A Tempe councilwoman employed by a liquor distributorship run by the leader of the city firefighters' union said Wednesday she declined to vote on a new union contract because she wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
But Shana Ellis said that had she voted Tuesday, she was legally in the clear.
"It's all about perception," Ellis said.
After Ellis abstained, the two-year contract with the firefighters then received unanimous approval from the City Council's other six members.
Earlier this month, the Tribune reported Ellis was working as a sales representative for Tempe-based Action Wine and Spirits.
Action's president and part owner is fire Capt. Richard Woerth, who also serves as the president of the United Phoenix Firefighters Association's chapter in Tempe.
When Ellis took the job in mid-May, the risk of a conflict of interest apparently concerned her enough to seek the city attorney's counsel.
"Legally, I didn't have to (abstain)," Ellis said
According to Ellis, City Attorney Andrew Ching told her there was no conflict, as long as her votes affected the entire department.
Another member of the council - Joel Navarro, a Phoenix firefighter - said he received the same advice. Although Navarro is represented by the same union, but a different chapter, he voted to approve the Tempe firefighters' deal.
"There was no conflict of interest on my part with what was going on," said Navarro, who was sworn into the council last week.
Ellis said she didn't tell anyone or give notice of her decision to abstain from voting on the firefighters' contract until council members began discussing the issue in the closed executive session before the regular meeting. She then left the room.
"But I hadn't talked to anybody," Ellis said.
Mayor Hugh Hallman was expecting the decision from Ellis.
"In my experience with Shana Ellis, she has always acted ethically," Hallman said, "and I had no doubt she would find her way through the difficult issues she was facing."
Ellis declared a conflict on two other issues during the meeting.
Because her children take part in the Kid Zone enrichment program, she abstained from voting on the city's agreements with the Kyrene Elementary School District over the lease of facilities and providing snacks for participants.
Navarro, for the same reason, also recused himself on those votes.