personnel and finances for both Fire Districts. Historically, both CYFD and CVFD held their Calls to the Public at the beginning of the meeting, too.
CYFD Board members
Honestly, the Call to the Public was not typically utilized heavily by the public. There might be a comment here and there, but usually the business of the government sailed through without question.
Now, with the last couple of meetings, that’s changed. Suddenly, people are questioning the Board Decisions, and commenting that the Board doesn’t seem to be very responsive.
Setting the Agenda
It’s important to understand how the Board meetings are organized and agendized. Most governmental boards and councils allow two members to agree to request an item be placed on the agenda. Not CAFMA, CYFD or CVFD. Their policy is different: The agendas are controlled completely by the Fire Chief and the Board Chair. If four Directors all agree that something should be put on the agenda, but the Chair and/or the Fire Chief don’t want it on the agenda, it doesn’t happen.
This situation is of concern to Attorney Chris Jensen, who now represents Board Directors ViciLee Jacobs and Tom Steele. In a letter to the media, Jensen started out by writing:
"We now represent ViciLee Jacobs and Tom Steele, two elected Board of Directors members of the Central Yavapai Fire District ("CYFD"). We are doing so to promote free speech, accountability in government, and a higher level of courtesy and fairness on the CYFD Board."
Attorney Chris Jensen
"After observing just the December 21, 2017 CYFD meeting," Jensen began, "I came to believe major changes are needed at CYFD due to many conflicts of interest (one Fire Chief and one Attorney representing three overlapping Fire Districts with different agendas), CYFD's policy of restricting the free speech of elected officials, and taxation of CYFD taxpayers without representation (because CYFD astoundingly gave the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority, "CAFMA," all the CYFD assets, employees and tax revenue by way of a 2015 Joint Powers Agreement,) so CYFD's elected officials have almost nothing left to actually represent. That CYFD taxpayers are now subsidizing the Chino Valley Fire District, which had maxed out its property tax assessment rate even before it joined CYFD in creating CAFMA, leaving CYFD taxpayers to pay all increased taxes for both CYFD and CVFD troubles us. All of this seems very wrong."
Limits Placed on Elected Officials
The Board Directors are very limited in what they themselves are allowed to say, and they are not even allowed to place items on the agenda without the blessing of the Board Chair and the Fire Chief. During the December 21, 2017 meeting, that fact caused Board Director ViciLee Jacobs to resort to addressing the other Directors via a Call to the Public, since items she hoped to have placed on the agenda were turned down.
Jensen's statement (see below) asks questions about the current procedures.
The December Agenda
Last month, Directors Steele and Jacobs requested that 3 items be added to the agenda:
1. ADA Accommodation for Director Steele.
2. The President of the Citizen’s Tax Committee, Chris Kuknyo, who wished to make a presentation.
3. A potential forgery of a $50,000 check drawn on the CYFD checking account. Larry Jacobs (husband to ViciLee Jacobs,) a former investigator for the Phoenix Police Department, discovered this issue while looking into some financial matters.
Steele’s item was placed on the agenda. Kuknyo was allowed to make his presentation in part to CAFMA (he was cut off at 3 minutes) and in full to CYFD.
Kuknyo read 3 minutes of his statement to the CAFMA Board. After the meeting adjourned, he tried to finish it and was told he had to do that outside.
After the end of the December 21 CAFMA meeting, Attorney Cornelius,
sporting a skull & crossbones tie, spoke to Chris Kuknyo about his statement.
As for Larry Jacobs’ presentation on the potential forgery of a $50,000 check? Wouldn’t it seem reasonable that the Board would want to investigate that? It’s a lot of money. That’s taxpayer dollars.
Surprisingly, Larry Jacobs has not been contacted by anyone from the CYFD Board or staff since the December meeting; again he was denied an opportunity to speak on the January agenda. Once more, he will have to make a statement via a Call to the Public.
Larry Jacobs tells the Board that he suspects a $50,000 check drawn on the CYFD account was forged.
Why wouldn’t the Boards exhibit even a modicum of curiosity about this? Don’t they care? Are they that nonchalant about taxpayer dollars? Shouldn’t they want an investigation, as Larry Jacobs’ recommends? If he’s wrong or doesn’t understand the full story, fine, bring all the facts out. But to ignore him completely? Or, is it possible they already know about it, and don’t really care for the facts to be revealed?
Stifling Public Comments
In the meantime, Fire Chief Freitag and the Board Chairs have taken steps to ensure that any public comment will not sway the Directors' votes or affect any responses to items on the agenda. Because for the first time in years, the Call to the Public has been moved to the end of the agenda. After all the voting has taken place.
Now it appears that there may be additional changes forthcoming to the Call to the Public.
