How many court orders does it take for a City to comply with a court-ordered public records request? You may soon need two hands to count.
To date, a Maricopa County Superior Court has ordered the City of Glendale four times to submit uncensored records for review. The Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation took the City to court because it denied our request for public records of City negotiations with the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team, which plays at the City-owned Jobing.com arena.
Investigative reports and bankruptcy proceedings are rife with evidence that Glendale officials intend to spend $15 to $20 million in taxpayer funds to subsidize the sports franchise, which filed for bankruptcy early this year. A taxpayer subsidy for a private business is unconstitutional in Arizona.
Glendale denies discussing any illegal expenditures with the Coyotes, yet it insists on keeping the documents secret. In July the court ruled in favor of the Institute’s public records request, explaining that Glendale may restrict access to select documents, such as private financial information about the team, the City should not have withheld all records from the public.
The Arizona Ombudsman’s office can help mediate public records disputes, but when a city refuses to cooperate, the only recourse is filing another lawsuit. In egregious circumstances, cities can be held in contempt for violating court-ordered productions. And of course, public officials are ultimately accountable to citizens through the elective process.
In the Glendale case, the court stated that it “is very concerned that because the City can convene a special City Council meeting on 24 hours notice neither Plaintiff nor the City’s taxpayers will have sufficient time to digest, analyze and prepare to comment on any proposed agreement and/or concessions.” In other words, the City should not be allowed to keep taxpayers in the dark until the day before Council members could vote to give public funds to the new team’s owners.
Recently, the NHL revealed that Ice Edge Holdings will become the new Coyotes owners. If they profit from a new arena agreement at the expense of taxpayers, the public must find out – with enough time to comment before a deal is signed. The Institute is standing by to make sure the City complies, no matter how many court orders it takes.
Carrie Ann Sitren is an attorney with the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation
Goldwater Institute: Regifting the Gift Clause: How the Arizona Constitution Can End Corporate Subsidies
Goldwater Institute: FOIA Facts
Arizona Republic: Millions sought from Glendale