Chris Kuknyo made a statement Thursday evening at the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA) Board meeting. He had asked in advance to be placed on the CAFMA and Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) agendas, but the Board chairs refused. Two Directors from Central Yavapai Fire District (CYFD) even requested that he be placed on the agenda, but Chair Darlene Packard and Chief Scott Freitag declined to allow Kuknyo an agendized presentation.
So, Kuknyo utilized the Call to the Public. He had just reached the point in his statement where he was questioning their transparency, when Chief Frietag said, “Madam Chair, that’s three minutes.”
Kuknyo tried to say another word, but a firm, “Thank you,” from CAFMA Board Chair Julie Pettit stopped him.
So, Kuknyo, President of the Citizen’s Tax Committee, sat down - but he still had a lot to say.
The CAFMA Board meeting adjourned in less than half an hour, and the next meeting in that room wouldn’t take place for another 35 minutes. There was plenty of time to finish what he wanted to say.
Kuknyo spoke up and said to those milling about the room, “If any of the other Board members or the media would like to hear what I wasn’t able to say, I will finish my statement now.”
Pettit looked at him and quickly made what appeared to be a rather petty decision. She told Kuknyo that he would have to leave the room if he were going to do that. She didn’t give any reason, and she immediately looked down after making her pronouncement, indicating that there would be no argument.
It was cold and windy outside, with temperatures dropping below 35º. By this time, Kuknyo was obviously frustrated, but determined. None of the CAFMA Board members chose to listen to the rest of his statement. One reporter came outside, asked Kuknyo for a copy of the written statement, then returned to where it was warm.
A couple of people in the audience joined Kuknyo outside. eNews was also there. Watch Kuknyo as he makes his full, uninterrupted statement here. The written transcript is below.
"Chair, Board, my name is Chris Kuknyo and I am the current President of the Citizens tax committee. Last month I attended the board meetings of both CYFD and CAFMA and spoke on our concerns about the PSPRS and I just wanted to give you a little update. The PSPRS board has so poorly managed the fund that many cities, towns, and districts are on the verge of bankruptcy where the unfunded liability to cover retirements has grown so large it is threatening their ability to fund the very operation of the government. Most of the electeds at the state and local level don’t want to touch the subject with a ten-foot pole because they know the hard decisions that will have to be made or in many cases they don’t even know how bad the problem is.
"The other day I was speaking to one of your board members and I asked, “Do you even know what percentage you are funded at?” When they mumbled and searched for words to say, I said, “Do you want me to tell you? CAFMA is at 51%." To put this into perspective Prescott was at your level just eight years ago. In 2016 their police had dropped to 24% funded and their fire to 30% funded. They just recently went to the voters and received a .75% increase in their sales tax to “FIX” the problem. This represented a 40% increase in the tax on food. The problem is they are making no efforts to fix this on the state level. We even have two state representatives willing to fight for us that have only received help from the past Mayor. And he is gone now.
"Do your guys deserve to have a retirement waiting for them? If so, you better go to work and that is why I was so glad to get a phone call from one of your board members asking to meet and talk about what could be done. That’s the first step and we thank you for that.
"But it’s some of the other things I witnessed and heard at your meetings that were the most concerning to me and to the membership of the CTC. So much so that they asked me to speak to you on their behalf.
"Like most of the public, I thought CAFMA was formed to create a cost and tax savings entity for the public in which CYFD and CVFD would share management and resources. This would provide better service to the taxpayer and lower his taxes, great idea! What I did not realize is that CAFMA does not share, but controls all resources.
"Two things gave this away. You gotta ask, who spends the time, and who spends the money? The CVFD board meeting was a few minutes, CAFMA’s meeting took up the entire time slot and if it weren’t for the concerns brought up by board members Steele and Jacobs, the CYFD meeting would have been very short. While CYFD and CVFD approve a budget, its CAFMA that spends the money. There is no election by the public for representation on the CAFMA board, it’s made up of select members of the other two boards. And your own rules state that a board member could be removed, "With or Without cause." What’s that? Rock the boat and you're gone?
"In the last CYFD meeting a board member questioned the rubber stamping of millions of dollars to CAFMA and was immediately told by the attorney they would be breaking contracts, causing lawsuits, upsetting fire service, essentially telling him to vote yes or else. This is an elected official. This same attorney represents all three boards. When asked what would happen if a conflict arose he said he would represent only CYFD. If an attorney is advising one organization he represents that a proposed action breaches the contract with another organization he represents, isn’t there already a conflict? How is an attorney representing both supposed to provide advice on that issue. This isn’t a hypothetical question,as there really are such issues both generally and as to particular expenditures.
"Let me tell you why this matters. CTC is a watchdog for our tax money. CYFD and CVFD, they are supposed to act as watchdogs themselves, protecting the interest of their taxpayers. How do they do that if they have no authority or responsibility? If a decision by CAFMA makes sense for CVFD, but not for CYFD, how are those interests protected?
"A board member asked if he could record the executive sessions as he has a hearing disability. And while I respect the chair, sometimes she is a little hard to understand. He was discouraged by the attorney from doing so even though the attorney could find nothing prohibiting a board member from doing so. He would still be under the same open and executive session meeting laws recorded or not. I had to ask myself, why is he trying to hinder the board member’s ability to understand the content of the meetings? Where is the transparency?
