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4:40 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Verde Basin group meets major milestone, adopts bylaws

PRESCOTT - Next time the Verde River Basin Partnership meets, its members can vote on contentious matters if they choose.

The partnership reached a major milestone Thursday when members adopted bylaws by consensus.

The bylaws lay out requirements in areas such as membership, voting rights, meeting frequency and member removal.

The latter has been a hot point of discussion during this and the previous quarterly partnership meeting.

The slightly revised "Removal of Members" section that members reviewed Thursday stated, "Representatives of any members whose actions and/or statements consistently demonstrate positions contrary to the goals and purposes of the Partnership may be removed as a representative by approval of two-thirds of the voting members" attending a meeting with a quorum.

"If this ever happens in my lifetime, I would be very, very surprised," said partnership coordinating committee chair and Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig.

Steve Kling, president of the Verde River Citizens Alliance, said the whole section still should go. Groups that qualify as partnership members "should have the freedom to have their own representative," he said. The partnership should handle problem members informally.

Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe representative Chris Moss agreed that the members should delete that section.

But the partnership didn't have a total consensus by head nods, so Von Gausig said the clause would have to stay.

The members agreed to one change, deleting the word "contrary" for the word "disruptive."

Von Gausig reiterated that the Congressional bill that created the partnership states its sole mission, at the request of U.S. Sen. John McCain.

"There's very little opportunity for anyone to screw up what we're trying to do," Von Gausig said.

When the partnership completes that mission, its bylaws state that it will disband, Von Gausig noted.

That mission includes commissioning Verde Watershed studies that will help it make water management recommendations for the future.

However, the partnership isn't sure how it will find enough money to conduct the studies. The Bush administration has turned down McCain's request to put study money in its budget proposal for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and McCain has not introduced a bill seeking money.

Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis asked McCain to introduce a bill similar to the one he is co-sponsoring for the San Pedro area. However, McCain replied that would be premature. By contrast, the San Pedro area already has completed its hydrological studies and its money would go toward analyzing the feasibility of supplementing the basin's groundwater with outside water supplies, McCain said.

So far, 21 of the 35 groups and agencies that qualify to be voting members of the Verde partnership have joined. One, the U.S. Geological Survey, cannot join because then it couldn't get money from the group to conduct its Verde Watershed hydrological and geological studies.

The most glaring potential members that have refused to join are the four Prescott-area municipalities and Yavapai County. The majority of their elected officials have complained that the partnership's voting members don't include enough locally elected officials and therefore they don't meet McCain's intent, even though McCain has stated in writing that he approves of the membership.

In an ironic coincidence, the partnership met Thursday in the City of Prescott's public library.