The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether a Tucson City Council member skirted the state Open Meetings Law.
A complaint submitted to the AG alleged Councilwoman Regina Romero used a city employee to communicate her position to other council members on transferring the El Rio Golf Course to Grand Canyon University.
It also claimed the council improperly discussed the GCU negotiations during a closed-door meeting last May.
Romero denied the allegations.
“The process was at the beginning stage,” she said. “There was no backroom dealing. No evil plans. It was intended to be an open process where all the information was laid out for public consumption.”
For evidence, the complaint cited email exchanges between Romero and Chris Kaselemis, director of the city’s Economic Initiatives Program.
In one email from last February, Kaselemis informed Romero he had spoken with the other council members about GCU. Kaselemis wrote most of the council members inquired about where Romero stood on the issue and stated they would follow her lead.
Arizona’s Open Meetings Law prohibits a majority of elected officials from gathering, either in person or through phone conversations, emails, etc, to discuss official business without publicly announcing the meeting.
Romero said city employees were just acting on what the council instructed them to do.
“Any information staff was working on was from direction the mayor and council gave them during public meetings,” Romero said. “Mayor and council gave clear direction to staff on trying to solve golf losing money. Mayor and council gave very clear direction to staff to sell city land. And that’s what staff was doing with Grand Canyon University.”
But the person who filed the complaint said the city’s dealings with GCU can be called many things, just not “public.”
“This is the United States of America,” said Christina Pacheco. “Democracy is supposed to be transparent. ... I understand certain things need to be confidential, but not everything.”
Pacheco said from the very beginning, the city kept the public in the dark regarding GCU. And once the word got out, she was “stunned” to witness the council hold a closed-door session on May 14 to discuss a possible sale to GCU.
Her complaint stated the closed-door meeting violated state law because the cost and location of the GCU campus had already been decided. By May 3, the complaint said, the City’s Manager’s Office determined GCU would lease El Rio and pay 9 percent of the property’s assessed value annually for 50 years.
She said the city’s behavior motivated her to act.
“The freedom fighters aren’t just the tea party and the freedom fighters aren’t just the people that serve their country in war. Citizens have to be active in a democracy and they have to be informed about what’s going on and make informed decisions,” Pacheco said. “And you can’t do that if you don’t know” the facts.
While Pacheco is a member of the El Rio Coalition II, a group opposed to the GCU plan, she is acting on her own in filing the open meeting complaint.
“This has nothing to do with the coalition,” she said.
Romero said she has nothing to hide.
“I’ve shared everything. My emails are open to the public for them to view.”
Romero said. “It’s right there for people to see.”
The city has until Aug. 30 to respond to the complaint.