"When the board member tried to make a motion, like 4 times, his head was spun so hard with legalize he never did get the motion out. Staff even grew visibly upset with this board member. From an average guy in the audience it looked simply like members Steele and Jacobs were getting bullied by staff members and the attorney who should have been helping to clarify the motion.
"I heard more than once in that meeting that the creation of CAFMA was legal. How effectively nurturing the two elected boards into bodies without much say was legal. Well he is doing his job, he is gunna tell you what’s legal, but it’s your job to determine what’s right. Slavery was legal, child labor was legal, stealing the natives land was legal. Thank God people of character stepped in and said it may be legal, but it sure as hell ain't right.
"I heard that one reason Central and Chino could not be truly merged was because Chino is topped out in its assessment and that the rate for Central would have to rise and that would never get approved by the voters. Here’s an idea, lower Chinos assessment to Centrals rate. Heck, take it to the voters and ask if it would be OK to lower their taxes. Central is doing well at their rate, Chino should be able to do the same? Then you could dissolve CYFD and CVFD and let the taxpayer elect the board of CAFMA and we would get representation for how our tax dollars are spent. Maybe representation split into districts so large areas like Williamson Valley, which was almost wiped out by a wildfire, could have a voice on the board. Something they don’t have now. Representation reflected by the entire population instead of just Chino and PV.
"We were told combining resources would have huge cost savings. Are these savings for CAFMA to use towards growth, or are they passed on to the taxpayer? I looked up taxes in different neighborhoods served by CAFMA and homeowners have been charged a steadily increasing amount of money. Many of you board members, like myself, spent our careers in the private sector. If we weren’t growing we were dying. Build the company, and bigger is better. It’s not supposed to be the same in government, and never forget that you represent the publics best interest. We put you here. You are not part of, or employed by the fire district. Your job is to ensure the public’s money is spent responsibly to provide quality fire and medical services to the areas you cover.
"When you give out raises and step increases CAFMA wide but Chino is maxed out on what they can assess the taxpayer where does that money come from? Does it come from Centrals population? Are the people of Prescott Valley now subsidizing the Chino fire district? The new administration building, which is utilized by CAFMA, was paid for exclusively out of funds generated by CYFD. It seems to me that CYFD is basically subsidizing CVFD which gets the benefit of this new building while paying nothing. Maybe that’s legal, maybe its not, but that’s not the sort of thing the attorney or staff for all three organizations can be expected to give advice.
"I have traveled the world and feel that our 911 and emergency services are second to none. If you need help, your gunna get it and get it quick. At the last CTC meeting I asked who felt they were getting quality services from the rank and file fireman and every hand went up. We feel we have a very professional, well-trained group of men and women in both districts and it was very important to the membership that I pass that along. I’ve spoken with a few of you and expressed that there is nothing I’ve spoken about that can’t be fixed. In fact, CTC would love to be a part of fixing it. We aren’t against taxation. We just demand that our money be spent wisely and prudently and that we get representation for that taxation.
"We want integrity from those we employ and elect. You are the electeds, you can make changes, you use your discernment to analyze if there is a difference between legal and right. We ask that you review CAFMA, how it was set up, staffed, and how best to make sure those who are taxed get representation for that taxation. Thank you."
In the Central Yavapai Fire District meeting, Kuknyo was able to wheedle enough time to make the full statement. But it wasn't easy.
Director Tom Steele started out by noting that as a point of order, the 3 minute limit was only necessary if a room full of people wanted to speak. "I'm hoping for the course of this evening, that you will not be asking that their time be limited to 3 minutes."
Chair Packard looked conflicted, and glanced at the Board attorney, Nick Cornelius, who didn't say anything.
Director ViciLee Jacobs started to say, "Madam Chair, that's your responsibility," but before she could get all the words out, Packard responded, "All right. Three minutes it is."
There was a silence, then someone in the audience started laughing out loud. Others joined in. Even some of the other Directors had a smile on their face.
Cornelius stepped in. "If I may?"
Packard looked at him.
"I think if there are issues that individuals want to bring before the public" Cornelius continued, 'They can do that within a 3 minute period. If they provide any other documentation, the Board can determine if it should be agendized. I think that's an appropriate way to do it. Um, if we're talking about a couple of extra minutes, I don't think that will make a big impact on the Board's agenda. I have no idea how long it will be, and I don't think we are expecting 15 minute periods. Tough to say. It's always been the Board's policy, I guess the Board can discuss whether to change that policy. Not agendized for today, but certainly for future meetings going forward."
"Alright, because it's Christmas, I'll give you five minutes," Packard said.
Kuknyo replied, "Alright, we'll try. It's running six minutes, but I'll try to boogie through it."
He couldn't quite finish in five minutes, however, and at 5 minutes he was stopped. "Ok, you know what? Let me do this last one," Kuknyo said. "Because this is probably the most important and I was almost there anyway. Can I have 1 minute?"
Packard agreed. "One minute."
Kuknyo then finished by recognizing the quality of service provided by the rank and file firefighters, and offering the CTC services to help be part of the solution.