El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook bemoans that residents in her community are lodging fact-starved concerns and complaints with the city.
She gets city employees to address these oft-complained-about topics with PowerPoint presentations and handouts at a public meeting, but she doesn't bother letting the public know that these presentations are going to take place.
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"During the past few meetings I've become acutely aware that some of our residents really do need to be informed or educated regarding their concerns or complaints," she told the audience during that October 2 City Council meeting. "They've brought forward some things that were void or very lacking of factual information."
Then, Mook devotes about one-third of the session to presenting information about city's water rates, property taxes, a regional roadway, and a new police station -- without putting any information about those presentations on the agenda.
We asked Mook and City Manager Spencer Isom for an explanation but haven't heard back from either.
Mook's complaining that citizens are uninformed, and then not informing them about a meeting that might inform them, is beyond ironic. It's possible that the City of El Mirage has run afoul of Arizona's Open Meeting Law.
The Arizona Ombudsman's Office, a state agency that aims to make government more responsive and accessible to Arizona citizens, points us both to state law and the Arizona Agency Handbook published by the Attorney General's Office.
State law dictates that a public meeting agenda "shall list the specific matters to be discussed, considered, or decided at the meeting." A.R.S. 38-431.02 (K)
And while it allows "the chief administrator, presiding officer or a member of a public body" to present a "brief summary of current events without listing in the agenda," the law is clear that no discussion is allowed.
The presentations weren't brief, and we're not sure the city employees presenting could be considered "the chief administrator, presiding officer, or a member of a public body."
The presentations did take place during the portion of the meeting designated for Isom, the mayor and City Council members to offer a summary of current events.
But instead of Isom speaking, he invites up Police Chief Steve Campbell, who provides an in-depth update on the proposed police station. When it is Mook's turn, she invites up Public Works Director Larry Dobrosky for a presentation on water rates and bills. And she asks him a question in the middle of his presentation. She also asks Finance Director Robert Nilles to give a presentation on property taxes. And she reads a handout about the city's role in Northern Parkway, a regional project to expand Northern Avenue.
Mook solicits questions and comments after the various presentations conclude -- even though the city clerk twice says (prior to the presentations) that the council can't discuss matters presented during officials' summaries.
What makes this even more of a head-scratcher is that Mook and her colleagues just attended a refresher course on the state's Open Meeting Law in August at a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference.
Usually, city attorneys make sure that elected officials don't veer off track in this manner. But, we're not sure where Interim City Attorney Robert Hall -- an estate planning and probate attorney based in New Mexico -- was during all of this.
The AG's Agency Handbook further clarifies that "public bodies should limit the use of [current event summaries] to appropriate situations and should strive to provide as much advance information as possible to the public."
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SHOW ME HOW
The situation just begs the question: Since Mook and Isom obviously planned those presentations, why not just list them on the agenda?
As Mook herself noted, some members of the community are already complaining about the way that the city is doing business, scrutinizing elected officials' behavior. Why give them one more reason to feel disenfranchised or be suspicious of city officials?
When you consider this mis-step -- along with the fact that city officials are putting up roadblocks for a councilman who wants to use a city building to meet and speak with constituents -- it helps explain why residents might be complaining in the first place.