By Elisha Dorfsmith
In a huge win for government openness and transparency, the City of Flagstaff recently began requiring all City boards and commissions to live stream and post their meetings on the City website. This effort was brought about by Councilman Jeff Oravits who has long advocated for increased meeting visibility.
In addition to streamed and posted meetings, a positive side effect of using City recording equipment is that commission meetings that were once held in hard to find backrooms at City Hall are now being held in the Council chambers. This change makes it much easier for the public to attend and provide input.
I am excited that Flagstaff residents will now have unlimited access to these important meetings. Boards and commissions play a large role in influencing council direction and the public deserves to be included in that process. Now if we can just get Coconino County to follow the City’s lead…
You can view all of the Commission meetings that have been recorded so far at the “Commissions” link here:
If you are a Flagstaff resident and would like to serve on a City Commission, you can fill out an application here:
Chairing the Flagstaff Sustainability Commission earlier this week. This video and all other City board and commission meeting video is available HERE at the “Commissions” link.
By Elisha Dorfsmith
Having been a critic of Arizona State Representative Bob Thorpe and many of the bills he has proposed over the past several years, I have to say I am surprised and happy to see him taking up the very important cause of Civil Asset Forfeiture reform. At least for now, Thorpe is starting off January’s legislative session on the right foot.
I don’t have access to the exact language of the proposed bill yet but from what I have seen, Thorpe wants people to be found guilty of a crime before their property is seized and kept. He also wants law enforcement to report exactly what they seize and who they seize it from.
While these changes seem like common sense protections to ensure checks and balances in the system, yesterday the AZ Capital Times reported that Thorpe’s bill is already getting a lot of push back from prosecutors. There is also a good chance that Speaker of the House David Gowan will refuse to give the bill a committee hearing. If the bill does not get a hearing it will die.
Public awareness of Civil Asset Forfeiture is at an all time high. People are shocked as they realize that property can be seized and kept by law enforcement without the targeted party ever being charged or convicted of a crime. Due to public outrage, much needed reforms are gaining traction across the country.
Liberty minded Arizonans need to tap into this momentum and make sure that the AZ Legislature knows we are paying attention when the next session starts at the beginning of the year.
For more information on Civil Asset Forfeiture see:
By Elisha Dorfsmith
Information pamphlets for the November 3rd Special City Election started arriving in mailboxes this week. This is the second batch of Charter changes that the Flagstaff City Council has sent to voters this year. These new ballot questions are much more controversial than the changes voted on in May that were largely needed to bring the City into compliance with existing State laws.
For those wondering, here is how I will be voting in the November 3rd special election:
Question 1: NO
Currently only the Mayor or three members of the Council are allowed to call a special meeting. A yes vote on this ballot question would allow the City Manager to have the same authority as the Mayor when calling for a special meeting. The City has not been able to adequately convince me that the City Manager needs this authority. If you have a good reason, I would love to hear it in the comments section of my blog.
Question 2: NO
This Charter Amendment would take most City personnel rules and regulations out of Council’s hands and give the authority to the City Manager. Again, the City has not been able to convince me that this change is needed. The Council deals with these types of issues so rarely that it is hard to argue that they are wasting their time. I am uncomfortable giving this power to an unelected official.
Question 3. NO
In 2012 the Arizona legislature decided to get involved in City elections and require City general elections to be held in November of even years. In 2014 the state lost their battle in court and cities were once again given the right to choose when they would prefer to hold City elections. This ballot measure would keep the City election in November as the State wanted.
I am opposed to this idea because I don’t believe City candidates and issues can compete for attention against state and federal issues. Imagine if Jerry Nabours and Coral Evans were trying to compete for media attention in the same election cycle as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Add in races for Congress, Governor, LD6 etc. and Flagstaff is lost in the mix. I care very much about local issues and would like to see an election cycle dedicated completely to the things we care about in Flagstaff.
Question 4: YES
This ballot question is the reverse of Question 3 and would set Flagstaff’s general election in the Spring of odd-numbered years. While I would prefer for things to go back as they were and elections be held in May of even years, this is the next best choice. A YES vote on this question means that Flagstaff’s issues and concerns will be at the forefront during the election cycle. It will ensure that the media will have time and space to cover local campaigns.
Question 5: YES
This is a common sense Charter change that eliminates inconsistent Charter language regarding elections and cleans up the document.
