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Tue, Feb. 25

Unmanned drones on hold, Thurman says

PRESCOTT - Responding to public concerns voiced at nearly every meeting of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, Chairman Tom Thurman said Friday that the county's plans to fly unmanned drones as part of an agreement with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have been put on hold.

Thurman has expressed frustration with the complaints in the past, as people have spoken during the call to the public portion of the meetings, during which the board is not allowed to respond - because the subject is not legally on the agenda - but that there was no reason to put the program on the agenda, because nothing was happening.

Several outspoken critics of the program, including Prescott resident Dennis DuVall, have accused the board of having secret meetings to discuss the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Thurman said the complaints were "based on a misunderstanding of the county's current involvement with UAV programs," and that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the board approved in November 2011 was contingent "on resolution of the outstanding items and a final review by the board's legal counsel.

"During subsequent discussions, county staff was advised that the terms of the original MOU were not in compliance with applicable federal safety regulations," he said, and because the MOU never received final approval, it never took effect.

"Neither party was ever bound by its terms," Thurman said.

As discussions to resolve those safety issues continued, ERAU told the county that "partnerships with non-county public agencies had emerged and were being considered," Thurman said. With that in mind, he added, the county's discussions with ERAU "were held in abeyance."

Thurman said county staff had already explained this to the members of the public who had spoken at board meetings.

"Decisions of this board are made in open meetings with ample opportunity for public input," he said. "An agreement involving any aspect of UAV operations would certainly be no exception."

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