Thu, Jan. 23

Y-AN mining stop order lifted<br><i>Open meeting law violation alleged</i>

The town of Camp Verde has agreed to suspend a cease-and-desist order against the mining operations of Yavapai-Apache Sand & Rock.

The closed-door session in which a majority of town leaders directed that legal filing has since come under fire for allegedly violating open meeting law.

According to paperwork filed Feb. 12 in Yavapai Superior Court, the town requested that the matter be held in abeyance pending attempted resolution with the Yavapai-Apache Nation and its mining company. The legal filing was intended "for the purposes of compromise and settlement," according to the document.

Town Attorney Julie Kriegh signed the document on behalf of the town following private talks on Jan. 21. The council was slated to direct staff regarding tribal mining litigation, and did not make any public vote on that subject following the executive session.

Political activists have since contested the way the legal decision was made. "This is a potential open meeting law violation," said council candidate Eric Eberhard during the public forum of a recent council meeting. "I can't find a single open meeting where it was discussed."

He quoted Arizona Revised Statutes: "A public vote shall be taken before any legal action binds the public body." Eberhard also pointed out that state law mandates all legal action of public bodies must occur during a public meeting.

"It looks like the town was working with the attorney from the other side," he said. "The only people excluded from these decisions were the public."

Fellow council candidate Rosalee Scagnelli also queried the council as to why no public input was allowed for that legal filing.

An unsigned press release from Town Hall responded to those complaints last Thursday. Town Clerk Debbie Barber confirmed that the memo originated from the town attorney.

"The town takes the position that there was no open meeting law violation," Kriegh's statement read. "Legal action as it applies to open meeting laws does not refer to filings made in court or other types of legal action by an attorney."

Her statement also asserted that it was in the best interest of the town to discuss the matter confidentially.

Said Eberhard of the written statement, "Whomever wrote this press release believes that it is in the best interest of the town to exclude the public from decision making. I hope I don't have to point out how ridiculous that is."

Political activist Leon Raper filed a Superior Court request last Thursday that an investigation be conducted into the events.

"This abeyance is simply another delaying tactic so that the Nation can wait for still another election, in the hopes of avoiding a cease and desist order," Raper stated in his request.

Camp Verde prevailed in its legal case against the unsanctioned mining operations of the Nation, according to a decision from Superior Court Judge Thomas Lindberg late last year.

That decision stated: "the Town Code and/or mining ordinance were validly adopted." It also determined that, "The nation has failed to produce any facts or evidence demonstrating that its excavation operation is exempt from the zoning regulatory scheme."

The bottom line is that the court ordered the nation to "cease and desist in mining operations on the properties at issue unless and until they comply with the mining regulations of the town of Camp Verde."

The nation has continued mining the land while applying for a use permit, which according to the nation's public relations firm is acceptable while the matter is being resolved.

According to Fred Sanchez, vice-chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the goal of the mining project is to reclaim the cleared land in the Cloverleaf Ranch and Tunlii areas to be used for agriculture and additional housing for tribal members.

Camp Verde entered into a suit with the Nation in 2001 for what the town perceived to be an illegal mining operation. The nation operates a sand-and-gravel mining operation without a use permit on fee land they own, which is zoned residential and located within town limits.

The nation has been extracting sand and gravel from fee land it owns near Arizona 260 and Old Highway 279 since late 1998, without a permit. Additionally, the nation has not paid the town local sales tax from the operation until this year. Previously, tribal leaders said, the mining was conducted on reservation land, which is exempt from local taxation.

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