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Our Perspective: CYFD Directors ViciLee Jacobs and Tom Steele
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25 May 2018   ViciLee Jacobs and Tom Steele

"Why ask questions?" A. We're just doing our job.

We join together to make this statement to explain to the public our reasons for being critical and questioning frequently the decisions of the Central Yavapai Fire District Board and high-level administrators of the Fire District. We believe that as elected public officials, we have a duty to the voters and taxpayers to bring out the truth, especially when it relates to a taxing entity that has a budget of o er $20 million a year, which is funding and is required by the Intergovernmental Agreement to fund the activities of the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority ("CAFMA"), which has a budget nearly $24 million (with Chino Valley Fire District paying over $3.8 million of the total that goes to CAFMA).

We take our responsibilities very seriously. We are troubled when important financial information is not discussed publicly so that there will be a degree of transparency in the operations of the Central Yavapai Fire District on which we serve.

On repeated occasions, prior to the creation of CAFMA, the public was promised transparency financially and otherwise. In addition, the taxpayers were promised that the creation of CAFMA, and the Intergovernmental Agreement by which it exists, would save the taxpayers money. This has not proven to be true, as indicated by the attached "Tax Rates set by Yavapai County Board of Supervisors," indicating that since 2013, the CYFD tax rate has gone up as indicated below:

2013 CYFD tax rate     

    2.3440%

2014 CYFD tax rate     

    2.3713%

2015 CYFD tax rate     

    2.4866%

2016 CYFD tax rate     

    2.5196%

2017 CYFD tax rate    

    2.5598%

In practical terms, the Central Yavapai Fire District tax levy produced:

$11,463,180 in 2013
$12,355,859 in 2014
$13,284,318 in 2015
$14,116,233 in 2016
$15,282,904 in 2017

This contrasts with the repeated, constant, historical and current promises of Fire Chief Scott Freitag and others that the Central Yavapai Fire District taxpayers would see a reduced tax rate with the creation of CAFMA in 2015. We two Directors of CYFD stand alone in opposing this steadily increasing tax rate, and we believe it is our duty to do so for the taxpayers.

We are very troubled by the conflicts of interest that have been created by the Intergovernmental Agreement on which CAFMA was founded. Not only do Central Yavapai Fire District, Chino Valley Fire District, and CAFMA all have the same Fire Chief, the same administrative personnel, the same Fire District attorney, Nicholas Cornelius, and, even more disturbingly, there are three CYFD elected Directors who serve on the CAFMA Board. All these things create repeating conflicts of interest because what is spent for Chino Valley Fire District by CAFMA, fulfilling the needs for the under-funded Chino Valley Fire District, is drawing on the CYFD taxpayers to make up the gap. We believe that this is fundamentally wrong for the CYFD taxpayers who elected us, at least unless and until it is understood and approved by them.

We are giving voice to this concern, and frequently getting aggressive opposition from others in the CYFD Board, Fire Chief Freitag and Attorney Nicolas Cornelius.

We have concerns about the financial management of the Fire Districts, which go beyond just the conflict of interest issues. We have pointed out recently our concerns about CYFD producing large checks without using the proper procedure. CYFD procurement process is also dine in an inconsistent manner, sometimes without adequate transparency. With a CYFD budget of over $20 million, we have a very large and important duty to the taxpayers to mind their money carefully, which we hope to perform with diligence in questioning things that deserve inspection and evaluation as they come to our attention.

As to transparency in the operations of the Central Yavapai Fire District, this was promised even before the creation of the Intergovernmental Agreement that led to CAFMA by Fire Chief Freitag and others associated with CYFD, along with Fire District attorney Nicholas Cornelius. In our current situation, the CYFD Board Chair and/or Fire Chief are using Agenda control to minimize our input and/or questions and those of the public in CYFD Board meetings, preventing those issues from being discussed openly, including financial questions.

There is aJso a consistent pattern of having executive sessions for legal advice followed by a motion, immediately seconded and voted on without any discussion. This is not, in our opinion, consistent with the intent of the open meeting law or the promise of transparency that was given repeatedly before the Intergovernmental Agreement became a fact. We are doing our jobs by asking questions now to promote transparency. The aggressive opposition we receive from others in CYFD makes us suspect all the more that increased transparency is badly needed.

Denial of First Amendment rights in the "call to the public" section of our Board meetings is very troubling to us. We cannot understand how a public entity like CYFD that promised transparency is now, after the creation of CAFMA, doing so much to prevent transparency and to prevent public expression and communication with the public over issues that arise more and more as the lack of transparency grows at CYFD. We intend to continue our efforts to increase transparency by CYFD for the sake of the voters who elected us.

In conclusion we have not just the right under the First Amendment to the Constitution, but also the duty as elected public officials to question the various problems indicated above with the Central Yavapai Fire District. The more they try to publicly shame and ridicule us for doing our job, the more we intend to be true to our values and commitment to bring truth to the public.

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