LAKE HAVASU CITY – The Arizona attorney general has determined that the process to fill the Mohave County Board of Supervisors’ District 5 seat did not violate open meeting laws.
A complaint submitted to the attorney general’s office alleged that open meeting laws were violated when supervisors held closed door candidate interviews on Aug. 28 to fill the seat vacated by Steve Moss. The board approved hiring Lois Wakimoto to fill the seat at its Sept. 5 meeting.
Attorney general’s unit chief counsel, Oramel H. Skinner wrote in a letter, “As a general rule, holding discussions and reviews regarding major public appointments in open meeting is likely best practice and beneficial to full and open government. Nevertheless, failure to do so here was not a violation of the open meeting law.”
County officials say the ruling puts this matter to rest.
“It’s always better if we are transparent,” said Supervisor Hildy Angius. “We didn’t break any laws, but we knew that.”
Despite claims the board broke the law, county’s attorney, Ryan Esplin believes otherwise.
Esplin bases his belief that state statute 38-431.03 stipulates “Upon a public majority vote of the members constituting a quorum, a public body may hold an executive session but only for the following purposes (of) discussion or consideration of employment, assignment (or) appointment … of a public officer, appointee or employee of any public body.”
Although the word “may” can be open to interpretation, Esplin said, the law is clear, the board can go into executive session for an appointment of a public officer.
“It’s the board’s call how they want to run the proceedings,” Esplin added. “My job is to give advice as to whether something is legal or not. If the attorney general thinks its best practices I would defer to that, but from a legal standpoint it’s not illegal. In the future it would be on a case-by-case basis.”
Supervisor Jean Bishop said she knew the county would prevail.
“I never thought for a moment we violated the open meeting law,” Bishop said. “Actually I feel this was an unwarranted use of the attorney general’s office, but people have the right to interpret laws the way they want. It just seems some people find the county doing things wrong instead of recognizing what the county is doing right.”
At the time, Supervisor Buster Johnson lobbied to hold the candidate interviews in open session because it would have been the right thing to do.
“In open session everybody would have got to hear the candidates’ answers,” Johnson said. “If the attorney general feels it wasn’t a violation of the law, technically I guess it’s not, but everyone on the board has run on a platform of transparent government and it seems that we went against that by going into executive session.”
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