FORT MOHAVE — Impasse.
That’s the word of the day, or maybe year, for the Fort Mojave Mesa Fire District governing board.
The FMMFD board had just five actionable items on the agenda for its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, not including ratifying minutes or financials.
Of those five, two resulted in a 2-2 tie with one abstention and two were tabled after three abstentions resulted in a lack of a quorum for the five-member board.
The final item was a motion to request staff to come up with ideas on procedures on how board members can get items on the monthly agenda. That passed 4-0 after board member Catherine Lopez-Rajaniemi left the meeting.
The first two items that deadlocked were items relating to the Joint Powers Agreement. Board member Tom Queen is a captain in the Bullhead City Fire District and had to recuse himself. The JPA is a proposed agreement between the BHCFD, the FMMFD and the Mohave Valley Fire District.
The MVFD board had approved moving forward with exploration of the JPA, but after the FMMFD deadlocked 2-2 twice over the past two months, the BHCFD voted to wait on proceeding.
The 2-2 vote was a yes from Keith Parker and Ardie Lauxman, with Lopez-Rajaniemi and Board Chairman Michael Bell voting no.
“I just question the credibility of the people that these two people (Bell and Lopez-Rajaniemi) are listening to,” said Parker. “We have Pamela Messineo, who didn’t say anything that was in the interview, and this private investigator J. Michael Boone, who is completely unreliable.”
Boone is a private investigator from Lake Havasu who has routinely gone after city and county governments.
“I had a Mohave County supervisor make a comment to me that ‘he (Boone) could walk into a room soaking wet and tell me it was raining out and I would have to go outside to check,’ ” said Parker. “He just doesn’t tell the truth at all. Mr. Bell sent me an email on Feb. 6 with a bunch of information about investigations about Chief (Patrick) Moore that has Michael Boone’s comments all over it.
“I know that Mr. Bell and Catherine Lopez-Rajaniemi have several questions about this that they would like answered,” added Parker. “But we can’t get there because they keep voting to not proceed.”
Parker also asked for a special meeting with the board to come up with a solution to the stalemate. He asked that the FMMFD attorney, Thomas Benavidez, help, but again, Bell and Lopez-Rajaniemi voted against the meeting.
The next item was a request by Parker to investigate ethics violations by Bell and Lopez-Rajaniemi after an email surfaced from a citizen. The citizen, Messineo, had emailed Lopez-Rajaniemi after hearing a radio interview with Chief Moore of the BHCFD. Following that interview, Messineo sent an email disparaging FMMFD Chief Bret Scholz as well as Queen. Lopez-Rajaniemi forwarded it to Bell, asking him to pass it out to the board. No other board members received it prior to the release of a feasibility study sanctioned by all three departments.
The three departments approved a feasibility study in February to be conducted by the James Vincent Group regarding the JPA. Those results were presented to the boards in June.
During that presentation, JVG introduced its projections that the BHCFD standing alone would have an average yearly surplus of $1,123,940 per year for the next five years. The FMMFD would average a $48,224 loss per year over the next five years and the MVFD would have an average loss of $73,734 per year over the next five years.
With the JPA, the JVG projected that the district as a whole would have an average yearly surplus of $1,409,423 per year for the next five years.
The savings were attributed mostly to a $473,000 reduction in personnel costs, a $258,000 reduction in managerial expenses and a $46,000 reduction in operational expenses. It also included increasing pay of personnel in the FMMFD and MVFD to the levels of their counterparts in the BHCFD.
Additional increases in savings could come from not filling upper management positions at both the FMMFD and MVFD when those positions become vacant. Scholz, the FMMFD chief, is retiring next year and MVFD has an upper management position opening up soon as well.
“I see no reason why financially, that we don’t move to the next step and discover what lies ahead,” added Lauxman. “I think that in all fairness to the taxpayers of the district, that we give this the diligence that we are appointed to do. The bottom line is that we have some serious issues to face, not just in our district, but all the districts in the next four to five years and we have to be proactive in truly exploring what there is ahead of us.
“Leave the intangibles out right now and look at the facts.”
Messineo filed to be a write-in candidate along with Lopez-Rajaniemi for the upcoming election, but was named to the board last week when the Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted to appoint her, Lopez-Rajaniemi and Parker to fill the three vacant slots and cancel the upcoming election.
While Parker wanted the ethics violation investigated, Queen already had abstained as it is related to the JPA, and Bell and Lopez-Rajaniemi abstained as it was related to them.
Without a quorum, it failed.
Parker did send a letter on Sept. 8 to the county attorney asking for his office to investigate the ethics violation.
Prior to leaving the meeting, Lopez-Rajaniemi voiced her displeasure at what she saw as a personal attack on her and her business.
“I feel like I’m being personally attacked,” said Lopez-Rajaniemi. “This is ridiculous. We are all business people here and it just keeps going on and on and on. Why?”
“This is not a personal attack,” said Parker. “This is trying to get to the bottom of unethical actions that have taken place by two board members. In our board member handbook, it states very clearly that we are not to engage in items at all where it is disparaging to board members.”
Also failing was a request by Parker that the board investigate a potential conflict of interest as Lopez-Rajaniemi owns Bullhead City Insurance as well as Mountainview Homes; her being on the board could be considered a conflict. Bell, Lopez-Rajaniemi and Queen still were abstaining and did not return for the conversation.
“We just went through a budget process where we talked about having to cut here and cut there,” said Lauxman, “and it’s not going to get any better. I certainly don’t recall all of the reasons that were given for either one of their disagreement with that on the record. Just a nay vote.”