Ratification to avoid nullification

By Linda Bentley | August 6, 2008

‘I don’t believe ratification is necessary of a meeting that didn’t happen’
CAVE CREEK – In light of a potential violation of the state open meeting law by Councilwoman Grace Meeth, whereas she sent a memo to Mayor Vincent Francia and copied council members regarding the extraction of guidelines from the zoning ordinance, citing “We merely removed parts of our ordinance … and moved them into a separate document and relabeled them guidelines.”

meethShe went on to say she supported the concept, and then expressed the issues she had with what was being done and said, “Now that we have created a policy that ‘all guidelines provided are subject to change or variation at the discretion of the town Manager’ it becomes a huge concern that ordinance language is intermixed with implementation language. We need to discuss this.

“I respectfully request that an agenda item be added to the August 2008 or no later than September 2008 meeting to discuss this issue …”

Meeth’s memo was forwarded to Town Attorney Gary Birnbaum with concern that it might be in violation of Arizona’s Open Meeting Law (OML).

Birnbaum responded, “We are writing this letter to emphasize that requests to place matters on a council meeting agenda should, pursuant to Section 30.38 of the town code, be directed only to the mayor, town manager and town clerk. We recommend that even those requests, and certainly requests sent to other members of the town council, should be limited to the information necessary to place a matter on the agenda, and should not include additional information or opinions concerning the merits of the matter.”

He said the reminder was being provided because of a concern letters like the one sent by Councilwoman Meeth could be construed as providing information about personal views on a topic that must ultimately be decided by the council in a public meeting.”

Without stating Meeth had violated the OML, only if, Birnbaum provided a legal remedy by recommending council consider ratification of any possible violation by following the ratification procedure prescribed in the OML, which he explained.

If council did not choose the ratification process and it was later determined Meeth had violated the OML, it would nullify any action council had taken on the subject.

Ratification brings the issue out into the public and protects the town from nullification of any actions taken by council on the subject.

Birnbaum said the matter to be ratified would be the sharing of opinions outside of a public meeting, concerning a matter that must ultimately be discussed and decided by the town council.

He said it was a means provided by statute of correcting any possible violations.

Carefree resident Jim Peirce said, during public comment, “I can assure you Terry Goddard will not act on Open Meeting Law. As someone who has pursued this … I call this a smear against Councilwoman Meeth.”

Appearing to take umbrage with Peirce’s remarks, Birnbaum said, “I brought the matter to council for ratification. I did not write the statute … It’s my duty as town attorney.”

Sonoran News Publisher/ Editor Don Sorchych asked, “At the risk of smearing Grace Meeth … Did you write that?”

“Every word,” responded Meeth.

When Sorchych asked if it was not written by some “ex-town manager,” former Tempe City Manager Terry Zerkle came unglued, jumped out of his seat in an outburst against Sorchych, causing Francia to request Zerkle maintain order or he would be asked to leave.
Vice Mayor Gilbert Lopez said, “Open Meeting Law is such a convoluted law.”

“I wrote every word of this myself,” said Meeth, “Comments had already been made in a public meeting,” and read the definition of meeting.

Meeth concluded, “I don’t believe ratification is necessary of a meeting that didn’t happen.”
Council voted 5-2 in favor of ratification with Lopez and Meeth dissenting.

Photo: Cave Creek Councilwoman Grace Meeth
Photo by Linda Bentley