City responds to state AG’s open meeting complaint investigation

Carl Cooper

Carl Cooper

KINGMAN – City Attorney Carl Cooper has sent a letter to Arizona Attorney General’s Office stating that the city has committed no violations of open meeting laws that were alleged in a Nov. 9 letter.

The AG is investigating a complaint that the city released the performance evaluation of fired City Manager John Dougherty in violation of the open meeting law.

The office is investigating another complaint that proper notice was not provided for discussion and a vote on Aug. 15 regarding the increase in the Transaction Privilege Tax, or sales tax.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that the discussion was supposed to be about using the money for pavement preservation, and instead the discussion and vote was for both pavement preservation and capital improvement projects that included interchanges on Interstate 40.

The complaint further alleges that a quorum of City Council members may have discussed the TPT rate increase prior to the public meeting.

In his letter, Cooper said the city manager’s evaluation was conducted in executive session, and the minutes of the meeting were not released. The evaluation was condensed to a document that Dougherty agreed to release.

“It is the city’s position that transparency of senior employee’s job performance is something that the public should be aware of, let alone the City Manager’s desire to release it to the public,” Cooper said.

Performance evaluations from three past contract positions have been released to the public, he added.

As for the second complaint, Cooper said the City Council discussed amending the TPT over the course of several months. They were “bemoaning” the fact that the city doesn’t have enough revenue to repair the streets or complete major capital improvement projects.

Council held a public hearing regarding the TPT on Aug. 15 that was properly agendized and noticed according to state law, Cooper said.

“There appears to be some confusion amongst the folks complaining about the TPT rate,” Cooper said in his letter to the AG. “It appears that they think the city has to designate where that increased revenue will be spent. Nowhere in the statutes (cited in the letter) require notice as to where the revenues will be spent.”

He went on to say the Council has worked “tirelessly” to ensure transparency in its actions, and was “dismayed” at the allegations.

Mayor Monica Gates also sent a letter to Arizona Assistant Attorney General O.H. Skinner informing him that the council voted in open session not to renew the city manager’s contract.

Shortly thereafter, a council member posted elements of the confidential discussion in executive session to a personal social media forum.

She expressed “grave concern” about the council not being transparent with city business outside of public meetings.

The notice of intent to increase the TPT did not include potential use of the additional revenue to fund two new interchanges at a price tag of $80 million to $100 million, Gates said.

“During the public hearing, the discussion focused on pavement preservation, the need to repair and maintain our existing streets and roadways,” the mayor noted. “After the public hearing was closed, a council member made a motion to approve a half-cent sales tax increase for the purpose of funding the interchanges vis-à-vis capital improvement projects.”

Gates said three council members created an agenda to not renew the city manager’s contract without cause, and those same three members created an agenda that would combine the two interchanges and rename it the I-11 East Kingman Connection Project, and establish financing from the TPT increase. Neither of those meetings allowed for public comment, she added.

“Whether any open meeting laws have expressly been violated will be determined by your office,” Gates said in her letter. “I believe in transparency, accountability and ensuring that the will and the needs of the community are met and upholding the letter, as well as the spirit of the law.”