The Scottsdale City Attorney has referred an ethics complaint against Councilman Guy Phillips to an independent panel after a review found no reason to dismiss it.
The complaint, filed by resident Mike Norton on Jan. 21, alleged that Phillips violated the city ethics code by accepting improper gifts and failing to disclose a conflict of interest.
Phillips declined to comment on the complaint.
On Jan. 27, Hon. Ken Fields, a retired Maricopa County Superior Court judge who serves as an independent ethics officer for the city, notified the city of his findings, recommending it be forwarded to a panel.
City Attorney Sherry Scott followed that recommendation, according to a letter she sent to Norton and Phillips on Feb. 3.
That panel is made up of retired judges or law professors, who do not live or conduct business in Scottsdale.
According to Scott’s letter, the panel includes retired Pima County Judge Hon. Lawrence Fleishman, retired Maricopa County Judge Hon. J. Kenneth Magnum, and retired Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Hon. Cecil B. Patterson.
Fields’ recommendation is not a determination of guilt.
According to Scottsdale City Code, Fields only needed to determine that “the complaint states on its face allegations that, if true, would constitute a violation” of the city’s ethics code or city law.
It will be up to that panel to determine whether or not Phillips violated city code or other applicable laws.
The panel has 60 days to review the case and will submit a report and conclusions to the Scottsdale City Council, which will then vote in a public meeting to reject or accept the findings.
The complaint is intertwined with the ongoing Southbridge Two saga that saw local political action committee gather thousands of signatures to put the proposed downtown development before Scottsdale voters.
Phillips, who voted against Southbridge Two when it came before the Council in Dec. 2019, volunteered to collect signatures for the Committee for the Preservation of Old Town Scottsdale’s referendum drive.
The Norton complaint alleged that the PAC or its supporters may have funneled payments to Phillips through his wife, a paid signature circulator, and via anonymous donations made to Phillips through a GoFundMe account set up in his name following a work-related injury.
Cora Phillips, who is married to Guy Phillips, was paid $3,192 and collected approximately 600 signatures in support of putting the Southbridge Two project before voters, according to documents on file with the city.
Prior to the filing of the complaint, Phillips told the Progress that the payments to his wife were not improper.
“Shame on those who would think otherwise,” Phillips said. “There would be no way I would know how much she could collect and so it’s absurd to think that would influence my decision. You should be looking at how much developer money the council members got for their yes vote
PAC attorney Tim LaSota denied that Cora Phillips was paid a higher rate than other signature gathers.
“It is completely accurate to say that (Cora Phillips’) were some of the cheaper signatures for the committee,” LaSota said.
LaSota and other PAC representatives have denied repeated requests from the Progress to provide documentation proving Cora Phillips’ per signature pay rate.
The complaint also alleged that anonymous donations to a GoFundMe online fundraiser set up by resident Susan Wood to benefit Guy Phillips could constitute similar violations.
Wood set up the fundraiser, which raised $2,470 of a $20,000 goal, to assist Phillips with medical bills after he injured his leg while working, according to the fundraiser’s still-active webpage.
“It is my belief that if the anonymous donors are disclosed it will be found that many are also supporters of the ‘Save Old Town’ movement and POTS PAC,” according to the Norton complaint.
Wood, who organized the campaign, all monies were deposited into her bank account and then payments were made directly to Phillip’s healthcare provider or insurer.
Though the donations are anonymous, both Wood and Phillips may know the source of the payments, according to GoFundMe.
“The organizer and beneficiary will always be able to see your name and comment if you left one, even if your donation is anonymous to the public. This is for transparency reasons,” according to an anonymous donations informational page on the GoFundMe website.
Wood said she did not know if any members of the Old Town PAC donated to the campaign, though she admitted to having access to the names of donors.
“(Phillips) didn't know who they were, but I could see who they were,” Wood said. “But I don't know if any of them actually ended up involved in the Old Town petition or anything.