Plaintiffs suing the Town of Marana over the abandonment of a public easement have amended their lawsuit to include claims of violations of Arizona's gift clause and its open meetings law by several Marana Town Council members and town officials.
Stephen Weeks, of Weeks & Laird PC, filed the motion to amend a complaint by Theresa Chamberlain, Steven Blomquist, Sharyl Cummings and Timothy Blowers against the town based on a deposition taken from Denis Boaro, the former general manager of McClintock's restaurant at Saguaro Ranch.
The amended complaint charges that six members of the seven-member town council met with Saguaro Ranch owner Stephen Phinny, and were furnished free meals and alcohol between 20 and 30 times at McClintock's.
Town officials are vigorously denying the claim, as is Phinny's attorney, Eric Sparks.
"I have read the amended complaint, and was surprised to see there was an incomplete deposition given to the court," Sparks said Tuesday. "I have contacted my client, and he has confirmed that anyone from Marana who ate there paid for their meals, and they are in the process of producing the charge card records to prove so."
Town Manager Gilbert Davidson called the amended complaint "absolutely slanderous and completely not true. The allegations they made are baseless, pointless and it's unfortunate they are saying such things."
The complaint identified Marana Mayor Ed Honea, Vice Mayor Herb Kai, and council members Jon Post, Patti Comerford, Carol McGorray and Roxanne Ziegler as attending the meetings. In the Boaro deposition incorporated as an exhibit in the lawsuit, Davidson and town attorney Frank Cassidy also are named as attending such meetings. Council member Russell Clanagan was not named in the amended lawsuit.
Davidson said he had never been to McClintock's for meetings with Phinny.
"I was there for the ribbon cutting of Saguaro Ranch, and for a special event at the invitation of the Marana Art Commission," he said. "I had lunch there when the Tucson Museum of Art was considering relocating their museum to Marana. I presented to their board and talked about Marana and our community's vision. That is it."
Cassidy called the complaint's allegations "scandalous and totally false." He said he's never received a free meal or drink at McClintock's, having only been there twice — "once during a tour when I received a glass of ice water for free, and once soon after it opened when I took my wife there for our anniversary, and it was quite expensive, and certainly not free."
The complaint further alleges a violation of Arizona's Constitution based on the gift clause, which prohibits the giving of special perks and benefits to any individual, association or corporation. The amended lawsuit alleges the abandonment of a public asset; that is, the public easement abandoned by the town of Marana at a May 15 meeting, was a gift within the meaning of Arizona's Constitution.
The underlying lawsuit contends that McClintock's is built partially on the abandoned public easement, and that Marana had no rights to abandon the easement in the first place.
Under Arizona's open meetings law, town councils are prohibited from discussing public issues behind closed doors with an outside party, such as a developer, as is alleged in this instance.
Cassidy stressed that the alleged meetings did not take place, but noted that even if they had, they wouldn't constitute a violation.
"To have an open meeting law violation, you have to have four or more members present and Mr. Boaro's deposition said he never saw more than two or three," Cassidy pointed out. "Under the gift clause, you have to give away something the government has of value and here we're talking about an easement that went nowhere and that doesn't have any market value. They have no case here and the allegations are totally false on top of it."
Mayor Honea called the complaint "slanderous," noting "there is no basis for it. As far as I'm concerned, it's not true."
Honea noted the only meeting with a meal he attended at McClintock's was the Tucson Museum of Art meeting and luncheon. He said he also had taken his wife there once to celebrate their anniversary "and paid $100 for the meal."
Councilman Jon Post pointed out he had never been to McClintock's, nor had he visited Saguaro Ranch.
"I've looked at the map and plans of Saguaro Ranch, but never personally have been on the property," Post said. "In fact, the first time I met Stephen Phinny was recently at the opening of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel."
Vice Mayor Kai said he'd never received a free meal at McClintock's, and council member McGorray pointed out she has never been to the restaurant. Council member Comerford did not return messages for comment.
Council member Ziegler called the complaint "blatant lies," noting she had never "sat down with Stephen Phinny and eaten lunch, dinner or anything else. I've never drank with him."
Ziegler said she took her aunt and uncle to the restaurant last year to look at the view and the establishment, but that they didn't stay for a meal or drinks.
"I had one meeting with Stephen Phinny, but it was inside the business office at the gatehouse, and never in McClintock's," Ziegler noted. "It was to review the project and was only one meeting."
Ziegler believes Boaro has libeled her, but wants to give him a chance to explain himself.
"I will do whatever is necessary to defend my good name," she said. "I would let it go if he (Boaro) makes a retraction and an apology, otherwise I will seek other alternatives."
Boaro, in his deposition testimony, said he was still owed money from McClintock's for his last paycheck, $2,600. He also said his wife, who cleaned and pressed the napkins and tablecloths for McClintock's as an independent contractor, was owed approximately $4,000.