AG: Mohave County violated open meeting law

May 2, 2019

Mohave County violated Arizona open meeting laws last year, according to a decision by the Attorney General’s Office.

The decision comes in reference to complaints made by Mohave County resident Arthur Garnica in 2018, who raised issues about the Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District with county supervisors at the board’s March 5 and March 19 meetings. Garnica was allotted three minutes to address the board during its call to the public, which allowed county residents to address issues not on the board’s meeting agenda. According to Arizona Assistant Attorney General Dustin Romney, when Garnica was interrupted by board members, and ultimately did not receive his three minutes to speak.

Garnica’s complaint alleged the board of supervisors refused to investigate a complaint against a Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District Member in reference to potential criminal activity. The Kingman-based fire district the serves Kingman-Butler and Chloride areas.

It was the board’s determination at the time that the Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District’s operations were not under the authority of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, and the board was therefore unequipped to address Garnica’s concerns. According to Romney, however, the fire district was indeed within the county’s purview under Arizona state statutes.

“Open meeting law is interpreted in favor of openness,” Romney wrote in his decision. “If an individual discusses issues during an open call to the public that are conceivably within the county’s jurisdiction, the individual must be allowed to speak. If after further analysis it turns out that an issue was discussed that was not within the public body’s jurisdiction, there would be no ground to find a violation of the open meeting law.”

The Attorney General’s Office gave no opinion on the Garnica’s initial complaint against the fire district, but has ordered that Mohave County supervisors acknowledge the receipt of its decision, and acknowledge the perceived scope of its jurisdiction over the Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District. Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson disagreed with the decision on Wednesday.

“We’re only supposed to have people speak on non-agenda items under our authority,” Johnson said. “(Garnica) came to two board meetings with complaints over the fire district … we don’t have jurisdiction over the fire district, but the Attorney General says we do because we set their tax rates. I disagree with that opinion … we don’t have direct authority over schools or any other board’s elected officials in the same way.”

Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius believes the Attorney General’s decision may be an opportunity for the board to better serve its role.

“Calls to the public have to be in the jurisdiction of what we can do … the Attorney General’s position says (the fire district) is in our jurisdiction,” Angius said. “We always get advice from our attorneys, but I’m interested in whatever speakers have to say. While I don’t believe the fire district is in our jurisdiction, it’s always good to do the right thing.”

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote at its May 6 meeting whether to acknowledge the Attorney General’s decision.