A Tempe councilwoman is employed by a liquor distributorship run by the leader of the city firefighters' union, creating the potential for a conflict of interest on issues such as the upcoming council vote on a new union contract.
Shana Ellis, a sales representative for Tempe-based Action Wine and Spirits, refused to say whether she would abstain from voting on all issues concerning the fire department.
Action's president and part owner is fire Capt. Richard Woerth, who also serves as the president of the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association's chapter in Tempe. He said he had nothing to do with Ellis' hiring.
Ellis said she has worked at Action since mid-May.
"The owners of the company are separate from the day-to-day management; I have not seen any of the owners in the office," Ellis said. "They have no influence over what I do there."
Ellis added she is aware Woerth's connection to the city could create the appearance of a conflict of interest. But according to the legal opinion received from City Attorney Andrew Ching, she said, there is no conflict - as long as her decision affects the entire department.
"If there are specific items that relate to compensation for the union president, of course I wouldn't vote on it," Ellis said.
Ching refused to comment on what he told Ellis, citing attorney-client privilege.
Woerth helped negotiate revisions to the firefighters' contract, which is up for City Council approval on July 22.
Ellis' employment, Woerth said, should not be a factor in her vote because it contains nothing specifically affecting him. He also noted these matters are usually voted on by the council as consent items, with no discussion and unanimous approval.
"I don't think on any of our issues she's going to be a deciding vote," Woerth said.
When the potential for a conflict was first raised and Ellis checked into the legalities, Woerth said he initially thought the bigger issue was her possibly voting whether to grant liquor licenses to bars.
Additionally, Action's chairman and co-owner is Billy Shields, himself the former president of the union representing firefighters across the Valley and now a consultant. Shields is a business partner in a separate company with lawyer John Kaites, who is listed in state records as a lobbyist for an ambulance company that successfully sought an exclusive contract with Tempe earlier this year.
In February, Ellis was part of the 6-0 vote in favor of awarding that contract to Professional Medical Transport.
Kaites said Shields "in no way represents PMT."
Shields could not be reached for comment.