On the agenda, item #7A reads: Discussion and Possible Action Regarding Call to the Public.
Details are not provided regarding the action being proposed.
Jensen’s Full Letter to the Media
Attached is a second Request for Additions to Central Yavapai Fire District Agenda, making the Request as public as possible, in order to avoid the previous false claim by the CYFD attorney and leadership that for a Board member to copy other Board members with an email request to be placed on the Agenda for the CYFD Board creates an open meeting law violation is silly at best, and more likely another attempt to prevent free speech by Board members. See Daily Courier article dated December 28, 2017.
False Open Meeting Law Violation Claim.
The undersigned Board Members have been falsely accused of violating the open meeting law by Chief Freitag and/or others under his supervision due to our written and jointly signed request for adding new items to the Board’s Agenda for the December, 2017 meeting. Asking for new agenda items does not meet the statutory definition of a “meeting” under A.R.S. Section 38-431(4):"Meeting" means the gathering, in person or through technological devices, of a quorum of members of a public body at which they discuss, propose or take legal action, including any deliberations by a quorum with respect to such action.
Although proposing a new Agenda item did meet the first requirement, there was no “deliberation by a quorum,” so there was no “meeting,” and can be no violation of the law.It is disturbing to us that, despite the fact that there could be no possible violation of the open meeting law, Chief Freitag or those under his supervision reported a violation to the Daily Courier publication, which caused the publication of yet another erroneous attack on us as CYFD Board members.
To avoid a repeat of this false open meeting violation allegation, we are jointly providing copies of our latest request to add items to the CYFD Board Agenda to various media providers, including the Courier, Prescott eNews, KYCA, KPPV and the Arizona Republic, so that no imagined violation of the open meeting law can be claimed: we are making our Agenda request as public as possible.
By the way, since the Board does not get to decide on any Agenda issues under current Board policy, only Chief Freitag and Chair Packard do, there can be no “deliberations” of a quorum of the Board as is required for an open meeting law violation, so we could not violate the law by a request to be on the Board Agenda even if we tried to.
Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Steele request caution in the future reporting of CYFD claims of open meeting law violations, because these claims are unfounded.
Pattern of Public Criticism.
Ms. Jacobs has been publicly criticized in the media repeatedly by Fire Chief Scott Freitag and Board Chair Darlene Packard as indicated in the December 28, 2017 article published in the Daily Courier. It is discouraging that the Daily Courier has been prompt to report negatively about ViciLee Jacobs and Tom Steele at the urging of CYFD's Fire Chief and Board Chair, at times erroneously, without providing much opportunity for our clients to respond in defense. We request equal opportunity from all media to respond to ongoing CYFD criticisms in the future.
Call to the Public Statement.
ViciLee Jacobs is criticized for making a statement during the Call to the Public portion of the December 21, 2017 meeting of CYFD. According to Chief Freitag and Ms. Packard, having a Board member make any statement which is not on the Board's Agenda is automatically a violation of law. Neither Ms. Jacobs nor fellow Board member Tom Steele can get any issue on the CYFD Agenda because by Board policy Chief Freitag and Board Chair have absolute control over the Agenda, to the extent that even a majority Board vote cannot compel them to place something on the Agenda. Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Steele, both elected officials, are being denied free speech at CYFD meetings. Is this legal? Is it fair? How can an elected official represent those who she/he represents without being able to speak? Why isn't the media supporting free speech by elected officials in local government?
Since Ms. Jacobs spoke at the end of the Call to the Public portion of the CYFD meeting on December 21, 2017, she is permitted by law to do so pursuant to A.R.S. Section 38-431.01(H) states:
"H. A public body may make an open call to the public during a public meeting, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, to allow individuals to address the public body on any issue within the jurisdiction of the public body. At the conclusion of an open call to the public, individual members of the public body may respond to criticism made by those who have addressed the public body, may ask staff to review a matter or may ask that a matter be put on a future agenda. However, members of the public body shall not discuss or take legal action on matters raised during an open call to the public unless the matters are properly noticed for discussion and legal action." [Emphasis added.]
The Arizona Attorney General confirms these same principles.
Ms. Jacobs, consistently prevented from defending herself by the restrictive control of the Board Agenda by Mr. Freitag and Ms. Packard, must use this as her only opportunity to publicly respond to criticism. Neither Ms. Jacobs, by making a statement at the end of the Call to the Public portion of the CYFD meeting, nor Ms. Jacobs and Tom Steele, by jointly and publicly requesting that items of importance to the public be added to the CYFD Agenda, has violated Arizona's open meeting law in any way.
The real issue as Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Steele go forward as elected Board members of CYFD is fair and honest government. Everyone should keep a close eye on that.
Jensen Phelan Law Firm, P.C.