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11/11/2012 6:00:00 AM
Mohave County Board's freedom remains limited
Supervisor Gary Watson
Supervisor Gary Watson

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

A number of voters were excited Tuesday to finally be voting for a five-member Board of Supervisors. Even some of the candidates were excited, but every silver lining has its cloud.

A five-member Board also provides more representation for local residents, more discussion over important issues and more wiggle room for some behind the scenes wheeling and dealing.

When there were only three supervisors on the Board, they had to wait until a Board meeting could be held to discuss any county business, because any two supervisors meeting constituted a majority, Supervisor Gary Watson explained Tuesday night after wining a second term in office. But with a five-member Board, two members can show up at the same public event without breaking the law and without publishing a public notice.

However, state law still prohibits them from discussing official county business, said County Civil Attorney Bill Ekstrom.

"I think that all of the new Board members are pretty trustworthy, but I would probably discourage them from doing that anyway," he said. "Even if they aren't doing anything wrong, it gives the public the wrong idea."

Arizona Open Meeting Laws require that all meetings of public boards, such as the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, be held in public. The law is found under Arizona Revised Statute 38-431.

It defines a meeting as "a gathering, in person or through technological devices of a quorum of a public body at which they discuss, propose or take legal action, including deliberations." Even communications by email, telephone or fax between a majority of board members is considered a meeting under the law. Board members are also not allowed to use staff to get around the law.

Ekstrom's planning to meet with all of the new Board members and bring them up to date on the open meeting laws.

The trick comes when one or more supervisors attend the same conference.

"Under those circumstance, we tell them not to discuss any county business and not to sit together," he said.

Having a series of discussions with different Board members outside of a public meeting is also considered a no-no by the law.

"Public officials may not circumvent public discussion by splintering the quorum and having separate or serial discussions with a majority of the public body members," a booklet put out by the Arizona Ombudsman states.

"The whole idea is to discuss the public's business in public," Ekstrom said. "The deliberations should be held in public as well. It shows the public how genuine and open you are."

The Arizona Attorney General and Mohave County Attorney are responsible for any investigations of possible open meeting law violations. Complaints can also be filed with the Arizona Ombudsman's Office.

In the more than 40 years that Ekstrom has been working for the county, violations of the law have been rare and have usually been made inadvertently.

In one case several years ago, the spouse of a supervisor was meeting with the other supervisors and trying to convince them to vote a certain way, he said.

In that case, the Attorney General's Office ruled that the Board member wasn't violating the law, but it still wasn't a great idea, Ekstrom said.

According to the law, public officials found in violation can be removed from office and fined up to $500 for each violation. The county is not allowed to pay the fine for the supervisor found guilty of violating the law. A court can also order a supervisor to pay attorney fees.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Article comment by: say what

dont believe a word ekstrom says ....

you really kneed to take your evidence and contact the state attorneys office or DPS.

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012
Article comment by: dont believe a word ekstrom says

ekstrom has been lying to us for 40 years. I know that the sups used to meet at the old head of Mceda's house to discuss the buddy-buddy deals on the next agenda. dont trust anything ekstrom tells the new supervisors, he just wants to screw them.

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012
Article comment by: korey weiss

extremely light penalty. yes no maybe

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2012
Article comment by: Jim Consolato

Good write up Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa. Having said that a few things seemed to jump off the paper at me when I read this article. The first was the use of the phrase "wheeling and dealing". I honestly think Mohave County has seen a bit too much wheeling and dealing in the last four years. I actually think the County, via the old BOS, has welt and dealt us right out of many of our constitutional rights. They have welt and dealt away honesty and integrity and instead have given us lies and arrogance. I could go on but I think I have made my point.

When talking about Open Meeting laws County Civil Attorney Bill Ekstrom said, " Even if they( the BOS ) aren't doing anything wrong, it gives the public the wrong idea". Hey Bill regarding the old BOS, the citizens got the right idea as shown by a never ending storm of protest and criticism. Sad truth is they did many things wrong. I also find it somewhat amazing that there seems to be a concern now about the public image of the BOS. I do understand that lawyers must defend the defenseless at times and you were only doing your job. Let's do hope that the new BOS will clearly show the public how genuine and open they are in the future, not only as a five member board, but as individuals with a public servant's attitude and demeanor.

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2012
Article comment by: Jeanne Kentch

I think what people might want to keep in mind is that the "official county business" Mr Ekstrom is referring to is items on the county agenda. So just in case you see two members of the board at a local breakfast spot, don't assume they are discussing items on the agenda. There are plenty of other items of concern that can to be discussed, leading to an informed board.

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