Is council only reacting to what staff sets before them?

By Linda Bentley | August 27, 2008

‘I’m for more open meetings like this where it’s not so structured’ ~Kim Brennan
CAVE CREEK – On Monday afternoon, town council held what was called a “retreat,” better defined as an informal working session where no action is taken.

Councilwoman Kim Brennan, who was responsible for half of the agenda, said town core businesses have been victim to robberies and vandalism and wondered what, if anything, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was doing and if there was some sort of mechanism where MCSO reports this information to the town.

franciaFrancia said he would make an appointment with the captain at MCSO.

Questioning how the town’s form of government worked, Brennan said she thought she understood council’s role. However, something Town Attorney Gary Birnbaum said seemed to contradict that.

Town Clerk Carrie Dyrek said Birnbaum was referring to election laws, in which case the town clerk is the equivalent to the secretary of state.

Councilwoman Grace Meeth claimed council was only reacting to what staff sets before them, and said, “That’s not setting policy.”

Bringing up the town’s water master plan, she said, “We approved one. There have been two others.”

Councilman Tom McGuire questioned if the town manager overstepped his bounds regarding the land purchase for the Neary water tank, but said, “If council doesn’t set policy, it’s not the town manager’s fault. It’s council’s fault.”

Meeth continued, “The county is using that document and we don’t even know what’s in it.” She asked, “Doesn’t anyone have a problem with that?”

Councilman Dick Esser responded, “I don’t and I’ll tell you why. We’ve hired professionals” and if the town made some mistakes they fixed them while under extreme duress.
Councilman Ernie Bunch said it wasn’t council’s place to involve itself with technical decisions.

Francia stated, “Council makes policy. I think the question is, ‘To what extent should the town manager be making decisions?’ I don’t think everything council approves is so clear cut.”

Charlie Spitzer commented, “It sounds to me as though council doesn’t have a clear idea as to what’s a policy document.”

Brennan said her question wasn’t about the water company but more general, adding, “I’m for more open meetings like this where it’s not so structured.”

Meeth continued addressing the water master plan.

Esser asked, “What are you accusing us of?”

Meeth responded, “The county is going to make approvals based on Gold Mountain being included in our water master plan.”

Noting the water master plan was not on the agenda; Francia suggested perhaps they could bring in Tim Delany, an expert in Arizona’s open meeting laws, to attend their next retreat.
Brennan said the town core has seen a lot of businesses go under recently, pointed out property values were down and questioned whether the market could bear raising impact fees. She recalled the study ran about $125,000 and questioned whether the expenditure would provide any benefit over the next five years.

She suggested the money be used to promote the town instead.

McGuire said he felt the town was well publicized through its events, such as the film and arts festival.

Brennan clarified her suggestion was not intended for promotion of businesses but rather all that’s unique about the town so people will come to Cave Creek.

She also said suggested they review the town’s ordinances and said, “These ordinances are not protecting us from anything.”

Before moving to Cave Creek, Bunch said his family used to come to town all the time and there always seemed to be a big sign (Magic Bird Festival) at Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway indicating something was going on in town.

Instead of dealing directly with the individuals at issue, Bunch said, “Now we smack the guy next to him,” by passing ordinances that affect everyone else.

Brennan said studies show if a place is “walkable” people will see and do more.
McGuire thought signs at both ends of town might help.

“If you’re not making your decisions on how far a gallon of gas will go, you’re throwing your money away,” said Francia, who believes high gas prices factor in to the economic downturn nationwide.

Don Sorchych commented, “The town is way overregulated,” and said two citizens were taken to jail over a sign ordinance based on a complaint filed by an “out-of-town resident.”
Back to the issue of impact fees, Brennan said, “It’s going to be a slow year,” and didn’t think the market could afford to pass through another increase.

lopezVice Mayor Gilber Lopez said, “I think raising impact fees right now with this economy is foolhardy.”

Asking what the proper method was to get an item on the agenda, Brennan noted she had made similar mistakes as Meeth that unintentionally violated the open meeting law.

Francia said council members should write to either him or Dyrek, without copying council, asking to place an item on the agenda. He said it was fine to express a point of view to just to him but preferred if they didn’t.

McGuire returned to the idea of placing large signs at each end of town with some sort of moniker for Cave Creek.

The mayor asked Sonoran News to invite the public to come up with suggestions.
Lopez brought up the town’s finances and said the town should select a professional not currently associated with the town, “just to satisfy everyone’s concerns,” to review the town’s financials and determine if its projections and forecasts are reasonable.
He said, “It’s a matter of public trust.”

After Dyrek explained the multitude of financial consultants already involved in the process, Lopez said, “I’m not sure that will suffice. If we have to go back to the citizens for more bonds … if there’s doubt, we have a problem.”

Sorchych commented, “I think it’s kind of ludicrous. I think the vice mayor is talking to the dark side that thinks there’s some kind of chicanery going on. I think the town is clean.”
Lopez took umbrage with Sorchych’s comment, stating he represents his constituents, doesn’t know who “this dark side is” and said he didn’t have to take this from Sorchych at these meetings, citing it was bad enough that Sorchych writes lies about him in his editorials. Lopez punctuated his comments by storming out of the room.

Passing out copies of an Orange County ordinance that has not been challenged by the ACLU, Francia said there would be an executive session preceding the Sept. 15 council meeting to discuss the winning side’s attorney fees in the ACLU/MALDEF lawsuit.

Addressing the illegal alien situation, Francia, speaking only for himself, said when he lived in Mexico he needed to have proper documents, visas and permits, and people here are required to do the same. Those who don’t are breaking the law, said Francia, who also didn’t believe it was beneficial to have people “camped out in our bushes.”

The next “retreat” is scheduled for Sept. 17 at 2 p.m.

Photos by Linda Bentley