Friday, January 22, 2010
All along Stephen Phinny's neighbors, who are in the midst of suing the Saguaro Ranch developer and the town of Marana over an easement Phinny denies exists and Marana officials formally abandoned, (don't forget about the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by two of the four neighbors involved in litigation), always knew there was something odd about the relationship between town officials, council members and the developer.
For years, there have been rumors that Phinny had invited council members and staff to the development's restaurant, McClintock's, for meals and libations, and possibly other bones tossed - but no one had any proof - until possibly now.
On Jan. 7, Phinny's neighbors (Tracy Chamberlain, Steven Blomquist, Sharyl Cummings and Tim Blowers) through their attorney Stephen Weeks, deposed McClintock's former manager, Denis Boaro - who could just be the smoking gun neighbors have been looking for.
In the deposition, Boaro pointed out that officials and council members allegedly met to discuss the development and easement and were given free meals and drinks at each meeting. On Jan. 19, neighbors filed a motion to amend their lawsuit against the town to disclose Boaro's testimony that they hope shows Pima County Superior Court Judge Ted Borek that a judgment in their favor is justified regarding the town abandoning the disputed easement. You can view the amendment document here.
The charges in the amendment, however, are serious. The neighbors claim the town's actions are in violation of the state law's gift clause, which prohibits "the giving of special perks and benefits to developers like Phinny." The actions also violate Arizona's open meetings laws, which prohibits the town council "from discussing public issues behind closed doors with a developer."
"The case challenges whether the Town of Marana's actions in attempting to abandon a public easement, which is partially within the town limits, is valid or void," according to the amendment. "The area the Town has attempted to give away rests entirely within a development known as Saguaro Ranch. The attempted give-away was at the request of, and solely for the benefit of, the Saguaro Ranch entities and its developer, Stephen Phinny."
In the deposition, Boaro testified that Phinny met consistently with some council members and staff "likely exceeding 50 hours of meeting time, with ... Mayor Ed Honea, Vice Mayor Herb Kai," and council members Jon Post, Patti Commerford, Carol McGorray and Roxanne Ziegler, as well as Town Manager Gilbert Davidson and Town Attorney Frank Cassidy. Phinny allegedly provided unrestricted alcohol and food to during the meetings at McClintock's.
The amendment questions if these drinks and meals were provided in return for the council members' votes. It also raises questions about Ziegler, who abstained in the council's May 21 vote to abandon the easement, but has been at times unusually vocal in raising concerns against the neighbors and their allegations raised before her during council meetings.
At the end of Boaro's deposition, he provided all of his personal e-mail correspondence between him and Phinny during his employment at McClintocks, which ended in September 2009. From these e-mails, the amendment points out one in particular in which Phinny e-mailed Boaro on May 15, 2009 to tell him, "... A week from today the 'protesters' go away!" And, while the protesters (Phinny's neighbors) didn't go away, the council voted to abandon the easement on May 21.
"In other words, by May 15, 2009, Stephen Phinny had received confirmation from his elected public servants that the Easement had been abandoned as a gift to him," according to the amendment.
Neighbors told The Range that they have just scratched the surface of Boaro's e-mails. More updates to follow, as well as more in next week's issue of the Tucson Weekly.