Scottsdale council members praised the clarity brought by the Arizona attorney general’s legal opinion that leaves no doubt that they can speak with the media or their constituents about an upcoming vote.
But they were mixed on whether they were given bad advice just three months ago when they were told to be cautious when speaking with the public about how they might vote.
Scottsdale City Attorney Deborah Robberson told council members during a September ethics training session that they should be cautious when discussing upcoming votes.
Scottsdale Unified School District attorney Kim Clark had a similar take for the school board during a training session in January.
On Monday, Attorney General Terry Goddard issued a four-page opinion concluding that the Arizona Open Meetings Law — which is designed to prevent elected officials from privately meeting or communicating among themselves to discuss how they plan to vote at a posted public meeting — does not prohibit a member of a public body from speaking to the media about an issue that may come before them.
“If members of public bodies refrain from speaking to the media, then government becomes less open to the public, not more,” Goddard wrote in the opinion.
Scottsdale Councilman Jim Lane raised the issue at the September ethics training session, saying he had been told privately by Robberson to watch what he tells the newspapers.
Robberson said she had no specific recollection of those conversations.
“This is good news, and it seems to me to be logical,” Lane said of the opinion.
Robberson said she hadn’t read the opinion, but said from what she read in newspaper reports that it does provide clear direction.
“Hopefully it clears up ambiguities left by prior opinions and training materials,” Robberson said.
Robberson never told the council not to discuss their upcoming votes with the public, but warned them to be cautious.
The comment went far enough, though, to receive criticism from some council members.
“It was an attempt by staff to neuter the City Council to make us less effective,” Councilman Bob Littlefield said. “I never believed it was right.”
Councilwoman Betty Drake, however, said Robberson’s advice was good at the time.
“It was a conservative approach and one aimed at keeping us out of trouble,” said Drake, who said she was happy to see Goddard’s opinion.
Clark, the school district’s attorney, could not be reached for comment. District offices are closed for the holidays and will reopen Jan. 4.
Robberson said she plans to send the council members the opinion, but is not planning any more public sessions to discuss the matter.
State Reps. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, and Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, had requested the opinion.