The FBI is investigating Tempe, although city officials refused to say Friday what the probe is about. The investigation comes on the heels of the city’s decision to withhold information about federal housing funds that were awarded to the son of a city councilwoman. Both the refusal to release records and conflict of interest are potentially violations of federal law.
FBI agents visited Tempe City Hall on Thursday, according to a visitor’s log. FBI agents interviewed two city officials, including a four-hour interview with City Manager Will Manley.
Manley told the Tribune he was not at liberty to say whether the federal probe is related to potential violations of federal conflict of interest laws regarding Colby Carter, the 31-year-old son of Councilwoman Barb Carter.
Manley wouldn’t name the other city employee interviewed by the FBI. He wouldn’t provide any details about those conversations.
“It’s a very serious subject and we are cooperating fully,” Manley said.
The FBI office in Phoenix did not return phone calls late Friday.
The FBI investigation came the same day the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it will look into any irregularities in its Maricopa County housing programs.
Also Friday, the City Council took the unusual action of calling a private meeting Monday afternoon to discuss public records requests.
The city’s top elected officials called the session one day after City Attorney Marlene Pontrelli refused to release more than 100 documents related to more than $23,000 in housing funds that Colby Carter has received.
Prior Arizona Supreme Court rulings show the documents are public records that should be released, said Craig A. Morgan, an attorney who represents the Tribune for the First Amendment Coalition.
“Their position is contrary to Arizona law,” said Morgan, of Perkins Coie Brown & Bain.
Monday’s 3 p.m. meeting will be the first time the City Council will meet with Pontrelli since she declared the documents private.
Several council members on Friday said they would not comment on the matter. Barb Carter did not return a phone call for comment.
Pontrelli explained in a letter that personal financial details in the files were private information, and that their sensitivity outweighs the public right to know how public money is spent. She also noted that numerous audits and safeguards ensure the city properly administers its housing program.
According to other public records that are available, Colby Carter received more than $23,000 from the city’s housing department since his mother was elected in 2000. He got down payment assistance, money to repair a roof and funds for landscaping.
He was arrested last year for growing marijuana in the house. He pleaded guilty in March and is on probation.
The distribution of the housing-assistance money is now under scrutiny because HUD does not allow Community Development Block Grant funds to go to elected officials or their relatives. The agency may grant exceptions under certain conditions, which include disclosing the conflict of interest.
Colby Carter is a former professional skateboarder who has designed more than 80 skate parks around the world for Tempe-based Site Design Group. The company was awarded a $750,000 contract from Tempe to build a skate park, which was completed last year.