Law firm retained by city in e-mail suit

KINGMAN - Following a lawsuit by local developer Travin Pennington, the city of Kingman recently has sought legal counsel from a firm in Phoenix to defend its decision to withhold more than 8,400 e-mails from Pennington's public records requests.

City Attorney Carl Cooper said on June 21, the day after Pennington's attorney filed the suit, that the documents were forwarded to the city's insurance provider.

Within a week, the services of Jones, Skelton & Hochuli had been sought for representation.

A letter sent to Pennington's attorney by Jones, Skelton & Hochuli states, "We have been retained on behalf of the defendants," which include the city as a whole, City Manager Paul Beecher and City Clerk Debbie Francis.

Pennington is requesting the release of more than 8,400 e-mails deemed private, confidential and personnel-related after the city denied approximately 60 percent of his records requests.

Cooper maintains that the city acted appropriately by withholding the thousands of pages of e-mails.

Pennington's lawsuit has been forwarded to the Mohave County Superior Court following the decision by Mohave County Judge James E. Chavez to recuse himself from hearing the case.

Media law attorney David Bodney of Steptoe & Johnson LLP said Tuesday that the case is now in the hands of presiding Superior Court Judge Randolph A. Bartlett.

Bartlett's office was closed for the holiday, so he could not be reached for comment.

The e-mails of former Economic Development Director Jeff Weir were added to the lawsuit after more than 40 percent of a request for his e-mails were withheld.

On June 26, Pennington filed another e-mail request, which will either be added to this lawsuit or filed as another, he said. This time he's after all e-mails of City Finance Director Coral Loyd, both sent and received between Feb. 1 and March 31.

"As far as requesting Coral's e-mails," Pennington said, "I'm concerned with the fact that the budget has doubled." He said he's not "crying foul play," only that he's interested in what was communicated leading up to the city passing a budget that increased more than 100 percent in a year.

The majority of that increase came in the form of capital improvement projects, most of which will be paid by voter-approved bonds.

With the bond and advances to the Kingman Crossing interchange and retail project underway, "I just think it's a good practice for people to know what's going on down there," Pennington said.

His previous requests for Beecher's and Weir's e-mails were sought under the assumption that some of them would contain incriminating information.

Of those released so far, nothing indicates criminal behavior, and the city has maintained its stance that the e-mails withheld from his requests were done so appropriately.

The e-mails have shown significant progress on issues that have been given limited public exposure, however. Pennington expects to find much more information in the 8,440 e-mails withheld.