As Americans, one thing we cherish is the ability to question decisions made by those we elect. The ability of the janitor all the way down to the lawyer to speak and be heard is not only a time honored tradition but a right guarantied in the Constitution of our nation. The truly transparent leaders will take the time to completely listen to those they serve and engage the public by pledging to get answers or simply explaining their decisions. At the end of the day you may not agree but when treated with respect, and feeling that a genuine attempt was made by your representative to answer your questions, you can walk away with a sense of satisfaction that the system works. This is not happening at CAFMA.
I attended a board meeting a couple of months ago to speak on behalf of the Citizens Tax Committee and address concerns about their unfunded liability in their retirement system. Much like the City of Prescott just a few years ago, they were only 51% funded in 2016 and things are not getting any better. This year the PSPRS folks in Phoenix projected a 1% increase and to be safe CAFMA budgeted for a 3% increase. The actual number came in at a staggering 5.88% increase and in the words of Chief Freitag “Because PSPRS is using less than sound numbers for their projections, it will be difficult for us to establish a true projection for our budget moving forward.” I read the concerns of CTC and, to his credit, Board Director Jeff Wasowicz contacted me to set up a time to meet and discuss what could be done. Thats the way it should work.
It was other things I witnessed and became aware of from that meeting that made my ears perk up like a german shepherd. When I reported what I witnessed to the other members of CTC they asked that I return to speak again. My presentation of concerns ran about 6 minutes and the board only allows 3 minutes per person. I would have thought because I was representing many taxpayers they would have let me finish but I was abruptly cut off by Chairwomen Petitt and not allowed to continue. When I announced after the meeting that should any board member or the press like to hear the rest of what we had to say that I would finish reading our statement, Chair Petitt told me that the room was not going to be allowed to be used. I had to go outside into 35º and windy weather to finish reading our statement.
A little background, I thought CAFMA (Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority) was created for cost savings between CYFD (Central Yavapai Fire District) and CVFD (Chino Valley Fire District). I did not realize that the two boards surrendered all assets and employees to the newly formed additional layer of government known as CAFMA.
Problems With That:
CYFD and CVFD are made up of boards elected by the taxpayer but CAFMA is made up of a few select members of each board. They are not elected by the taxpayer to that position on the CAFMA board. (Possible solution: Public election of CAFMA Board. Representation for the taxation.) This was clearly a problem when a CYFD board member questioned the rubber stamping of millions of dollars to CAFMA and was told by the attorney that he would be breaking contract and possibly creating lawsuits against the CYFD if he did not vote in favor of approving the motion.
The same attorney represents all three boards and we felt this might represent a conflict of interest just in how it was set up. If an attorney is advising one organization he represents that a proposed action breaches the contract with another organization he represents, isn’t there already a conflict?(Possible solution: Separate legal representation for each board that could solely represent the best interest of the taxpayers of the individual district.)
Only Chief Freitag and the chair of the board can put something on the agenda. Board members with an opposing view or carrying concerns from those they represent are locked out. (Possible solution; Any two board members can put something on the agenda.)
Other questions asked: Is money collected from taxpayers in CYFD being used to fund CVFD? Chino is topped out in what they can asses its taxpayers so when additional money is needed where does it come from?
We wanted to ask that the board review CAFMA and how is was set up and operating but we were never allowed to finish. I was asked to express how every member of CTC wanted the rank and file fireman to know that we feel they are a very professional and well trained asset in our communities but we weren’t allowed the time.
We did not get answers. Instead we were smeared in the weekly publication Chief Freitag sends to the fire personnel. He said we had a lack of knowledge of how CAFMA was structured. (That's why we were asking.) He accused me personally of writing a “script” that was read by a board member. (100% untrue.) He said “We know that there are a few who wish to spread hate and discontent about our agency.” That sounds more like a Seattle Starbucks employee than a Fire Chief. We spread hate and discontent? We just wanted answers and to be heard.
It has now taken yet another step in the wrong direction. The agenda for the meeting comes out before the meeting is to be held and allows the public time to see if anything that will be discussed or voted on is of concern to them. The “Call to the Public” is traditionally one of the first things on the agenda so the taxpayer can make their concerns known before discussion or vote. The board has now moved “Call to the Public” to the last thing on the agenda. Do you want to have your voice heard? Too bad, we already voted. Do you have an idea on an item that might be beneficial? Too bad, we already voted.
The contempt for those who fund their operation is growing rather than shrinking. We want transparency and they throw up a wall. We want to have a public discussion and they prefer to whisper. I have brought concerns of the CTC before the Prescott City Council and Yavapai County Supervisors. Every time we were treated with respect. They paid attention to what we had to say, even if they disliked every word, instead of focusing on a stopwatch and proclaiming “Time” after three minutes.
There is nothing wrong that can’t be fixed, but the servant heart of the board needs a defibrillator.
If You Go:
What: Fire District Board Meetings
When: Monday, January 22
Where: 8603 E. Eastridge Drive, Prescott Valley
Chino Valley Fire District meets at 4 PM
Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority meets at 4:30 PM
Central Yavapai Fire District meets at 5:30 PM