To avoid violating conflict of interest laws, an apologetic Tempe City Council reversed its decision to appoint city employees to a newly created board charged with overseeing commercial projects at Arizona State University and Tempe Town Lake.
The council members decided to staff the sevenmember Joint Review Committee with Tempe residents representing the city’s business community and neighborhoods.
The decision last week to tap city employees for the committee angered many residents living near the university who wanted a stronger voice on the developments in their neighborhood.
"I think the last time we discussed this was not our most shining moment as a council," said Councilwoman Pam Goronkin during Thursday night’s meeting.
She added she would have preferred learning about the potential pitfalls of the deal from city staff instead of by reading about it in the newspaper.
However, the president of the Planning and Zoning Commission first raised the issue of a possible conflict during an August meeting. After that meeting, officials with the city and the university repeatedly said the review committee would not break any laws.
The council agreed last week to place two city workers and one neighborhood representative on the committee. But city officials are now concerned that members on the committee would not be allowed to vote on projects they were working on because of conflicts.
Chris Salomone, deputy development services manager, apologized to the council for not discussing the matter during last week’s meeting.
Last week, Councilmen Hut Hutson and Ben Arredondo argued city staff should sit on the committee because they were better prepared to match ASU’s representatives.
This week, Hutson said staff should have done a better job of explaining the issues.
"I wasn’t impressed with the staff recommendations and that’s why I did what I did," Hutson said Thursday night. He cautioned the council and the city staff not to rush any decisions until ASU announced its appointments to the review committee.
The seven-member committee will be staffed with three members selected by the city, three members chosen by the university and one member agreed upon by the mayor and the ASU president.