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Flagstaff city manager resignation cites 'discourteous' treatment from council members

Flagstaff City Manager Josh Copley submitted his letter of resignation Wednesday, alleging discourteous behavior by a pair of unnamed members of the city council.

“Over the course of the past few months, I have repeatedly been treated in an unprofessional and discourteous manner by two city council members who seem to be more concerned with their political ambitions and personal agendas than the good of the city as a whole,” Copley wrote in his letter of resignation.

“While I have come to expect this type of behavior from those two, I am deeply disappointed in the remainder of the council who appear to have chosen to succumb to unseemly tactics and renege on a commitment made to me to allow me the small courtesy of deciding when I would choose to retire,” he wrote. “As a leader, I would never think to treat my subordinates with such careless disregard and to allow this to pass without strenuous objection is a discredit to me and, vicariously, to all of the wonderful employees of our great city.”

Copley did not specify the two council members to whom he was referring.

In the letter, Copley said his resignation would be effective May 8.

“There are a host of difficult challenges that lay before the city in the coming months, and I do not feel that I now have the ability to effectively lead us through them without the support and backing of the council,” Copley wrote.

Copley said he hoped his resignation might spark some change in the council’s behavior.

“My hope is that my departure will spark a renewed interest among some council members to put aside any petty differences and strive to respect and value each other for the greater good of our citizens,” he said in the letter. “This may set the stage for a more productive and respectful dialogue with city staff, who deserve our best first thoughts and undivided attention.”

Copley was appointed city manager in August of 2015, originally for a term that was scheduled to expire in February 2017. His contract was then extended to last through February 2019.

His contract states that if he resigns voluntarily, the city is not obligated to provide severance pay.

City spokeswoman Jessica Drum said the city council will take action on the resignation over the next few days.

He was originally appointed for only 18 months, while the council was supposed to search for a permanent city manager.

He took over after interim city manager Jeff Meilbeck’s contract ended. Meilbeck served as interim after Kevin Burke, the former city manager who served in the position for seven years, left for a job in Paradise Valley.

The city manager’s duties include preparing the agenda ahead of city council meetings, ensuring ordinances and provisions of city-granted franchises, leases, contracts, permits and privileges are observed, hiring and firing city employees, preparing an annual proposed budget, advising the city council about the needs of the city and other responsibilities pertaining to city leadership.

Copley’s contract guaranteed him a base salary of $183,600 and a $350 monthly vehicle allowance.

His contract required the city council review and evaluate Copley’s performance annually, no later than February 26 of each year he served as city manager.

Copley was appointed deputy city manager in January 2012. He oversaw the management of the Flagstaff police and fire departments, utilities, management services, risk management, human resources, information technology, community development, city clerk and real estate.

Copley has been employed with the city for 33 years, including 26 years with the Flagstaff Police Department, where he worked his way up from patrol officer to deputy police chief. He has a master’s degree in management with an emphasis in public administration from Northern Arizona University and a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix.

In his resignation letter, Copley said he has been grateful to serve as city manager.

“It has been an honor and privilege for me and, indeed, the highlight of my long career with the city of Flagstaff,” he said.

Copley resignation letter

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Hopi lawsuit against snowmaking at Arizona Snowbowl with treated effluent reinstated

PHOENIX -- An Arizona tribe has the legal right to challenge the use of treated effluent to make snow -- even on public lands -- the state Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The judges said the Hopi Tribe had made sufficient allegations that tribal members were suffering a "special injury" from the use of the reclaimed wastewater at Snowbowl. Judge Kenton Jones, writing for the unanimous panel, said the tribe should be able to make their case to a judge and jury.

But Jones stressed that he and the other two judges were not expressing any opinion on whether the claim is valid.

Thursday's ruling is the latest twist in a fight that dates back decades, first in an unsuccessful bid to try to block the ski operation on public lands. When that failed, the Hopi along with other tribes went to federal court, making various environmental and religious freedom law claims to preclude Arizona Snowbowl from using treated effluent purchased from Flagstaff to make snow.

Those, too, ended up a legal dead-end in 2008 when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed the case.

What's different in this case is that the Hopi Tribe is using state laws on public nuisance to make its case. And unless Thursday's ruling is overturned by the state supreme court, it will force a trial on the merits.

This lawsuit began in 2010 when Flagstaff was moving forward with the sale of its treated effluent to Snowbowl.

In legal papers filed in Coconino County Superior Court, tribal attorneys argued that the use of the reclaimed wastewater to make snow harmed the environment, interfering with the ability of the public to use the San Francisco Peaks because the waster contains chemicals that will remain after treatment, including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, legal and illegal drugs, hormones, food supplements, solvents, insecticides, detergent compounds and other chemicals.

The argument is that Snowbowl will be unable to contain those to the ski area because runoff would enter the water supply and wind would carry blown snow beyond the recreation area.

Attorneys for Snowbowl and the city argued that only those who suffer a particularized injury can bring public nuisance lawsuits. Judge Mark Moran agreed, tossing the claim.

Jones, however, said challengers are, in fact, making the case that tribal members will be harmed in a way beyond that of the general public.

For example, he said, one allegation is that the artificial snow will end up in springs and water bodies the Hopi tribe used for ceremonial and utilitarian purposes.

There also is a claim that the treated effluent will affect the purity of ceremonial objects collected by tribal members during pilgrimages. Tribal attorneys said these objects "cannot be used for ceremonial purposes if they become tainted or impure."

Jones said the only thing necessary at this stage of the case is that the tribe "set forth facts that, if proven, would warrant relief." He said they have met that burden.

But Jones was careful to say the burden is still on the plaintiffs to make their case.

"We express no opinion as to the merits of the tribe's underlying claims," he wrote.

Before Moran's ruling, the Hopis had offered a settlement with the city, calling for an earthen filter to be built and maintained by the city in exchange for dropping the lawsuit. The City Council tabled the offer and negotiations broke off.  

Jessica Drum, spokeswoman for the city, said its attorney was reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment.

 J.R. Murray, general manager of Snowbowl, said it was too soon for comment.

“This opinion came out this morning, and Snowbowl is evaluating the opinion, and is evaluating its options going forward," Murray said. “Because this matter is in litigation, Snowbowl will not be commenting further.”

The case now goes back to Coconino County Superior Court.

City Manager Josh Copley