Long rumored, it is now out in the open the Yavapai-Apache Nation could seek trust status for lands, known as the Tunlii and Cloverleaf Ranches, near Old Arizona 279 and 260 in Camp Verde.
Trust status means the title to the land is held by the United States in trust for the tribe or Indian Nation. Placing lands in trust excludes the town from exercising taxing and zoning authority over those lands.
Tonight’s Camp Verde Town Council agenda includes the possible approval of a resolution that hints at the Nation’s desire to move in that direction.
The resolution, if approved, supports an intergovernmental agreement that has been under negotiation for the past two months between the town and Y-A Nation addressing several issues of importance to both sides.
And in what appears to be a violation of the Arizona Public Records Law, the town, as of press time Tuesday, refused to release a draft of the IGA that the council is expected take action on tonight. The council was to meet in closed session Tuesday afternoon to get legal advice “on whether to accept the terms of the IGA,” said Ramsey.
Ramsey said the IGA draft “has been marked confidential” as part of a recommendation from the negotiating team, which includes members of the Y-A Nation and the town’s special legal counsel.
The town and the Y-A Nation have been at odds for months over the ranch properties, located in town limits, and owned by the Nation. Town officials maintained the Nation was operating its sand-and-gravel operations without a special-use permit, which is required for such a use on residential properties.
The Nation maintains the town’s mining ordinance does not specify restrictions for lands being cleared or reclaimed for future development, and as a result, are not subject to the ordinance. According to Dale Hunter, Y-A Nation’s Sand and Rock board member, the Nation hopes to eventually develop the lands for tribal housing and commercial use.
At its March 2 council meeting, town officials finally agreed to set up the negotiating team with officials from both sides to work out a mutually satisfactory agreement addressing the mining issue, the Nation’s proposed planned area development, a special-use permit and inconsistencies between the town’s mining ordinance and general plan.
Not surprising, the resolution addressing the IGA now includes the Nation’s desire to seek trust status for the ranch lands.
According to town Attorney Ron Ramsey, “There’s been some drafts, mostly prepared by the Nation. John Roberts (community development director) and I have been negotiating. We came up with a final version.”
The terms in the IGA are expected to be discussed at length, and Ramsey went on to say, he believes the final version will be adopted by both sides this evening.
Ramsey said the proposed IGA was distributed on a limited basis to council members in order to continue negotiations at a special session, including the executive session held yesterday.
Despite Ramsey’s reference to the document showing it clearly meets the criteria of a public record under the Arizona Public Records Law, he has refused to release the IGA.
“First of all, all documents prepared by city government are public records,” said Doug Metcalf, an attorney with Brown and Bain’s First Amendment Coalition. “They can only withhold release if they can show a compelling interest in privacy or confidentiality.”
Metcalf said the town’s only standing to refuse release is if the town can show the government interest of confidentiality outweighs the public’s right to know.
While Ramsey told the Camp Verde Bugle the IGA was in its final version, in a conversation with Metcalf, Metcalf said he was told by Ramsey the terms of the IGA were in the form of a cover letter. According to Metcalf, “they have a latest proposal from the tribe and will discuss it in executive session.”
Metcalf added that he was told the IGA was passed on to the negotiating team, members of the city council and the staff of the Y-A Nation.
Ramsey declined to release the document citing the need for the town to avoid litigation with the Y-A Nation.
The council meets at 6:30 p.m., in Town Hall, 473 S. Main St.