By Terri Jo Neff |
Scottsdale Unified School Board member Jann-Michael Greenburg could be removed from office for actions he undertook last year to circumvent Arizona’s Open Meeting Law, and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office does not want taxpayer funds to be spent for Greenburg’s defense.
Those are just some of the items of relief the AGO suggests in its lawsuit filed Monday against Greenburg and SUSD for alleged OML violations in August 2021 when Greenburg -then the board president- cut off speakers during Calls to the Public and barred other speakers from discussing district-related issues even though such comments must be permitted.
Records show the AGO received several complaints last summer about how the SUSD board was conducting meeting at its members were considering a mask mandate and proposed instructional model. The district later told Assistant Attorney General Michael Catlett the board was permitted to apply content-based restrictions on Call to the Public speakers.
However, Catlett’s lawsuit asks a Maricopa County judge for a judgment that Scottsdale Unified School District and Greenburg violated the OML during the cited meetings. The AGO also seeks an order prohibiting SUSD from expending any public monies for Greenburg’s legal representation, although any civil penalty ordered upon Greenburg would be paid for from the District’s general fund.
The AGO’s lawsuit makes clear that a public body is not required to offer a Call to the Public during its meetings and hearings. But if it does, there cannot be undue restrictions on what speakers can say except that the comments must address topics falling within the public body’s jurisdiction.
“Purposefully structuring a meeting so as to apply content-based restrictions on public comments addressing an issue listed on the same agenda and discussed at the same meeting transforms the public comment session into something other than an ‘open call to the public,” according to the lawsuit, which the defendants must answer within 20 days of service.
The AGO’s legal action against Greenburg and SUSD comes just weeks after Vernal Lee Crow of Glendale was sentenced for criminal violations of the state’s Conflict of Interest law while he served as vice-chair of the Arizona School Facilities Board (ASFB)
Crow was indicted in November 2021 for four alleged violations of state law in connection with votes he took part in in 2016 and 2017 despite the decision benefited himself or a family member. He later pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to disclose his association with Red Tree Consulting and failing to recuse himself from a vote in 2016 which awarded $112,000 for a repair job at a school in the Snowflake Unified School District.
As part of the deal, Red Tree Consulting was paid $12,050 of those funds. In addition, Crow pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to disclose another conflict of interest involving Red Tree Consulting which received $42,200 from a roof construction contract approved by the ASFB in 2017 for a school within the Casa Grande Union High School District.
The Attorney General’s Office is also following a legal challenge filed by a Sierra Vista resident in February 2019 against the Cochise County board of supervisors for appointing one of the supervisors to a lucrative judicial position.
The AGO has submitted numerous briefs in the case, which is scheduled for a trial setting hearing Tuesday morning.
In the case, then-Cochise County Supervisor Pat Call was appointed to a vacancy for justice of the peace at double his county salary. Call did not cast a vote on the appointment, but he was openly involved in a decision to not seek interested applicants for the position despite the fact several were present at the meeting.
Call also took part in an executive session prior to being nominated immediately after the supervisors resumed the public portion of their meeting.
In a rare move, the Greenlee County judge hearing the case at the request of Cochise County’s presiding judge disclosed the normally secret minutes of that executive session. The judge noted “justice so demands” the release.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled last fall that the local resident can sue Call and the other two Cochise County supervisors -Ann English and Peggy Judd- for alleged OML violations. In addition, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel wrote that as a county resident and constituent of the board of supervisors, the resident “has an interest in protecting against self-dealing by Board members.”
It is expected that any trial will not occur until early 2023. English and Judd remain on the county board, although the lawsuit seeks to have them removed from office.
Call completed his term as justice of the peace at the end of 2020. He did not run for the office in the 2020 General Election.