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Mon, July 15

Mingus strongly counters consolidation claim on Open Meeting Law violation

COTTONWOOD – Legal arguments to disregard Mingus Union’s position against a 2020 school district consolidation election are “baseless and should be rejected in their entirety.”

That’s the latest legal salvo in the ongoing tug of war between Mingus and the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools over an agreed-upon date for a school district consolidation election.

The pro-consolidation Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools wants the consolidation election to take place in 2020 instead of November of this year. In prior legal filings, pro-consolidation lawyers claimed Mingus’ opposition to the 2020 election date should be ignored because the school board violated Arizona’s Open Meeting Law by not being specific enough in its instructions to legal counsel in an open meeting.

Mingus Union attorneys Ballard Spahr LLP responded July 8 that there was “no open meeting violation.”

“Nor was it improper,” the reply stated, for attorney and former Mingus school board member Jim Ledbetter to attend the district’s June 11 executive session.

Proceed as instructed in executive session

Mingus lawyers stated that Arizona’s open meeting statutes “expressly allow a public body to hold an executive session to instruct its attorneys regarding the public body’s position … in pending or contemplated litigation.

The reply also stated that Arizona law “permits a public body to give its attorneys instructions on how they should proceed in contract negotiations, pending or contemplated litigation involving the public body, and settlement discussions.”

This matter “plainly constitutes pending litigation,” the reply stated, by “instructing its attorneys to file a response to the Committee’s Rule 60 motion, the board was simply instructing its counsel on how to proceed in pending litigation so as to preserve the status quo agreed to in the stipulated judgment.”

The committee “acknowledges that the board voted ‘to instruct the Mingus attorney to act according to instructions given in executive session,’” according to the Mingus legal reply.

Which is “precisely what the Arizona Attorney General instructs public bodies to do, advising that the best practice is for the public body, upon return to the open session, to vote to authorize its attorney to proceed as instructed in the executive session.”

‘Reasonably necessary’

The pro-consolidation committee’s legal counsel argued on July 1 that Mingus Union’s position should be disregarded because the district invited Ledbetter “to sit in on the portion of the executive session in which it discussed what action to take.”

“Thus, Mingus Union’s response to the instant motion is null and void,” the committee’s reply stated.

But Ledbetter is “intimately familiar with the legal issues in this litigation and the factual context surrounding them,” Mingus lawyers countered.

“The open meeting laws make express that ‘individuals whose presence is reasonably necessary in order for the public body to carry out its executive session responsibilities may attend the executive session,” the reply contends.

Motion for relief from judgment

On behalf of the pro-consolidation committee, Munger, Chadwick and Denker Attorney Zachary L. Cohen filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment on May 31 to delay the consolidation election until the November 2020 general election.

Cohen stated in his conclusion that relief would “not impact the substantive rights of any party hereto, will serve to prevent future litigation on already-resolved issues, and will benefit the voters of the Verde Valley by allowing significantly more clarity on the issues affecting consolidation prior to the petition circulation process.”

SB 1073, which was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on April 22, does not become effective until Aug. 27

Should Yavapai County Superior Court Judge David Mackey rule that the election must take place in November 2019, then the deadline for the committee to file signed petitions with the Yavapai County School Superintendent’s Office would have been 5 p.m. on June 3.

As of Tuesday, Mackey’s office has not scheduled a hearing for the committee’s motion for relief from judgment.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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