Question 6: NO
The City Charter allows citizens to submit a petition for a FAIR (Future Agenda Item Request) and currently this process only requires one signature. This ballot measure would change the minimum signature requirement to 25. While I understand that the City is concerned with anybody and everybody submitting FAIR requests, I don’t like the language requiring 25 signatures.
Think of it this way, requiring 25 signatures promotes a pure democratic form of government. The more people you get on your side, the better chance you have of getting your voice heard. On the other hand, keeping things the same and allowing only one signature supports a more representative form of government where a single individual has a right to be heard. The entire City may be against you but you still should have the ability to fight for your beliefs. Because I support individuals and individual rights, I oppose this ballot measure.
Question 7: NO
There is a good argument for this Charter change saying that it takes a lot of staff time and costs the City a lot of money to send purchases and contracts out for bid when they are in the $50,000-$100,000 range. The City makes a compelling case and I can almost get behind it but at the end of the day I am more comfortable with large purchases and contracts going to bid. The bidding process leaves less room for cronyism.
By Elisha Dorfsmith
This morning NAU students filed a petition at the Flagstaff City Clerk’s office with several hundred signatures calling for the Flagstaff City Council to reconsider their recently approved party ordinance. While the City Charter currently only requires one signature on a FAIR (Future Agenda Item Request), students wanted to send a strong message that many people in Flagstaff have concerns and those concerns need to be addressed.
Students are especially frustrated that while this ordinance was written with them in mind, they were never invited to the table when police wrote the ordinance. And worse, the Flagstaff City Council passed it in May when most students were gone for break and had no opportunity to voice their opinions.
Rather than call for a full repeal of the ordinance, the petition asks the Flagstaff City Council to consider the following:
1. -Raise the number of persons who constitute a party back to 15.
2. -Specifically mention that campus sanctioned events, such as club events, socials, and philanthropy events, will not be targeted.
3. -Remove all mentions of citations for indirect disturbances to the peace and safety of the public.
4. -Lower the probationary period back to 90 days.
5. -Clearly define what criminal activity one must commit to receive a ticket for a party ordinance violation.
Council has 30 days to put this request on an agenda for consideration. October 6th is the tentative date but I’ll post an update with more details once the date is set in stone.
NAU students collect petition signatures against Flagstaff’s party ordinance on campus in their push to get council to reconsider (click photo to enlarge).
By Elisha Dorfsmith
Over the weekend I filed a public records request with the City of Flagstaff asking for an update on the recently passed Nuisance Party Ordinance. How many people had been cited under the ordinance so far, who had the ordinance impacted (students, property owners, businesses) and how many people were present when the nuisance party ordinance was applied. I also asked for a copy of the City Manager’s report.
In response to my requests, I was provided with a copy of the most recent City Manager’s report as well as direct answers to my questions from Deputy Police Chief Walt Miller. Additional details were provided by the Police Records Supervisor.
City Manager’s Weekly Report
The City Manager’s report goes out to staff and Council each week and includes updates from each City department. In that report, the Flagstaff Police Department says:
“Police Department issued its first citation under the newly adopted party nuisance ordinance. The Citations were issued to two property owners in the Southside neighborhood in connection with an out of control party with over 300 people.”
Now, as you may remember, the Flagstaff City Council was very proud of this ordinance when they approved it in May with a 6-1 vote. In addition to cracking down on uncontrollable students, they said a big part of their goal was to go after property owners who allowed very large parties at student housing complexes like The Grove.
With that in mind, according to the police update in the City Manager’s weekly report, the City Council (sans Jeff Oravits who voted against the ordinance) can smile at each other and give themselves a huge pat on the back. The ordinance seems to be working as planned.
Deputy Police Chief Walt Miller’s Response
Unfortunately for the Flagstaff City Council, the status report on the party ordinance is not so cut and dry. In fact, if Deputy Police Chief Walt Miller’s response is accurate, the police update in the City Manager’s report is flat out false. In response to my public records request, Deputy Police Chief Walt Miller states:
“To date, 12 citations have been issued under the new ordinance. No property owners have been cited.”
