My View

By Don Sorchych | August 13, 2008 Don Sorchych

Usama's showdown

There was overwhelming response at last week’s council meeting in favor of renewing Town Manager Usama Abujbarah’s contract. Twenty of twenty two people who spoke praised Abujbarah’s performance and urged council to renew.

Vice-mayor Gilbert Lopez asked for the overdue matter to be placed on the agenda, hoping to fire Abujbarah. It is disappointing, since this newspaper strongly endorsed Lopez for vice mayor after last year’s election.

Lopez has, for years, been the strongest supporter of the town manager.
What happened to change that? Something almost trivial.

As vice mayor, Lopez assumed somehow he had special powers. He didn’t and doesn’t.

When Lopez promised the Carefree Chamber $10,000 for the upcoming Arizona Department of Commerce meeting in September and Abujbarah told him there was no budget for it, Lopez threw a fit and told the town manager he wouldn’t vote to renew his contract again.

But Lopez, and two female colleagues on council, have bigger problems, notably open meeting law violations.

In Lopez’s case he discussed his plans about the town manager with at least three other council members. This is a violation of open meeting laws because three council members and himself constitute a quorum and such matters must only be discussed in a properly noticed public session.

editorial cartoon usamaLopez, who is big on integrity, also told council members he would resign if Abujbarah’s contract was renewed. Or was that an empty threat to get votes for his illicit scheme? In any case, as of today, he hasn’t resigned.

But if he runs in the next election, his chances of reelection are seriously diminished.
Grace Meeth’s possible open meeting violation was discussed in the council meeting, but still remains actionable should the AG’s office choose to investigate.

Meeth wrote a memo (See letter to the editor) to the mayor and council on July 20 and had she merely written the last paragraph of the missive asking to “discuss the issue of maintaining our ordinance while establishing implementation guidelines” there wouldn’t be a problem.

However, the first four paragraphs argued her position on the matter and that is reserved for open meeting discussion.

I have read Meeth’s writings for years and this is not how she writes.

So during public discussion we had this exchange:
Don: At the risk of smearing (another speaker had suggested Meeth was being smeared) Councilwoman Meeth, I’ve read this document several times. It didn’t sound like Grace Meeth and I’ve read all kinds of documents written by you. Was that document written by you?
Grace: Every single word.
Don: And not by the advice of some ex-town manager?
Grace: No.
Don: Ok, we are on the record. Thank you.

Ex-town manager of several towns including Tempe, Terry Zerkle, jumped to his feet and yelled, “This is cheap! You are absolutely a jerk!”

Another near bystander said he called me a p***k. The CD of the meeting is not clear on that point.

Mayor Vincent Francia screamed Mr. Zerkle … Mr. Zerkle!

I said to Zerkle, “Do you want to go outside?”

Zerkle said, “You won’t get up, I’ll tell you that!”

Town Marshal Adam Stein was striding across the room when Francia, repeated, “Mr. Zerkle, Mr. Zerkle, Mr. Zerkle, so you understand, one more outburst like that and you are outside. OK? Thank you, sir.”

Zerkle sat down.

Now, did I mention Zerkle’s name? No, yet he took major umbrage. Why?

The shoe must have fit.

Everybody knows Meeth and Zerkle are joined at the hip. There is an active investigation in the AG’s office filed by Zerkle concerning the water company, Bob Moore’s termination from the planning commission and other matters.

Guess what council member called the AG’s office to inquire about the status of the investigation? Grace Meeth, of course.

Zerkle has passed around yet another draft of a complaint concerning the Neary water tank site.

Why is he doing this? Good citizenship?

If you Google Zerkle, you will find he is applying all over the country for a town manager post. What could be better than to stay in Cave Creek and replace Abujbarah?

And who would support such a transition? It would be a 5-2 losing proposition.

And, as far as Zerkle’s comments, anytime, anyplace, choose your weapons. I’ll be spotting him about 20 years of age, but wolves trump weasels every time.

Arizona Republic Reporter Beth Duckett, the same reporter that insisted the Rockaway Hills water tank site was a 20 million gallon tank, when it is but two million gallons, writes articles with a negative slant about the town. When challenged by the town manager she blamed Scottsdale Republic Opinions Editor Robert Leger.

She is supposedly writing the news, so where does Leger get his information? I don’t think he attends town meetings.

Attempting to mend fences, Duckett met with the town manager last Friday.

The next day the Scottsdale Republic printed an unbylined editorial headlined, “Abujbarah should heed valid criticism.”

Yes, who would argue he “should heed valid criticism,” but when he points out, “Meeth and Lopez made valid points,” he ignores, or is unaware of, their agendas.

He began by writing, “Cave Creek Town Manager Usama Abujbarah had an unpleasant evening Monday.”

He goes on, “Sure he got to listen to a parade of people praise his leadership and accomplishments. But he also had two town council members, his bosses, blister him.”

Yes, twenty of twenty two people who spoke, praised Abujbarah. And did the front page picture in Sonoran News of a beaming Abujbarah look like he had an unpleasant evening? He anticipated the “blistering” from Meeth and Lopez and knows exactly what their agendas are.

But the editorialist gave his sources away in this sentence. “But he would be more effective by being more transparent with the council and community.”

Transparent, or transparency are Terry Zerkle’s favorite words, which he has taught to a small band of zealots who follow him blindly on what is certain to be an incredibly short trek.

As far as the other councilmember’s trials with open meeting laws you will have to wait for a future editorial.