It was an actual case of yelling out, “Stop the presses!”
The Sedona Fire District’s Governing Board had planned to voluntarily send an informational pamphlet to voters regarding the upcoming bond election, to be printed on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
However, following a special meeting in executive session the night before, the board voted to cancel the printing.
Chairman Ty Montgomery said the board was made aware that there was a complaint sent to Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Randy Garrison relating to the bond issue. After speaking with counsel, it was recommended they cancel the printing of the pamphlet. The board hoped to hear back from the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office but did not receive direction prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
After the meeting, SFD Chief Kris Kazian said a complaint was filed with both Garrison and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk’s office. It stated the voter information pamphlet process SFD was following — based on the advice of their outside bond counsel — was not authorized by statute and constituted advocating for the election in violation of a statute.
“The county attorney declined to opine on the matter until after the pamphlet was printed,” Kazian said. “Because mailing a pamphlet is optional and without definitive guidance from the county attorney, the fire district [Governing] Board felt that the safest legal course was to opt not to mail the pamphlet.”
Kazian added that the district has already contacted the Arizona Fire District Association recommending more definitive language be placed in fire district statues to more clearly identify the procedure to be followed by fire districts in future bond election processes.
“Ideally, it would be wonderful to provide a mechanism for people to state their pros and cons about the bond,” board member Corrie Cooperman said in the meeting’s open session. “Unfortunately we were not able to get legal opinion about it in time. We can’t put the district at risk, legally. It seems the only choice is to not print the pamphlet.”
In a letter dated Aug. 22, Dwight Kadar wrote Garrison stating that he was filing a formal complaint against Kazian for trying to influence the outcome of the district’s bond election. The district is proposing a $17.9 million bond that would include replacing stations 4 and 5 while renovating stations in West Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek.
Included in the pamphlet — which would have cost close to $15,000 to print and mail — would have been pros and cons to the proposed bond from registered voters. Kadar submitted a response to SFD on behalf of the group he represents in opposition to the bond.
In the letter to Garrison, Kadar wrote that after SFD received the opposition statement, Kazian emailed him “informing us that he had the authority to ‘correct factual misstatements’ [and] did we realize how he could influence the outcome of the bond election. Additionally, Kazian told us he had ‘adjusted numbers’ and intended to ‘delete’ statements that he felt were ‘not factual.’”
When reached, Garrison said he had little interaction with either Kadar or the fire district on this matter prior to Tuesday’s vote. Copies of the complaint he received from Kadar were given to the Yavapai County Elections Department and the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office.
On Wednesday, Montgomery said Arizona Revised Statutes does not specifically address how a fire district should proceed with a bond, let alone an informational pamphlet. SFD’s bond counsel said in cases like this, he has recommended special districts follow the guidelines in ARS dealing with school districts and bonds.
Under those guidelines, Kazian has the right to change any information that is factually wrong before it goes in the pamphlet — but only after contacting that individual and informing them of the changes. However, he is not allowed to change any opinions by those for or against the bond.
Kazian said they received 15 letters in support of the bond and five against. The law they were going by states that no more than 10 pro and con opinions, each, can be printed in the pamphlet, and each must give attribution to its author. A lottery of sorts was conducted and 10 pro letters were chosen. Kazian pointed out that he made corrections to both pro and con submissions.
Kadar concluded his letter to Garrison by saying, “We believe the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, as a neutral party that oversees special districts, should be in charge of this process. The board would be the appropriate governmental body to run this election including the development of informational pamphlets — not Chief Kazian.”