An exchange of letters took place over the last couple of weeks between attorneys. That’s nothing new or unusual, lawyers write letters all the time. What is startling, however, is that the first letter came from Nicolas Cornelius, Attorney for the Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) Board, the Chino Valley Fire District (CVFD) Board and the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA) Board.
Background: The fact that Cornelius is the attorney for all three Boards has been publicly questioned on several occasions as a potential conflict of interest. He, himself, was even concerned about it, stating in a November, 2017 CYFD meeting, "I put my concerns about any potential conflicts in writing and it was signed by this agency and by that agency…" during the November, 2017 meeting.
So, it might seem a little ironic that Attorney Cornelius, who is concurrently serving three different fire boards which have both separate and combined interests, would send a certified letter to Board Director ViciLee Jacobs regarding her "possible conflict of interest" with serving on the CYFD Board and her job.
What is her job? Jacobs is an independent contractor who sells advertising for Specialized Publishing, the parent company of Prescott eNews.
Cornelius never explains in his letter why her job possibly creates a conflict of interest, instead he just demands information about it. He wants to see her employment contract, how much she makes, what payments she has received.
Another thing that is not clear is why Cornelius embarked on this investigation. There was never a Board directive for him to do this, at least not one that was properly noted in an agenda. Who authorized the expense of having the Board Attorney send this letter? Lawyers don’t work for free. And these are taxpayer dollars in question. Is this the best use of those monies?
Attached to Cornelius’ letter was a copy of an invoice for advertising purchased by Connie Cantalme when she ran for the Prescott Council. Did Cantelme complain to the Fire District about a conflict of interest with Jacobs?
"No," Cantelme said emphatically. "I didn’t give them a copy of that invoice. I don’t know where they got it."
"I don’t understand why this could be a conflict of interest for ViciLee," Cantelme continued. "If you’re on the Fire Board, you can’t have a job?"
Cantelme continued to reiterate that she was not involved in this issue at all and really didn’t appreciate having her name brought into it. "I truly don’t want to be involved in any of that," she said.
The second attorney letter? That came from Chris Jensen, the attorney representing ViciLee Jacobs and Tom Steele. The basis for his response to the letter from Cornelius comes from the actual law.
Editor’s note: We added the highlights.
Jensen’s reply to Cornelius’ letter was to the point.
"Your February 6, 2018 letter… makes no sense to me: How is there, even remotely, a 'possible conflict of interest' for Director Jacobs under Arizona law?" Jensen writes. "Can you please point me to 'any contract, sale, purchase or service' of CYFD which has involved Specialized Publishing or its subsidiary Prescott eNews since Director Jacobs was elected to the CYFD Board? Lacking any such fact basis for the claim of 'potential conflict of interest,' your inquiry into this false issue is a non-starter."
"Obviously, your letter seeks information which is confidential," Jensen noted. "It is an attempted invasion of privacy and an attempt to violate confidentiality as to the independent contractor [agreement] that Director Jacobs has with Specialized Publishing. Without having a plausible theory that there is a 'possible conflict of interest,' Director Jacobs declines to provide the information you seek, except to advise you and the Board that there is no employment agreement, there is only an independent contractor agreement, the details of which are not the business of CYFD or you because there is absolutely no evidence that Specialized Publishing has, 'any contract, sale, purchase or service' to CYFD…"
Jensen obviously is wondering who authorized this letter from Cornelius. He concludes his response by saying, "Please advise whoever instructed you to send this unsupported and erroneous letter that, in the event of litigation, we intend to use your February 6, 2018 letter as further evidence of ongoing harrassment of Director Jacobs as a Public Official for bringing to light issues that the public has a right to know and is therefore intended to deter and punish her. Please be cautious of repeating any such 'punishment' in the future, as it might be actionable."
The next fire district meetings will take place Monday, February 26 at the Chino Valley Town Hall. (This is a new location.)
4 PM: Chino Valley Fire District
5 PM: Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority
7 PM: Central Yavapai Fire District