The battle over who knew what, and when, about Grand Canyon University and El Rio Golf Course continues between the city and a neighborhood group.
A Pima County Superior Court judge ruled the city must turn over some remaining documents related to the city’s dealings with the for-profit university.
Cecilia Cruz, a member of the El Rio Coalition II, a group opposed to GCU building on the historic golf course, sued after the city refused a portion of a May 13 public records request.
The city denied part of her request, citing attorney-client privilege and a need to keep ongoing negotiations confidential.
In addition, City Manager Richard Miranda testified that releasing the information could have a “chilling effect” on future negotiations since many businesses have an expectation of confidentiality and would be reluctant to enter frank talks with the city if they thought details could readily be made public.
At issue were documents showing what price the city was offering El Rio for sale to GCU, fact sheets from Oro Valley and Marana outlining what those towns had to offer GCU, a letter Miranda sent to a GCU officials concerning potential contract terms, and emails sent between city employees and city attorneys.
While Judge Christopher Staring concurred with keeping conversations between city employees and city attorneys under wrap, he sided with Cruz on the other points.
Staring said if there actually were any ongoing negotiations, the city might have a point. But talks between the city and GCU are clearly over, so the records need to be released.
The city broke off negotiations to sell the golf course in the face of public opposition. The school has since announced it is opening a second campus in Mesa.
Furthermore, “generalized concerns” about impacts on what companies may or may not think about working with the city in future negotiations isn’t grounds in this case for withholding records, Sparing said.
Sparing also ruled the city did not have to pay Cruz’s attorney’s fees since the city had acted in good faith throughout the process.
Cruz called the judge’s decision a victory for neighbors looking to shine a light on city government.
She said the main thing her group was seeking was how much the city was willing to accept to hand over a public asset to a for-profit business.
“The public has a right to know what their city officials are (planning),” Cruz said.
Cruz said she was disheartened the judge did not award attorney’s fees and court costs. She said citizens shouldn’t have to expend their own money to get around the brick walls the city throws up to thwart public inquiries.
City attorney Mike Rankin said he was pleased the court upheld that the privileged material should remain off-limits but was disappointed the city couldn’t prove releasing Miranda’s letter would compromise the city’s interests.
The city has until Aug. 30 to turn over the documents.