Glendale Open Meeting Investigation

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The State Attorney General’s office is investigating possible open-meeting law violations by the Glendale City Council. Glendale City Attorney Nick DiPiazza will discuss the allegations.

Richard Ruelas: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Richard Ruelas, in for Ted Simons. The state attorney general's office is investigating possible open meeting law violations by the Glendale City Council. Glendale city attorney Nick DiPiazza is here to discuss the allegations. Thanks for joining us this evening.

Nick DiPiazza: My pleasure to be here.

Richard Ruelas: They have sent you a letter asking you for information, correct?

Nick DiPiazza: Correct. The letter was sent to the interim city manager, essentially informing us there were complaints made of the possible violations of the Open Meetings Law, and asking for information with respect to the incidents that are the subject of the complaint.

Richard Ruelas: Do you -- does Glendale know who or how many complained? If it's citizens' organizations or --

Nick DiPiazza: The letter refers to several complaints. The details of the complaints are probably a subject best asked of the attorney general's office.

Richard Ruelas: And probably one you didn't care as a city attorney, you just gave them the information they wanted.

Nick DiPiazza: The law requires us to respond. We certainly take these matters very seriously, we don't have a history of complaints. When we received the letter it was referred to the city attorney's office. It was my function to conduct an investigation. So the steps that we took essentially were to speak to the council members involved. We have seven council members. The allegation was that six engaged in three separate meetings and that the city manager also involved himself in a meeting. I spoke to the people involved and determined the details of the meetings. And then I also spoke to the last member of the council who did not participate in the meetings, just to ensure that after the meetings there wasn't any cross-discussion, which could have resulted in a violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Richard Ruelas: I guess we should let our viewers know what the Open Meetings Law is. If a public body meets, they should let the public know 24 hours in advance what the agenda is?

Nick DiPiazza: The Open Meetings Law requires that all meetings of public bodies in the state of Arizona be conducted in open session with some very few exceptions. What the law requires is that an agenda be developed, that the agenda be posted so that people know what is going to be the subject of discussion, and then of course the meetings are conducted in a manner where people can be present and observe the proceedings. In this particular case there were no meetings within the definition of the meetings under the Open Meetings Law. Every gathering isn't a meeting.

Richard Ruelas: So what we had, this was Renaissance Sports and Entertainment, back in May, they were one of the possible bidders of the Coyotes, the National Hockey League essentially was bringing them in to get to know the members. There were no members of the public there for the meet and greet.

Nick DiPiazza: The city of Glendale does not own the team. The team is owned by the NHL. The NHL conducts its own process to determine possible qualified purchasers. After their vetting process, which is conducted, again, very privately, they approach the city and introduce the prospective buyer to the city, so the city can undertake to negotiate with the buyer with respect to two things, essentially: Leasing the arena and managing the arena. On very short notice the NHL asked to get together with Glendale officials. We're talking about a very high level, the commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, and the stated purpose of the gathering was something to introduce the principals of RSE to the city.

Richard Ruelas: If it was on very short notice, did they have the idea to make it a series of meetings? It seemed there was a meeting with the mayor, another meeting planned with two people, another meeting planned after that, three or four. Did they want it to be over the course of an afternoon? Was it scheduled and didn't coincide with the councilmembers?

Nick DiPiazza: They just asked to get together with the City of Glendale officials. They didn't communicate with the city attorney's office so it was handled by other staff. They wanted to be able to come in and make the introductions and they had limited time. Our sense was that these introductions had to be made in a very time compressed period.

Richard Ruelas: But the most time compressed would be everybody together at once.

Nick DiPiazza: Yes. The difficulty is that, if you were to do that, the appearance would be that there was a meeting within the definition of the word "meeting" under the Open Meetings Law. There was not going to be a meeting where there were going to be discussions of details, deliberations, any consensus reached, any vote taken. So if there were a quorum, it would present a problem. There would be the appearance that there was an official meeting. So I think --

Richard Ruelas: But it would only be the appearance of a meeting if someone wasn't there. But the meeting could have been opened to the public, to the press, and there wouldn't have been the worry about the appearance of it, because people would have seen it was essentially a presentation or people getting together to talk about the weather. Again, was it someone's advice or someone's desire that it be more of a private session?

Nick DiPiazza: Well, candidly, the city attorney's office wasn't consulted before the gatherings took place, so I can't say. And I don't have specific knowledge with respect to what the process was. I think the intent was to avoid the appearance of a meeting, because a meeting was not intended.

Richard Ruelas: Also, I guess, to avoid a meeting, to avoid having it be posted in public --

Nick DiPiazza: I don't think to avoid a meeting, but to avoid perhaps the -- again, the appearance that there's a meeting and an expectation by people that business was going to be conducted. There are times when council gets together not as a council but just as individuals, you know, for instance they may go to a public event and there happens to be --

Richard Ruelas: They can go to a hockey game.

Nick DiPiazza: They could.

Richard Ruelas: Looks like here there were no notes taken, people said there was no real meat discussed, it was essentially a meet and greet.

Nick DiPiazza: My understanding was there was no agenda. I spoke to all the participants. There was no agenda for the meeting, it was just meet and greet. As a matter of fact, that expression was used by one of the members to describe his meeting. There was no agenda, there was no business discussed. I think there were no notes taken at the time. No one indicated to me that they brought notes into the gatherings to read from. And I think it's important to know that at the time there were no proposals from RSE. It wasn't until perhaps a week or so after these gatherings that the City of Glendale received its first proposal for a deal from RSE, the purchaser. So there were no indications, again, that there were any deliberations, discussions --

Richard Ruelas: A getting to know you chat.

Nick DiPiazza: We're going do business with this entity and these people. Before you enter into a $225 million deal it's probably not a bad idea for everyone to feel comfortable, to be able to look into the eyes of the person you're going to do business with and shake his hand. I think that was the purpose of the meeting.

Rihcard Ruelas: I guess as we quickly wrap it up, did the attorney general let you know what they think of your answer?

Nick DiPiazza: Yes. What we did is respond by letter and of course it's a matter of public record and it was provided to the media. We responded in a timely manner. Now the response and the information in that response will be considered by the attorney general's office and they will decide their next steps.

Richard Rueals: Again, it wasn't your decision to have the meeting in the manner it was, you advised them on how it wasn't a violation of the Open Meetings Law. I guess we would have to have the mayor and council here to ask why they chose to do it in the manner they did.

Nick DiPiazza: I think it was a staff decision. I don't know that it was a conscious decision by the mayor or council for this particular format. I think they were informed there was a request for these gatherings to take place and they were conducted.

Richard Ruelas: We'll see what happens when the attorney general makes a decision. Appreciate you joining us here this evening.

Nick DiPiazza: Thank you for having me.

Ricahrd Ruelas: Thank you.

Nick DiPiazza:Attorney, City of Glendale;

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