Originally Published: December 28, 2017 6 a.m.
Other fire board news
• Voting took place for all three fire boards on Thursday, Dec. 21, to determine who would be the chairpersons and clerks for the next year. All three boards voted to maintain the status quo, with Darlene Packard and Jeff Wasowicz as the chairperson and clerk for CYFD; Cyndy Ducote and Dave Dobbs as the chairperson and clerk for CVFD; and Julie Pettit and Packard as the chairperson and clerk for CAFMA.
• An Arizona Disabilities Act concern for CYFD board member Tom Steele was brought up and discussed during the CYFD board’s regular meeting. Steele, who wears hearing aids, has been having difficulties hearing the other board member’s comments during both the regular and executive board meetings. His request to audio record the executive meetings so he may listen back to the recordings on his own time is currently under consideration and Cornelius said he would reach out to the Attorney General’s Office for legal advice regarding the matter. Otherwise, the board has recently installed a new audio system in its Prescott Valley meeting location to better meet Steele’s needs and will soon be relocating its Chino Valley meetings to a location with a better audio system than they’ve been working with.
Internal strife among Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) board members continues to intensify despite repeated attempts to address and resolve certain matters brought up by a disgruntled minority of the five-member board.
The divide is clear.
On one side are CYFD board members Tom Steele and ViciLee Jacobs — the vocal minority.
On the other side are CYFD board member Matt Zurcher, board clerk Jeff Wasowicz, board chair Darlene Packard, and the board’s staff, including Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA) Fire Chief Scott Freitag and CYFD board attorney Nicolas Cornelius.
“There’s an ongoing political struggle between the two camps,” Steele said.
The most recent episode of these two parties clashing occurred during a tense session of the board’s regular monthly meeting Thursday evening, Dec. 21.
Much of the action occurred during the meeting’s Call to the Public, in which anyone may address the board for a limited amount of time without requesting permission in advance.
In an unusual move by a board member, Jacobs decided to address the board during the Call to the Public.
Before she began, Wasowicz asked the board’s staff if he should restrict her address to a given amount of time as other members of the public are subject to.
Jacobs interjected, saying: “No, you do not. If I was put on the agenda, I would have been able to assign this, but I was refused, so I’m an elected official and I’m going to read this.”
The agenda items she and Steele requested were rejected because the items were not yet considered the business of the board, explained Susan Dixon, the administrative manager for CAFMA.
“Until it is the business of the agency, it is appropriate for members of the public to address the board during Call to the Public,” Dixon said. “If the board determines further action or follow-up is required, it then becomes the business of the agency and may be placed on a future agenda.”
Without further discussion, Jacobs began reading from a prepared statement and then passed out paper copies of it to the board’s chair and staff, which the Courier acquired through a public records request.
Because Jacobs handled it this way, several of the board members and its staff believe that she was in violation of open meeting law. “If she is going to speak during the Call to the Public, then she has to act as a citizen and follow the rules of Call to the Public,” Freitag said.
Packard regrets not enforcing open meeting law at the time Jacobs made this demand. “I should have insisted, ‘No, if you want to address Call to the Public, you need to stand in the front and use those five minutes,’” Packard said.
The board chair and its staff also believe that Jacobs violated the open meeting law when she initially requested to have several items placed on the agenda via email prior to Thursday's meeting. To properly submit a request, a board member can send it to staff and the board chair only – no other board members should be included. Jacobs violated this state law by copying three of the other board members on the email.
These are not the first instances in which Jacobs has ignored proper board procedure, Freitag said. “She’s been admonished numerous times for violation of open meeting law and yet continues to violate open meeting law,” Freitag said.
In order for Jacobs to face any consequences for her behavior, a complaint must be submitted to the Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET) at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Freitag believes someone has filed such a complaint for the aforementioned email violation, but did not disclose who that was.
As to what those consequences might be, if any, is difficult to say.
“Whether they’ll do anything, the AG (Attorney General’s) Office hasn’t been overly responsive with anything,” Freitag said. “So we can file it and they may just take it under advisement, or they may say, ‘Hey, you violated open meeting law, knock it off.’ It depends on how they take it.”
For many months, Jacobs and Steele have repeatedly vocalized that they have concerns regarding the way CAFMA is structured and how it operates. The Daily Courier intends to address these concerns in more depth in a future article, but some were mentioned in Jacob’s statement Thursday evening.
She began by saying she and Steele “revoke any waiver of conflict of interest, if any, that [they] may have signed in the past as to Nicolas Cornelius, due to his multiple conflicts of interest in representing all three fire district boards, which have different interests financially and otherwise, and which are now starting to face challenges to the legality of the CAFMA structure that Mr. Cornelius created and sponsored along with Chief Freitag, [who] also has a conflict of interest as the Fire Chief for all three fire districts, among other conflicts.”
After the meeting, Cornelius said no such waiver exists, and said that there is already a safeguard in place for if and when a conflict of interest ever arises between the three boards: “If the board, as a majority, decides they wish to change the existing intergovernmental agreement contract or that an element needs to be renegotiated, then there is a conflict. At that point, based on the terms of the JPA (Joint Powers Authority) itself, I would no longer represent Chino Valley in connection with issues related to the JPA.”
As it stands, no such conflict exists.
“What they’re trying to do, I think, is set up a conflict between CYFD and Chino Valley,” Cornelius said. “The difficulty they’re going to have with that is if the board as a majority doesn’t have an issue, then there is no conflict.”
The second part of Jacob’s statement was in reference to comments made by her husband, Larry, a member of the Citizens Tax Committee, during Call to the Public right before she spoke.
In his address to the board, Larry, a former law enforcement official, said there remains a potentially unresolved legal concern regarding a $50,000 check made out by CYFD on April 18, 2016, to Pioneer Title Agency for earnest money deposit on CAFMA’s new headquarters in Prescott Valley. Following his own investigation into the matter, he said forgery may have been involved in the signing of the check and believes an investigation by law enforcement authorities is required.
ViciLee’s statement backed her husband’s opinion and declared that the “…investigation cannot include any role for either Mr. Cornelius or Mr. Freitag, because they both met with Larry Jacobs and others from the Citizens Tax Committee in the middle of August 2016, and they are both witnesses and have undetermined involvement in this matter. Mr. Cornelius is requested to abstain in all way from the discussion of the investigation of the $50,000 check.”
Cornelius attempted to discuss the matter with Larry after the meeting, but Larry wouldn’t disclose any additional information or agree to share documentation of his findings.
“I don’t know what he was looking to do except politicize the idea that something wrong has been done based on his background, training and experience as a law enforcement officer, and the answer is that’s not true, it’s not the case,” Cornelius said. “That check has been looked at before because ViciLee Jacobs raised that issue two years ago when the transaction itself was going on, and it was resolved that there was nothing.”