Additional Details From The Police Records Supervisor
The Police Records Supervisor provided the rest of the information I requested. The Flagstaff Police Department must be busy enforcing the ordinance because the number increased by the time their response came through. Here’s what they had to say:
“I found 14 citations having been issued since July 1, 2015. The citations issued have all been to the tenants of the residences. The number of people in attendance at each occurrence varies. Two of the reports just stated “multiple” people. One said about 50. One said 30-40. Two said 20-30. One said 20-25. In some of the incidents, more than one citation was issued, in one case five citations were issued to residents.”
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this information is the number of people at a disturbance listed in police reports to justify using the ordinance. While some reports say specific numbers like 20-30 people, two of the reports just state “multiple” people were present.
This creates a problem. The party ordinance makes it very clear that 5 or more people have to be present in order for this nuisance ordinance to apply. The word “multiple” simply means more than one. I have been contacted by NAU students who said 4 people were at a residence listening to music and police showed up and cited them for nuisance violations. The two police reports mentioning “multiple” people just might back up their story.
With the abundance of inconsistencies and vague numbers I still don’t have solid answers to my questions. I will continue to look into this and will keep everyone updated as more information becomes available.
On a side note, assuming 14 people have been cited and assuming these citations were issued for a first offense, the Flagstaff Police Department has brought in $3,500 from this ordinance so far.
The police update in last week’s City Manager’s Report saying only property owners had been cited so far (click to enlarge).
By Elisha Dorfsmith
As the Flagstaff City Council gears up to focus on a potential water rate increase for much needed infrastructure upgrades, two issues have moved to the forefront of the conversation and are sparking debate among locals. First, should Flagstaff’s tiered rates for residents be extended to large commercial users like NAU and Purina and how much should the rates increase…3% or 7%?
Do Large Water Users Deserve A Discounted Rate?
The City has not spent a lot of time discussing the idea of extending tiered water rates to commercial and other heavy users but as today’s edition of the Daily Sun reports, environmental groups are pushing hard to make sure the idea gets more attention. Their feeling is that tiered rates encourage conservation and will lead to less water usage.
Water is a very limited, precious resource in Northern Arizona. The more water used, the more the City will have to start looking into very expensive projects like the pipeline from Red Gap Ranch. Looking strictly at water, it does not make financial sense for the City to encourage more usage by offering a discounted rate to the biggest water users in town.
To put things in perspective, the Daily Sun reports that NAU pays $4.43 per 1,000 gallons for the water they use. Since they are not on a tiered rate like average residents, their rate is consistent and even. On the other hand, if I were to use as much water as they do, I would be paying $12.02 for every 1,000 gallons. Of course, there is no way I could conceivably use the same amount of water that NAU uses but it begs the question…are these rates fair and why should large users get special treatment?
I think it is safe to suggest that the City offers the flat rate on water to heavy users as an incentive or subsidy to get them into town or keep them here. They probably feel that these large users create jobs and contribute enough in property and sales tax to make up for the discount. It seems like a “you help us so we’re going to help you” kind of deal. If so, that is a form of cronyism that should not be tolerated. If a business cannot afford to operate under the same rules and rates as average residents (remember, you and I get fined for watering on the wrong day) then maybe they should go out of business. I don’t believe in too big or too important to fail.
It is wrong for exemptions and special treatment to be written into the law for certain groups and companies. If the City can’t find it in their heart to make things fair by going that route, then maybe they should get rid of my tiered rates and let me water on any day of the week that I want to. All or nothing. No special treatment for anybody.
Should We Pay Or Should Our Children Pay?
When the City of Flagstaff spoke to Flagstaff Liberty Alliance about rate increases last month they focused a lot of their presentation on the pros and cons of a 3% or 7% rate increase. The argument for a 3% increase is that future generations will be using the infrastructure and it is only fair to put much of the debt on them. The argument for a 7% increase is that we have put off these critical repairs for years and now the bill has come due. We need to step up and fix this without going into any more debt than we have to. Which is the more economically sound and responsible route to go?
Water is a critical service provided by the City that everyone in Flagstaff uses and needs. I won’t go into philosophical discussions on privatization or what cuts can be made in the budget to find funds for our crumbling infrastructure because there is zero chance of either happening. I am taking the need for this increase at face value and asking, is it possible that tiered rates across the board and a 7% increase up front are the more libertarian positions to take?
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
“Don’t Mortgage My Future” is a sign often used at Flagstaff Liberty Alliance events. Is putting more debt on our children something we really want to keep doing?