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Money, bylaw issues dominate Verde Partnership discussion

CLARKDALE - With no promise of federal money to fuel it, the Verde River Basin Partnership grappled this week with details of how it will operate.

At its first full membership meeting since December, the partnership gathered at Yavapai College's Verde Campus in Clarkdale Thursday afternoon to chart its course, involving everything from money issues to elements of the bylaws.

Most members appeared to agree on financial matters, which included a budget of $105,000, coming from a combination of member contributions and grants.

Among other things, the money would pay for an $85,000 U.S. Geological Survey "aquifer-storage-monitoring network" in the Paulden-area Big Chino Basin.

Members were amenable to the plans to tap the participating municipalities for $1 per person, based on U.S. Census population figures. Organization Chairman Doug Von Gausig, mayor of Clarkdale, said Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Camp Verde and Jerome already had committed to contributing a total of about $25,000. The group agreed to solicit other members for contributions as well.

The budget also includes about $30,000 in in-kind contributions, and $40,000 in grants.

While the group resolved its money matters with little discussion, it was a brief clause in the bylaws that generated most of the debate during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.

Mixed in with the rules about membership contributions, meeting schedules and sub-committees was a passage that one audience member described as the "knucklehead clause."

Under "removal of members," the bylaws stated: "Members whose actions and/or statements demonstrate positions contrary to the goals and purposes of the partnership may be removed from the membership rolls by approval of two-thirds of the voting members present..."

Several members of the partnership, as well as members of the audience, voiced concerns about the clause, maintaining that it was unnecessary, and could inhibit the open exchange of ideas.

Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis, a member of the audience at Thursday's meeting, for instance, maintained, "Part of being a public body is the possibility for debate."

Noting that the chairman of the organization would be able to subdue a disruptive member, Davis added, "You're better off just to leave off (the clause) and accept that there will be diverse opinions."

Chris Moss, planner for the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe, also voiced concerns, cautioning, "You want to be inclusive."

Others pointed out that the partnership would be a voting organization where the majority would rule, regardless of the impact of one argumenative member.

"I don't think you need a knucklehead clause," said Bob Rothrock, an audience member from Cottonwood.

But attorney Gil Shaw, who helped the partnership with its bylaws, said the group included the clause to enable it to deal with a representative who might work consistently against the partnership's goals.

"Legally speaking, you've got to be able to get rid of the automatic naysayer if he's dragging the process down," Shaw told the group.

Tom Slaback of the Sierra Club, representing the national environmental groups caucus, agreed. "It's possible that a person might become a member just to stop the procedure of the partnership," he said.

But Steve Kling, representing the grassroots environmental caucus, called that "not a realistic possibility." "What are we afraid of?" he asked. "Take it out."

Von Gausig pointed out that removal of a representative would require a two-thirds vote of the partnership, which he said would be "a very difficult thing to achieve."

Because the partnership currently is operating as a consensus group, which Von Gausig said required full agreement, he determined that the clause should remain, because of Slaback's concerns about removing it.

The group rewrote the clause slightly to change the word "member" to "representative," and to state that the partnership would notify the member group of a removal of a representative and the need to appoint a new one.

The group will vote on its bylaws at a future meeting. The next general meeting will take place on Oct. 11.

The federal government created the partnership in late 2005 as a means of planning for water needs in the Verde River Basin. Von Gausig said the partnership learned this past March that the upcoming federal budget would not include the $610,000 that the group expected to cover the cost of working toward its goals.

Even so, partnership members still hope the group might receive federal money from Congress.

While the group includes representation from Verde Valley-area governments, Prescott-area communities have balked at joining the partnership because of concerns over its make-up.

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