|By Scott Orr|
PRESCOTT - The three newest members of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors joined the two incumbents Wednesday for the first of three days of training on how to do their new jobs.
Supervisor Chip Davis, a 16-year veteran of the board, suggested the sessions. As Chairman Tom Thurman opened the first one, Davis said, "I feel like a little kid on the first day of school. I'm very excited.
"It's a cool job," he said. "We get to be here on the ground floor, to set the pace for the next decade, the next century."
"It's surprising how much clout (Yavapai County) has in the state of Arizona," Thurman said.
Craig Brown, Rowle Simmons, and Jack Smith, the three freshman board members. smiled and nodded, with Smith saying he was "stoked" to be there.
Each member was supplied with a binder stuffed with reference documents about county government and a copy of a book, "Understanding the Arizona Constitution."
Most of Wednesday's class was taken up by legal discussions on how the new five-member board would deal with the Arizona Open Meeting Law. Previously, with three members, the law seemed clear: no two supervisors could discuss policy issues in any way outside a formal meeting with a published agenda.
But now, with five members, it is legal for two members to talk policy outside of meetings, because three members now constitute a quorum and define an actual board meeting.
The board's legal counsel, Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields, laid out the ground rules.
"The presumption in this state is that the public's business, which is the business you guys are engaged in, should be done in public," he said.
The law can be construed in multiple ways, he said, and gave the example of "daisy-chaining," in which one member speaks to another, then that member goes to a third, and so on, as an example of a violation.
Several members, including Thurman, had questions about hypothetical situations.
"Let's say I have an item on the agenda that's specific to my district - a road that needs to go in and needs board approval. Can I go to each one of them and say, 'I need this passed and here's why?' Can I do that as long as I don't tell the person I'm talking to how the other people felt?" he asked.
"I have a real problem with that," Fields said.
"Even though it's not a quorum?" Thurman asked.
"But it is. The quorum exists when you hit the third person," Fields replied.
"What if it's a non-agenda item?" Brown asked. "What if I want your opinion on something - 'Do you think this road should this road be widened or shouldn't it?'"
Board adviser Dave Hunt said, "The fast answer is, if it potentially could ever be an agenda item," then members should "conduct yourself accordingly."
Email exchanges and phone calls "can get a little bit tricky as well," Fields said.
Simmons, a former mayor of Prescott, said, "I was made scared to death to email anything to my council members" as mayor.
"You're taking a big chance," he continued. "If somebody accidentally hits 'reply all,'" that could be a violation.
If there is a violation, Fields told them, the best remedy is to admit it, so it can be dealt with quickly. "One of the worst things you can do in this business," he said, "is to try to hide something that you shouldn't have done. If you try to hide it, it'll be 10 times as bad for you."