First Amendment Coalition Attorney Doug Metcalf isn’t going to take no for an answer from Camp Verde Town Attorney Ron Ramsey.
In a stinging reply to Ramsey’s latest refusal to release a draft intergovernmental agreement between the Town and the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Metcalf told Ramsey in no uncertain terms to produce the former draft IGA, which was rejected by the council June 2.
“The public has a right to know the substance of the Town’s former negotiating position,” Metcalf explained in his June 8 letter.
At the same time, town officials have agreed to hold a news conference, tentatively scheduled for June 26, to provide information about the issues being debated by both sides, but not their negotiating positions.
The town and Yavapai-Apache Nation began negotiations in early March to develop an IGA. The draft IGA, which was reviewed by the town council June 2 in executive session, was expected to cover issues of concern to the town over what town officials have maintained were illegal sand-and-gravel mining operations on the Nation’s property along Arizona 260.
Responding to Ramsey’s noncompliance, Metcalf said it is obvious the town possesses a draft IGA rejected by the council and that there is no interest in confidentiality because it is not a part of the current negotiations. Metcalf demands Ramsey produce the document. This is Metcalf’s third go-round with the town official.
Metcalf goes on to say that it appears from Ramsey’s previous correspondence the town has taken a new position with respect to the negotiations and that the new position in the IGA must be written down, making it a public record. He states that once the town’s position is communicated, there is nothing confidential because the Nation is aware of the Town’s bargaining position.
“The only people who will not know the town’s position are its own citizens,” Metcalf said.
Ramsey shot back a letter to Metcalf June 13. Ramsey contends that the assumption the original draft IGA has been discarded is not correct. Ramsey’s letter states that it is a working draft prepared by the Y-A Nation attorneys that the negotiating teams took back to each council for review and comment.
He goes on to say that the town council took two sessions to complete its review (May 17 and June 2) and made partial modifications June 2 with instructions to counsel and team representatives. He states that those instructions from the executive session are not releasable citing a statute amended by the Legislature that holds executive session protection for “contracts that are the subject of negotiations and settlement discussions in order to avoid or resolve litigation.”
“The potential IGA would be such a contract, and it is certainly being negotiated to avoid litigation,” Ramsey declared.
He maintains the topics surrounding the executive session, the information and materials carried to the Nation, would also be protected.
“How can we be expected to disclose to the press and public the bargaining positions being taken by either side and still be able to carry on negotiations? Your request essentially seeks to add a reporter to the negotiating team.”
Ramsey argues that he’s discussed Metcalf’s contention of public records disclosure standards with the Y-A Nation’s Attorney General and that they both agree disclosure of the IGA and related material would “seriously jeopardize the success of the eventual proposal that will be presented to the public for review.”
Ramsey says the public must wait for public hearings on the matter and warns that failure to do so could cause “substantial and irreparable public harm if disclosure breaks off negotiations and we are looking again at litigation.”
“I agree with Ron Ramsey’s legal opinion not to release the IGA in its current draft form. I do not believe it serves anyone well to have numerous drafts of any negotiating agreement as it changes from one meeting to the next (the town council and or the negotiating team),” said Mayor Barbara Miller. “When a final draft is accepted by both sides, this is what I believe will be the intergovernmental agreement. This will be immediately released to the public. Again, I assure our citizens that they will have time to review and give their input on this agreement before any action will be taken by the town’s council.”
The town’s second-in-command official, recently re-appointed as vice mayor, Brenda Hauser doesn’t agree. “I don’t see the value of withholding it. It’s no big deal and should be released,” she said.
Asked why she thinks they are withholding the document, Hauser said, “I think because the attorneys are saying it’s a work-in-progress. The changes are being presented at this time by the negotiating team. To release the original document wouldn’t be an accurate document.”
Plans are in the works to hold a press conference to talk about the IGA issues, according to Community Development Director John Roberts. Roberts is one of four negotiators working on the IGA.
“It’s really an information session to discuss the issues surrounding the current IGA negotiations. It will not be a discussion of actual negotiations. For instance trust status is a major issue, which will be discussed. In-lieu fees will also be a topic,” he explained.