Friday, February 5, 2010

Goldwater Institute: Phoenix Withholds Public Records for Hotel Remodeling 'Development' Deal

Goldwater Institute asks judge to enforce state law requiring release
PHOENIX--The City of Phoenix refuses to share with the public any records that might reveal details about a proposed tax exemption to help a downtown hotel remodel its rooms and hallways. The Goldwater Institute filed a new lawsuit today to compel Phoenix under the state's public records law to release documents related to the City's secret negotiations with the Wyndham Hotel at 50 E. Adams St.

The Arizona Republic reported on Dec. 16, 2009, that Phoenix was  offering sizeable tax breaks to the Wyndham through a sale-lease back arrangement that Phoenix has used frequently in deals with favored developers. The Wyndham would use the tax incentive to complete $10 million in construction remodeling, the Republic reported.

On Jan. 5, the Goldwater Institute asked to see the development agreement, and any other public records related to the proposed sale-lease back arrangement. The City responded that no agreement has been reached. The City also said it won't release any records related to the negotiations until a "development agreement is executed," claiming this would protect the City's interests and is allowed under state law.

A Goldwater Institute attorney says this stance is alarming because Phoenix residents won't have any idea what tax breaks might be involved until after the City has signed a contract, which means residents won't be able to raise objections or determine if the City is complying with Arizona law until it is too late.

"The public has a right to know if Phoenix will obtain real, tangible benefits in this development agreement and not just give tax breaks to a business that should pay for its own remodeling work," said Carrie Ann Sitren, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute. 

The City of Glendale tried to claim a similar exception to the state public records law during its negotiations with new potential owners of the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team. But in response to a separate Goldwater Institute public records lawsuit, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Edward O. Burke ruled that Glendale was violating the law, and that the public was entitled to review at least some documents even as talks with the Coyotes continue.

While Glendale initially complied with Judge Burke's order, the City has refused to release any new documents for months. The Goldwater Institute has asked the judge to hold Glendale in contempt of court, and a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 12, 2010.

By filing this lawsuit, the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation seeks to uphold transparency in government policy-making that enables citizens to understand the plans of public officials and to voice any concerns. The complaint is available here.

No comments: