Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Wed, Sept. 18

Plenty of time to get this garage thing right<BR>

The 21st century will be around for a long time, so it appears likely that, at some point before the year 2100, downtown Prescott will indeed get a parking garage.

Whether it becomes a flat deck that serves only to park cars, or a Taj Mahal of enterprise housing condominium timeshare hotels, the Chamber of Commerce Information Center, a Hooters and perhaps (are you listening Yavapai College?) a swimming pool will be up to the City Council and staff.

Of course, with this past week's payoff of the latest contender in the parking garage sweepstakes, the M3 Companies, the budget for the project is dwindling. A couple more false starts like that one and we'll be lucky to see a makeshift structure that resembles something out of Rube Goldberg's nightmares.

How could this happen? Well, the council could work it out in executive session, then come back into the public eye and vote on it quicker than you could shake the dust off a copy of the general plan.

Arizona has some of the most liberal open records statutes in the nation. Perhaps it's because lawmakers at some point realized that they themselves were not worthy of trust and assigned that skepticism to all levels of elected officials.

The law explicitly prohibits a quorum, or majority of any elected body, to meet without a pre-published agenda and the opportunity for the public to attend. That applies to voting and discussion sessions.

The setup is an ideal way to keep our officials honest, to prevent backroom deals, and to keep the public informed.

But there's a loophole, the executive session. The law allows bodies to employ executive sessions, in which all or a majority of a body meets behind closed doors and out of the public view, to discuss employment and disciplinary matters, consideration of records exempt by law from public inspection, discussion of pending or contemplated litigation with its attorneys, or discussions of international or interstate negotiations.

The law allows these sessions; it does not require them, and that's where future councils, including the next one, which will likely move in one direction or another on the parking garage issue, has an opportunity to regain the trust of its citizens.

During the course of the recently deceased project to have M3 build the garage, the council at times kept some of the details of the plan's progress secret, both by use of the executive session and by employing questionable, albeit legal, means of working with the developers.

Over the past few months, leading up to new City Manager Steve Norwood's recommendation to pull the plug on the project, M3 met with council members individually, polling them as to their position on the project. Those meetings led the developers to agree that they had a consensus with the council, despite the fact that they didn't have an actual development agreement.

With those backroom agreements in mind, the company went ahead with its work on the project, running the tab up to more than $1 million (by their reckoning). This past week, the city paid M3 nearly $800,000 to put the matter to rest.

This chapter of the garage is over, and a new one will soon begin. The city has an opportunity to learn here, and to put that knowledge to use by keeping the citizens in the know on all the details of the next rendition of the project.

Let's hope they do so.

Contact Mark Duncan at mduncan@prescottaz.com

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