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Rio Nuevo: Was chairman trying to negotiate agreements on his own?

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

Rio Nuevo: Was chairman trying to negotiate agreements on his own?

CREATED Oct 19, 2012

Reporter: Craig Smith

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Rio Nuevo has been a lighting rod for critics and now there's something that raises fresh questions. Did the chair of Tucson's downtown redevelopment program try to negotiate sensitive issues on his own, without the okay from his board?

A tipster sent an e-mail to Jon Justice with our sister radio station 104.1 the Truth.
     
It raises questions about whether the new chair of Rio Nuevo, appointed by the State Senate President to help get the project moving, moved too far on his own to settle issues with the city.

When the city ran it, and after the state imposed an independent board, Rio Nuevo faced nagging complaints that it made too many private decisions about public money..
    
Now an e-mail passed on by a tipster could be a reminder of those complaints.
    
In it, new chairman Fletcher McCusker writes Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, city attorney Mike Rankin, Rio Nuevo's attorney and city finance director Kelly Gottachalk.  He outlines a detailed proposal involving millions of dollars to settle a long standing dispute over bonds.
    
He uses language like "Let's go ahead and settle the other cash items", and likely referring to city finance director Kelly Gottschalk says "...Kelly has my permission to pay..." and then outlines some very large transfers.
    
Arizona law calls for government business to be in the open with exceptions for legal, real estate and personnel.
    
The e-mail went out at 7:05 Sunday morning, September 23rd. 

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild says, "Probably by 730 in the morning I called him and said, 'Fletcher, we can't do it this way, we're not gonna do it this way.  None of this has occurred.  None of this will occur.  But we are getting close, I hope to having an agreement."
     
We went to Mc Cusker's office.  He did not meet with us but explained in two e-mails he didn't feel he could comment. 

One of them said: "My attorney says I can't respond, except to say you have a purloined email, I operate with the full knowledge and consent of the RN (Rio Nuevo) board, no deals have been made and will be discussed in public on Monday."
    
State Senator Frank Antenori has been a strong critic of Rio Nuevo but he thinks McCusker innocently tried to use normal methods for the business world.

Antenori says, "He wasn't aware of some of the public requirements because he comes from the private sector.  The guy's a CEO and he's used to negotiating deals and then afterwards publicizing them.  He's not used to publicizing them and then working out the deal."

When people go into government they usually do get training on special requirements for public officials like the Arizona Open Records and Open Meetings laws.  It's not clear if that happened with McCusker.

There are agenda items for a Rio Nuevo meeting Monday and a Tucson council meeting Tuesday that relate to long standing disputes between Rio Nuevo and the city.