SIERRA VISTA — The City of Sierra Vista City Council voted 5-2 on Thursday to appoint the county’s Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5 as the city magistrate. The approval is also related to another item voted on by the council regarding consolidated court services with the county.
In 1990, the mayor and council entered into an agreement with Cochise County for court services. As part of that intergovernmental agreement, the Sierra Vista council is required to appoint the Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 as the city magistrate.
Several members of the council struggled with this, given the process in which current Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 Pat Call was appointed.
Call was appointed by the county Board of Supervisors in February due to the appointment of Justice of the Peace Tim Dickerson by Governor Doug Ducey to the Cochise County Superior Court.
Some community members were unhappy with the closed door process of this appointment, a fact that several council members had in mind as the appointment was discussed.
Councilwoman Kristine Wolfe said she believed the Board of Supervisors put the Sierra Vista council in an “untenable position.”
“We are being told we have to approve an appointment that was done without regard to an appropriate process, and in government the process by which people come to a decision is important and I know that this council very much values that process,” she said. “An action or process can be unethical, even if it’s legal.”
“I understand there will be likely be fiscal ramifications to my vote should it carry, but I cannot and will not affirm an unethical process.”
Councilwoman Gwen Calhoun also voted against the resolution and agreed that the process in which Call was appointed was unethical.
City Manager Chuck Potucek explained that there were essentially three options available to the council — appoint the Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 as magistrate, stand up a seperate magistrate court with another community in the county or stand up their own magistrate court in Sierra Vista. That third option would have high cost ramifications, a major contributor to a number of council members voting yes.
Mayor pro tem Rachel Gray said perception of the way the appointment of Call was made was not positive, but she was voting yes to remain fiscally responsible to citizens.
“Legislating by morality bothers me in some ways,” she said. “They (the Board of Supervisors) followed the laws on the books and in my opinion it’s not our job to decide what’s right or wrong when the law says something is legal.”
“I’m coming from this as its my job as a council member to do the right thing for the City of Sierra Vista financially and fiscally, first and foremost.”
Mayor Rick Mueller reminded council that the specific wording of the resolution appoints the position of justice of the peace and not the actual individual named.
Council members Carolyn Umphrey, Sarah Pacheco and William Benning all felt that the resolution plus a separate resolution on the table updating an IGA with the county for consolidated court services expressed that they did not approve of the process used to appoint Call while still providing the city the court services it needs.
The IGA with the county for court services has also been in place since 1990 and gave the county jurisdiction to hear all magistrate court cases in Precinct 5, which includes Sierra Vista.
However, as the city was negotiating a renewal of the IGA the county discovered their methodology for determining the costs contributed by communities for a shared court were being applied inconsistently.
The council voted unanimously to extend the IGA for one year until June 30, 2020 to give the county and involved communities time to develop a more consistent consolidated court system.
Changes to the agreement also include that the city will pay $100,000 a year for court costs plus $61,000 for a part-time magistrate pro tem to be appointed by the presiding judge of the Superior Court and is a licensed attorney.
They also put in language which multiple council members thought would ensure a transparent process is used in determining future appointments.
The language of the resolutions states that “in the event the Board of Supervisors needs to appoint a Justice of the Peace for Precinct 5 again, the agreement requires the board to consult with City Council on its selection, but the final decision on the selection remains with the Board.”
During the meeting, the council also approved the tentative budget cap at $90,368,774. The final vote on the budget will occur on July 11.