City Councilman Kerry Deering has been cleared by the city attorney of allegations of having a conflict of interest due to the close proximity of his property to a full-service car wash now scheduled for construction on Stockton Hill Road.
According to an Arizona law known as the Conflict of Interest Statute, (A.R.S. § 38-503.B), public officials are barred from participating in, voting on or failing to publicly disclose any "substantial interest" in a decision made by a public agency.
City Attorney Carl Cooper issued an opinion Friday that categorized the councilman's potential conflict as one of "financial bias" - "basically the claim is that Councilman Deering will be affected financially" from a decline in property value or an increase in traffic if a car wash were to be built on Stockton Hill Road between Khan Drive and Morrow Avenue. Deering owns 1.14 acres on Morrow and N. Glen Street - about two-tenths of a mile from the proposed car wash - where he rents a building to a physiotherapy center.
"To have a conflict of interest," Cooper wrote, "one must have a substantial interest in the action taken. Per the statute, ARS §38-502(11), a substantial interest is any pecuniary or proprietary interest, either direct or indirect."
According to Cooper, the courts have stated they "do not believe, however, that the Legislature intended that the word 'interest' for purposes of disqualification was to include a mere abstract interest in the general subject or a mere possible contingent interest. Rather, the term refers to a pecuniary or proprietary interest, by which a person will gain or lose something."
Cooper called the allegations of a conflict "speculative in nature" and said, "There is no evidence that Councilman Deering will either benefit or be detracted by this action."
During the Oct. 1 Council meeting, Deering was one of the first public officers to speak against a plan by Lake Havasu business owner Brent Kollars to build a full-service car wash on Stockton Hill Road.
Deering questioned a potential traffic increase and its impact on surrounding streets and expressed disagreement with the idea that a car wash on the city's main traffic corridor is an ideal type of business for that location.
Despite his questions, Deering said he didn't believe the car wash itself or the traffic from such a business would impact his land.
Council had tabled the conditional use permit until Monday to give Councilwoman Janet Watson time to check out another similar car wash by the same company in Lake Havasu City.
By Monday, and after what he called a "wonderful" presentation on the company's plans, Deering seemed to have changed his tune.
He contributed to the unanimous vote that approved Kollars' request to build the car wash.
And for the record, he said, his concerns about traffic and that type of business on the Stockton Hill corridor were merely concerns he was reporting from the Sept. 17 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.
"I never said I was against the car wash," he clarified. "That's the funny thing, see. That's what the people don't understand is that I'm the liaison of the Planning & Zoning Commission. I'm reporting what was said."
N. Glen Conflict
Deering also was cleared of a conflict for advocating a project now in the Nov. 6 bond election: N. Glen Street improvements. Deering's property sits on the corner of N. Glen and Morrow Avenue, and it has been one of his main goals as a Councilman to see N. Glen improved.
Because Deering has already improved his portion of the road, the city attorney ruled that Deering would not be any more affected by total improvements than anyone else.
As a public officer and voting member, similar conflicts of interest are often abstained from due to the appearance of conflict, but Cooper wrote that "he has demonstrated no bias, nor is there any direct, non-speculative, or substantive benefit shown to benefit him if Glen were to be improved. The current uses of his property are medical/professional uses, these are not the type of uses that benefit from increased traffic."
Total improvements would open up the entire street to through-traffic (toward his property), but Cooper said it was not a conflict because, "at best a benefit may be seen by providing increased traffic safety to the patrons that visit that property if Glen were to be improved."
As for the allegations of a conflict, Deering equates the inquiry to the displeased developers in town looking to stir up dust in an effort to discredit the city.
"Every time I say something, they turn it around and they try to come back at me," he said. "They're constantly looking for something to cause trouble. They're not looking for cure to the problems. They're looking to stir up trouble. I mean, I don't know what else they want us to do."