Thu, Feb. 20

Editorial: Fairness question: Butner receives legal protections denied George

The Camp Verde Town Council met Tuesday behind closed doors to decide what to do about the mess Joe Butner created.

Tuesday’s executive session was called at the advice of contract Town Attorney Bill Sims to discuss the complaint filed by local resident Bruce George. Jan. 8, George was up for what seemed to be a routine appointment to the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission.

It was anything but routine. Butner produced a report from an incomplete police investigation that accused George of something for which he was never charged with a crime.

It’s easily understood why council members and staff want some privacy to hash this one out with their lawyer. Arizona law clearly allows matters such as this to go behind closed doors.

But it begs the question of where was the town’s legal counsel when both George and Town Manager Russ Martin were blind-sided by Butner’s political ambush?

Further, it raises the question of fairness of why Butner is allowed the courtesy of having this dispute aired in private when Mr. George never received the same courtesy.

As a point of comparison, Cottonwood, unlike Camp Verde, employs its own city attorney instead of going the contract route. As a result, City Attorney Steve Horton is present at every single meeting of the Cottonwood City Council. In addition, he attends the city’s many boards and commission meetings on an as-needed basis.

In many of these meetings, Horton will never say a word. But his presence is still of utmost importance. If for no other reason, Horton is present to realize when a spark is about to ignite that would cause a legal fire for the city. He puts out fires before they can start.

You can bet that if a Cottonwood City Council member attempted the kind of stunt that Butner perpetrated on George, Horton would have called a halt to the proceedings before any damage could be done.

Of course, the legal luxuries Cottonwood utilizes is a classic case of a world of “haves and have nots.” Camp Verde – ditto for Clarkdale and Jerome – likely cannot afford the luxury of paying an attorney to attend every single one of its council meetings.

Given that fiscal reality, Camp Verde probably needs to invest in some education courses for its elected officials – or at least for Butner - so it’s clearly understood the legal landmines they are to avoid.

This situation with Butner and George was handled as poorly as anything we’ve seen in the Verde Valley in decades.

Town officials need to take every precaution possible to make sure it does not happen again.

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