We have read with great interest the coverage in the AZDS about the city manager’s decision to enter the memo of understanding (MOU) and license agreement with Desert Mountain Energy Corporation (DME) for access to and over Red Gap Ranch for helium and hydrocarbon mining/fracking exploration.
Several of us attended the Feb. 12 meeting and we believe only councilmember Austin Aslan understood how many in the audience felt. The mayor and the other councilmembers just didn’t get the sense of betrayal by the city council and manager many were feeling. It's also interesting that the interim city manager says she has the legal authority to sign license agreements. If that is true, which we are not sure it is, that doesn’t mean that she should exercise that authority in secret. She should have erred on the side of transparency. On a related matter, the city charter does expressly state, however, that the mayor has to sign all contracts, which was probably included by the drafters as a form of oversight. The license agreement is a contract, and there's still been no public explanation for why the mayor did not sign it.
The council and the city manager talk about transparency but they don’t walk the walk. We feel both the city manager (therefore staff), Mayor Evans and the city council need to do a much better job in communicating with our community. The city explains the less important items to us, but doesn’t communicate about what’s really valuable to the future of Flagstaff.
Further, releasing staff reports and final agendas late on Friday, only one and a half business days before an important discussion or vote is inadequate notice for some voters. For example, it’s been 14 years since the purchase of Red Gap Ranch, which cost city taxpayers millions of dollars, and we still don’t know if that purchase provides us with “wet water or paper water,” or if we have sufficient groundwater for the city to grow at its current rate. Why not just post the city’s well-depth data so that citizens can evaluate the situation for themselves?
Looking at the glass as half full, this DME debacle provides a great opportunity for the city council to recognize that some things really need to change. Flagstaff is still in its adolescence as far as planning and decision-making are concerned, a problem that many small cities struggle with. We need a meaningful commitment by the new city manager (which, in our opinion, should be an outside hire), the manager and the city council to shine light on things that matter to the community, including; 1) Showing respect for the public by providing more timely and coherent written documents prior to council meetings; 2) Update and provide an easy-to-use website, which it is currently is not; 3) Appointing citizen commissions that have real input into the decision-making process; 4) Reducing the current excessive cost of obtaining city public records, when such documents are not available in digital format online for free.