Commentary: Butner’s ambush tactics an ugly night for Camp Verde
What appeared to be a seemingly routine item before the Camp Verde Town Council last week turned into one of the most distasteful political stunts seen in the Verde Valley in years.
At issue before the council was the re-appointment of Bruce George to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. George, a former member of the Town Council, also serves on the town’s Board of Adjustments and the Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission.
He’s never been one to shy away from serving his community.
What made this appointment even more seemingly routine was the fact that George was the only applicant for the job. He stepped up when no one else in Camp Verde would.
In the end, there was nothing routine at all with what transpired during the Jan. 8 council meeting. After hearing from the town manager that George was the only applicant for the position, first-term Council Member Joe Butner asked permission to question George.
George was on trial.
Butner assumed a role from his old days as a county prosecutor. His questioning came across as more of an interrogation, asking about George’s full legal name and his service to the town and county. Then, the bombshell. He asked George if he was riding his bike on McCracken Lane Dec. 13.
A puzzled George turned his attention to Town Manager Russ Martin with a look of bewilderment. Martin likewise reacted as if he had been blind-sided.
Then with all the flair of Perry Mason, Butner shared a copy of a police report with the other members of the council and town manager. Martin immediately asked the meeting be recessed and went outside to share the report with George. Martin later returned to the meeting and said George had withdrawn his application and the council should move forward to the next item on the agenda.
But not before veteran Council Member Robin Whatley took Butner to task for what she labeled a lack of decorum, for blind-siding the town manager and for engaging in what she described as character assassination.
What’s especially troubling about this power play by Butner is that the Dec. 13 police report he presented was stamped “dissemination restricted.” It was a complaint, obtained via a public records request by Council Member Bill LeBeau Dec. 19, that is embarrassing at best for George and only a misdemeanor at worst.
That’s all it was. A complaint. An accusation. George has not been charged with a crime. Further, at the time George was ambushed with this one-sided police report, Camp Verde officers had not even followed through to give George the courtesy of knowing a complaint had been filed against him, much less give him a chance to defend himself.
That in itself goes a long way toward explaining why the police report was stamped “dissemination restricted.” The investigation was incomplete. The follow-up report in which George was interviewed was not filed until Jan. 9, one day after the town council meeting. In that report, George adamantly denied the accusations.
As for Butner, it bears emphasis that before becoming a member of the town council, he was a pro-tem Superior Court judge. Before that, he served as both a justice of the peace and a municipal magistrate in Cottonwood.
When asked if this police report would have been admissible in any of the courts he formerly administered, Butner gave a stern “no comment,” which is about all he would say when questioned about his power play last week.
During his career as a jurist, Butner conducted business under the auspices of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Ironically, as a member of the Camp Verde Town Council, his tactics come across more as guilty until proven innocent.
This was an ugly night for the Camp Verde Town Council. This situation could have been handled 100 different ways and all of them would have been better than the ambush approach used by Butner.
Mr. George has not been charged with a crime.
He didn’t deserve to be treated like a criminal.