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What Are the City of Phoenix and Its Union Enablers Hiding?

Goldwater Institute v. City of Phoenix

Case Status

Date Filed

March 1, 2023

Last Step

Filed complaint and application for order to show cause.

Next Step

Prepare for possible show cause hearing and begin briefing.

Case Overview

The public’s business should be done in public, not behind closed doors. Publicly funded negotiations between cities and government labor unions are no exception.

Unfortunately, the City of Phoenix (the City) and its union enablers have shut the public out of its most recent contract negotiations, a process that is funded by and affects all Phoenix residents. When the Goldwater Institute requested public records relating to the contracts, the City withheld them. These actions violate Arizona’s Public Records Law and the right of all Arizonans to know what their government is up to.

Of course, the City is supposed to negotiate on the public’s behalf, not shield union proposals and draft agreements from public scrutiny.

That is why the Goldwater Institute, through its Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, filed suit against the City, asking the court to stop the City from hiding records about union contracts from the public.

Case Logistics

The City of Phoenix’s “Meet and Confer Ordinance” requires that public-sector unions submit proposed draft memoranda of understanding (MOUs) by December 1 in the year before an operative agreement expires to allow for public input prior to the start of the negotiation process. For several years, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA)—the union for most of the City’s police officers—complied with the ordinance.

This past December, however, PLEA ignored this legal requirement and refused to provide a draft agreement. By doing so, PLEA and the City prevented the public from providing input on the union’s proposals prior to the start of negotiations.

On December 7, 2022, the City held a public meeting—also required by City Code—in which it purported to take public comment, despite there being no proposal or draft for the public to see. Several speakers objected to the lack of transparency and the inability to provide meaningful public comment without seeing the union’s proposals.

The Institute then submitted a public records request to the City on December 19, 2022, seeking copies of any draft MOUs and MOU proposals.

The City initially claimed that there were no responsive records for draft MOUs or MOU proposals. However, after a renewed request for the information on January 20, the City later said that records of MOU proposals existed, but the City was denying the request because the MOU proposals were purportedly exempt from disclosure. The City claimed that “proposals exchanged during table discussions” are not subject to public release because “[r]eleasing those types of materials could create a chilling effect on the parties’ willingness to candidly engage with each other and it would hinder the negotiations process.”

On February 8, the Institute sent a letter to the City demanding production of the records, noting that the City had not asserted a legally recognized exception to Arizona’s public records laws.

On February 23, the City responded, admitting that it had some responsive records but was withholding them because disclosure “would harm the best interest of the City.”

The Institute filed suit on March 1, 2023 to compel production of the records.

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