Quartzite Council cited by Arizona Attorney General

We haven’t looked in on the little town of 3,000 odd people of Quartzsite, Arizona, lately. Its goings-on continue to seem eerily applicable to our own county of 100,000 odd people.

On 9 December 2011, the Attorney General of Arizona, Tom Horne, issued a statement Re: Open Meeting Law Complaint against Town of Quartzsite Common Council (the “Council”), saying that the town Council had violated the state Open Meetings Law (OML) four times:

  1. by not warning Jennifer Jones before removing her on 28 June 2011;
  2. by holding a Council meeting on 10 July 2011 in which they excluded the public by actually locking the doors of their meeting room;
  3. by failing to post minutes of the emergency meeting on its website as required by Arizona Law (yes, Arizona law, like Texas law, requires posting minutes on the web) and by not including a required statement of the emergency requiring the meeting;
  4. and by failing to post withing the required three working days minutes for the 10 July 2011 emergency meeting, nor for seven of its work sessions, nor for its 14 June 2011 regular session.
This one wasn’t a violation, but may be at least as important:
The purpose of the OML is to require public bodies to meet publicly and openly so that al persons so desiring may attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings.
Why, I believe that’s the same in Georgia!

It seems back-room meetings are bad:

However, this Office has significant concerns that such pre-meeting discussions are occuring with the Town Manager, even if official business is not discussed. The video recording of the June 14, 2011, meeting shows a quorum of the Council leaving the meeting room together into a back room. It is not unreasonable to believe that a quorum of the Council gathers prior to meetings, even if it is not to discuss agenda items or offical business. Thus, although a violation was not substantiated, the meetings of a quorum of the Council members are troubling because the ensuing conversations between Council members create a significant risk of violating the OML. Even if they do not result in violations, such gatherings can undermine public confidence that the public body is fulfilling its obligation to deliberate and make decisions in properly noticed public meetings. Accordingly, this Office registers its concern that a quorum of the Council gathers before and during meetings and advises the Council to minimize such gatherings to avoid any appearance of impropriety. In any such gathering, Council members must scrupulously avoid any discussion of official business.
Has anyone seen that sort of behavior hereabouts?

The Arizona Attorney General didn’t just express an opinion, he recommended actions, including:

The Council will discuss the concerns listed in this letter with its counsel in open session during a properly noticed public meeting.
and each Council member and staff will participate in a training session about the OML within three months of the letter. As Jennifer Jones recommended to the Council 7 July 2011, the Council must
“get up to speed on the laws of this state.”
The Council will be subject to oversight by this Office for a period of twelve months.
He included detail as to what that means.

The Attorney General’s letter was addressed to Martin Brannan, the Town Attorney of Quartzsite. More on that in a later post.