UA-area residents blast city for "backroom deal"

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UA-area residents blast city for "backroom deal"

CREATED Aug. 25, 2012

Reporter: Marcelino Benito

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - How high is too high when it comes to buildings in the Main Gate district? It's the question the city and West University neighbors have been debating for months, but months of negotiation came to a grinding halt, with what neighbors are calling a backroom deal. All the good will fostered thus far has come crashing down with it.

"What I saw on August 7th was a classic backroom deal," said West University resident John Patterson. "I could see it unfold in front of me."

West University neighbors filed an open meetings law complaint with the Arizona Attorney General's office. Inside they name Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Councilwoman Shirley Scott and Councilman Paul Cunningham accusing them of "conspiring privately with developers."

"I saw a lot of whispering and talking going on with the owners of this [NW corner of East 1st St. and N. Tyndall Ave] property," said West University President Chris Gans.

That talk led to a complete flip from the council. An agreement back on May 8th to cap heights at 90 feet thrown out the window. The heights increased to 130 feet. 9OYS reporter Marcelino Benito asked Gans if he felt blindsided?

"Absolutely, certainly a surprise to us, I think it was a surprise to council members Kozachik, Uhlich, and Romero," he said.

Kozachik tells 9OYS that vote did a lot of damage to the city's credibility.

"It's not about 90 or 130 feet, that's all tangential," said Kozachik. "It's about can they trust us? And right now the Mayor and those who voted for this thing are saying no."

Cunningham tells 9OYS via phone he did not violate open meetings law, but would not comment any further. Kozachik says whether Cunningham, Scott and Rothschild did is irrelevant.

"What they did is ruin the integrity of the process," Kozachik said. "The process is the most important thing."

9OYS took Kozachik's concerns about the process to neighbors. Benito asked them if the goodwill is gone?

"It's seriously damaged," said Patterson. "Obviously we want to work together to achieve something that will let us live in our homes."

But can they do that with a growing trust deficit? That remains to be seen.

"Anytime people turn their backs on residents and make decisions that are backroom decisions I think that makes neighborhoods not want to trust council decisions," Gans said.

It will be up to Attorney General Tom Horne's office to determine if the complaint is valid. It will then determine if the Open Meeting Law was indeed violated.