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Opinion: About Those Other Conflict of Interest Claims
Featured

26 March 2018  

Conflict of interest is a hot topic when it comes to local fire boards Chino Valley Fire District, Central Yavapai Fire District and Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority.

  • CYFD Board Attorney Nicolas Cornelius sent a letter to Board Director Jacobs demanding that she provide personal information about her job as an independent contractor selling advertising for Specialized Publishing 
  • There was no official Board authorization for him to do so 
  • Fire Chief Scott Freitag asked the Attorney about whether or not Jacobs had a conflict of interest
  • Fire Chief Scott Freitag is listed as a "Community Contributor" on a new online publication based in Prescott Valley
  • Board Director Wasowicz has a relationship with Fain Signature Group, which is the owner of Talking Glass Media, the publisher of the new online publication
  • In a small community, jobs and relationships are frequently intertwined

Last month, Board Attorney Nicolas Cornelius sent a letter to Board Director ViciLee Jacobs, claiming that her job creates a possible conflict of interest. Jacobs is an independent contractor that sells advertising for Specialized Publishing, the parent company of Prescott eNews.

Cornelius demanded information about Jacob’s job, wanting to see her employment contract, how much she makes and what payments she has received.

Chris Jensen, attorney for Jacobs, responded quickly and to the point. "Can you please point me to 'any contract, sale, purchase or service' of CYFD which has involved Specialized Publishing or its subsidiary Prescott eNews since Director Jacobs was elected to the CYFD Board? Lacking any such fact basis for the claim of 'potential conflict of interest,' your inquiry into this false issue is a non-starter."

You can read about that here: CYFD Board Director Asked About 'Possible Conflict of Interest'.

One question that was never answered, however, was who authorized this letter from Cornelius. The eNews publication put in a Public Records Request, which asked for, "A copy of the Board/Chief authorization for Attorney Nick Cornelius to investigate/send letter to Director Jacobs regarding any potential conflict of interest."

The response?

 

She’s right. Not only was there never appropriate Board approval, this was never agendized for a Board meeting or an Executive Session.

However, while it is not exactly an "authorization" from Chief Scott Freitag, the following email (highlights added by eNews) could certainly have been a catalyst for Attorney Cornelius’ letter of February 6 sent to Jacobs:

A fair question to Attorney Cornelius would be how much writing the letter to Board Director Jacobs cost the CYFD Board? As noted in a previous article, Fire Boards Meet Monday; CYFD To Vote on Termination of Contract with Attorney, CYFD paid Attorney Cornelius and his law firm $13,054.73 in February, 2018. How much of that went towards the expense of drafting this letter to Director Jacobs?

Now, switch tracks for a moment.

According to the Arizona Corporation Commission, the parent group of a new online news publication from Prescott Valley is named Talking Glass Media, LLC. The contact information for Talking Glass Media is listed as the Fain Signature Group. Talking Glass Media is also named as the publisher of the publication.

If you go to the "Our Team" page, you find that Chief Scott Freitag, the author of the above email, is listed as a Community Contributor.

Does this mean Freitag will use this new publication to spin the facts as he chooses? Will he take the opportunity to disparage Board members he is in disagreement with? Is he being paid for his "Community Contributions"? What about his possible conflict of interest?

Additionally, on the Declaration of Interest filled out by Jeff Wasowicz, under the question, "I, or members of my family, serve as an officer or director or I am financially interested in the following listed corporations…" he lists Fain Signature Group. Fain Signature Group, the Publisher of the new news publication from Prescott Valley, is also listed as Wasowicz’ employer.

Does Director Wasowicz have a conflict of interest due to the relationship between Talking Glass Media and the Fain Signature Group?

As a matter of fact, research reveals potential conflicts of interest for every CYFD Board Director with the exception of Tom Steele, if using the nebulous logic revealed in the letter from Attorney Cornelius to Director Jacobs.

So, the question is, did each of those Directors receive a demand letter from Attorney Cornelius, wanting copies of employment contracts, all payments, salaries and/or compensation structures and much more?

Or was Director Jacobs singled out based on an emailed question to Attorney Cornelius from Chief Freitag? Was it, perhaps, a response to the many questions regarding Attorney Cornelius’ own potential conflict of interest in serving on the three local Fire Boards concurrently?

See: Public Raises Concerns About Purchase of CAFMA Admin Building & Legal Representation

Frankly, if one takes a close look at ARS 38-503, it is likely that every Board Director and the Chief would be cleared of any conflict of interest claims, especially as regards to local publications. Launching witch hunts and sending attack letters is unnecessary and extreme.

When all is said and done, it is a small community. People know each other, and they have jobs that are frequently intertwined in many complicated ways. Even if one doesn’t care for a person (whether or not they are a Board Director,) or their position on various issues, there is no justification to single them out for for harassment and retaliation.

Furthermore, such behavior could be considered as grounds for litigation, as Jacob’s attorney, Chris Jensen states:

Not only would litigation in this matter be costly to the taxpayers, it would not serve the fire districts or the community well.

Everyone deserves better.

 

 

Lynne LaMaster

Lynne LaMaster is the Founder and Editor of the eNewsAZ Network of websites. She asks a lot of questions! In her spare time, she loves photography, cooking and hanging out with her family.