Irvin’s conflict of interest questions arise in Rio Nuevo (updated)

The City of Tucson used to control the Rio Nuevo Board and it wants that control back one way or another. There is at least one open seat on the board, and the City of Tucson sees its chance to seize control. They called in the big guns to get it for them.

Sources close to State officials report that a local Tucson businessman recently contacted the Governor and is pushing her to name Edmund Marquez to the newly Reconstituted Rio Nuevo Board.

At the same time, efforts to intimidate current board members who don’t play along with the City’s plans and prop up those members who do, continue and are more vicious.

The new Board was created in 2010 by the Legislature after the City controlled Board had spent $250 million plus on consultants and defunct projects, with virtually no actual construction completed. Governor Brewer and the legislature appointed members to the new Board.

That Board was supposed to represent the interest of the taxpayers, not the City or local big wigs. The Board’s members were supposed to have, by law, no financial interests in, or tie, to Rio Nuevo contractors.

Controversy arose once again, at the May 23 meeting of the Rio Nuevo Board, over the apparent conflict of interest of Rio Board member Mark Irvin. Whether or not Executive Board sessions as well as mediation negotiations have been affected are at the core of recent City scrambles to canonize Mark Irvin and alienate the Board folks protecting taxpayer assets.

The conflict of interest of Board member Mark Irvin first came to light due to questions asked by Board member Rick Grinnell. Grinnell noticed a sign on the side of a building that listed Irvin as a commercial real estate broker in late 2010. Grinnell questioned the propriety of Irvin acting on behalf of both the Rio Nuevo Board as a board member and representing the company who owned the building between whom there was and is a legal tussle worth millions. Irvin’s sign still resides on this building and there are potential misdemeanor and felony consequences to Irvin’s action that he seems to ignore.

Even after, then board member, David Jones declined to participate in certain Board processes because of his involvement with Turner Sundt, Irvin continued. He pushed himself in and participated in key leadership positions, inserting himself in the negotiations of the term sheet, hotel settlement, 2011 budget, and hotel negotiations on price/cost for the Board while representing Sundt. He had private meetings with City and Sundt executive staff.

At the time, Irvin failed to advise all interested parties about his contract with Sundt and properly recuse himself under the law as David Jones did. However he did try to thwart other Board members’ participation. When board member Jodi Bain, was suggested as a representative on the issue, Irvin said that a woman would not be effective in construction negotiations. Irvin has since continued to villainize Grinnell, Bain and Moore since 2010.

Later, the new Board was repeatedly rebuffed by Irvin that there was no ‘real’ issue. When Irvin refused to follow state law and back down from issues involving his conflict, Irvin and members of the Board finally sought to have the AG concur with the findings of the District’s two law firms that Irvin was indeed locked out from negotiations and participation as a result of the conflict of interest but for a lesser amount of time than the AG opinion on point. By statute and AG opinion Irvin should be locked out from participating in negotiations for about five years from the end of his representation of Sundt. However, upon legal review the AG was requested to concur with a lock out of two-three years based on the applicable facts.

The AG demurred and determined it did not have to respond because law and an existing AG opinion already addressed the issue. Further action by the AG was unnecessary and if no one filed a complaint about Irvin’s conflict there was no reason the AG would need to get involved because the District already had representation.

At this point some Board members say they are “fed up with the cost and length of time this issue has consumed, festered and has slowed the board to the delight of the City and Ward 6.”

Why hasn’t the public known about this? Why have so many in the press ignored this? The answer is that the City powers-that-be like things just the way they are.

In his most recent newsletter, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik offered up an out-of-the-box solution to what he perceives to be merely a leadership problem. He asked the Arizona Daily Star staff to intervene “As a final gesture to trying to make this work, how about enlisting that Star Edit staff to select members of the community to sit on the Rio Board….. So, Joe, Jill, Bobbie Jo, Josh, Rob, Teri, John – any of you want to give the Mayor, the City Attorney, and the Governor a call to see if there’s any interest in this? There’s no more neutral organization in the community who knows the issue better than you all.”

To which one Tucson resident familiar with the City’s antics replied, “Is Koz drinking out of Cunningham’s flask?”

Rio Nuevo Board Chair Jodi Bain responded to radio host Bill Buckmaster‘s question if she regretted every agreeing to volunteer for the Rio Nuevo Board, to which she responded, “I truly regret at this point that we haven’t been able to come to a resolution and it is very sad because we have an opportunity and I think that Mayor Rothschild can potentially close this up but it has to stop villainizing the City or the Board members and about people’s pet projects, it has got to be about Tucson.”

Related articles:

Rio Nuevo Board challenges Kozachik’s newsletter

Tucson tries power grab of Rio Nuevo Board

Rio Nuevo Board moves first to make progress

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