I can’t write about this topic.
The powers that be in Tucson won’t let me, and the Star wouldn’t print it.
That’s what I learned when I called local attorney Bill Risner about the latest lawsuit he’s filed against the city of Tucson related to the failed Grand Canyon University deal of 2013.
The suit, filed Monday, alleges again that the mayor and four council members broke public-records law in the way they handled a request by Risner’s client, Cecilia Cruz.
This suit is the third filed by Risner & Co., related to that failed deal and the public records connected to it. This one aims to get “compensation for abuse of process for Cecilia,” he told me.
And it suggests a radical remedy to alleged misdeeds by the City Council: removing from office Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and four council members.
They are the ones who approved the motion to move forward “as discussed” on actions related to Grand Canyon University they talked about in an executive session on May 14, 2013.
“I’m not sure you’re permitted to print any of this,” Risner told me, before agreeing to discuss the case by phone Thursday morning.
The new suit, it turns out, is a revised version of one Risner filed on Cruz’s behalf in December, which the city won last month. Pima County Superior Court Judge Catherine Woods decided, “there is no genuine issue of material fact” before deciding Cruz owes the city $759.35 in costs related to that suit.
Fundamentally, Cruz and Risner are trying to force the city to pay damages for mishandling — willfully, they argue — public records Cruz requested.
Cruz was part of an ad hoc group, El Rio Coalition II, that formed in opposition to a city proposal to help Grand Canyon University build a new campus on the site of the El Rio Golf Course.
The deal fell apart in late May 2013, before it had any formal public discussion, when neighborhood opponents organized by the coalition turned council member Regina Romero against it.
Cruz made her public-records request, for documents and other data related to the Grand Canyon deal, on May 13 of that year. The next day, the City Council discussed the deal in executive session.
On May 29, Cruz filed her first lawsuit, demanding that the records be made available. This turned into months of court hearings and a trial in which Risner and Cruz showed that the city had, indeed, withheld some public records. Their persistence was a good thing, though the case sometimes felt like a trip down a rabbit hole.
The records they obtained showed the city was preparing to offer Grand Canyon University a very generous incentive deal. This also was worth knowing and probably under-reported, though the records became available after the deal fell apart.
When I asked Risner Thursday about the deal, he told me, “It was an extreme, extraordinary, phenomenally corrupt deal from the bottom to the top, which any person who looked at that deal would be totally amazed. You can’t look at it, and your paper can’t print it.”
Risner is right that news outlets, including the Star, largely lost interest in the deal after it was scotched. Maybe we moved past it too fast.
But there’s no danger of Risner, Cruz and their allies moving on. No, sir. They’re determined to win damages from the city over their delays in finding and turning over records — their “abuse of process.”
However, their case hinges on what is probably a baseless allegation — that, in that May 14, 2013 executive session, the City Council actually discussed Cruz’s public records request, not the Grand Canyon University incentive deal as listed in the agenda.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office rejected that claim in 2013. Mike Rankin, the city attorney, filed a sworn declaration on March 15 this year that the council did not discuss Cruz’s record request during the session. He also turned a recording of the executive session over to Judge Woods, though it is not part of the public record.
The recording of the session cannot be disclosed, under state law, and neither are participants allowed to discuss it.
Risner, Rankin said, “is using the fact that we can’t talk about it to make it sound like we’re hiding something.”
Oh, they’re hiding something all right, Risner argued to me.
“It is true that this case has revealed rot and scheming of a giant proportion at City Hall, all of which your newspaper will not and cannot examine,” he said.
Maybe it really was that nefarious. Or maybe, as we all recall, the deal never even came to a preliminary hearing or vote and people moved on. And maybe the continuous relitigation of the same public-records case doesn’t mean much to anyone other than El Rio Coalition II members and allies.
But of course, that’s what a columnist like me — and a newspaper like this — would print.
A business-backed independent expenditure committee has endorsed three candidates in its effort to overturn the current majority on the Tucson Unified School District Board: Mark Stegeman, Betts Putnam-Hidalgo and Brett Rustand. The group, TUSD Kids First, has put their names on signs all over town.
One of them, Rustand, isn’t so happy about it.
“I appreciate the endorsement, but the signs have created a perception that I’m part of a slate with those other names on there,” he told me Thursday. “I believe that TUSD needs more than anything an independent voice, not someone whose part of predetermined blocs.”
The head of that committee, accountant Jimmy Lovelace, said the group made its choices after sending out questionnaires and getting responses from five of seven candidates — everyone but incumbents Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster. He also noted it has a healthy amount of cash left to spend on the campaign, having collected well over $30,000 and spent little so far.
GOP in Nogales
Something unprecedented is happening on Nogales, Ariz., this fall: The GOP has a “victory office” where volunteers are doing phone-banking for Republican candidates from the presidency on down.
Sergio Arellano, chairman of the Legislative District 2 GOP and state director for the Republican National Committee, said it’s the first time in Santa Cruz county that the party has had such an office.