AG unable to substantiate open meeting law violations

By Linda Bentley | May 13, 2009

Town dismisses criminal charges against Rusts
TERRY ZERKLECAVE CREEK – On May 1, The Arizona Attorney General Office’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET) concluded its review of a complaint filed by Terry Zerkle alleging the Cave Creek Town Council and Mayor Vincent Francia violated the open meeting law.

The investigation addressed whether or not Francia improperly contacted council members regarding the removal of Bob Moore from the planning commission, and whether the mayor and town council failed to make all pertinent decisions related to the construction of the Rockaway Hills water tank site during properly noticed public meetings.

OMLET received written corres-pondence, supporting documentation, pertinent meeting agendas and minutes, as well as materials provided by the complainant. The team also conducted depositions of the various town council members and the mayor.

In a May 1 letter to Town Attorney Cliff Mattice, Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Pollock wrote, “Based upon a review of this information, we are unable to substantiate a violation of the open meeting law.

However, Pollack also said during the course of their investigation they learned the mayor and members of council may occasionally discuss issues that could potentially come before town council at a future date and strongly recommended they “refrain from engaging in any conversations between less than a quorum of the members regarding items that could foreseeably come before the Town Council because such actions could be perceived as an attempt to circumvent the open meeting law.”

On May 5, Southwest Risk Services, Inc. closed its file on the Notice of Claim filed against the town by Gary and Jeri Rust in connection with last year’s incident spurred when former Deputy Town Marshal Bobby Hernandez’s attempted to confiscate their non-compliant signs on Aug. 21, 2008.

Following a complaint filed by realtor Anna Marsolo, the incident escalated into the Rust’s being arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental operations when they attempted to protect their property from what appeared to be an unconstitutional seizure.

On March 31, Town Prosecutor Mark Iacovino filed a motion to dismiss the charges against the Rusts “in the interest of justice.”

In exchange, the Rusts signed a covenant not to sue the town for any claims that might arise out of that August 21, 2008 incident.

PHOTO: Terry Zerkle