Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips will appear before the city’s independent ethics panel Monday losing his bid for dismissal of a complaint filed against him in January.
The March 16 hearing will be the first in the city since the City Council adopted the ethics code in 2006.
The ethics complaint is tied to the divisive Southbridge Two development in downtown Scottsdale, which was approved by the City Council on 4-3 vote on Dec. 4.
Phillips voted against the development and later volunteered with a political action committee that pursued a referendum drive to put Southbridge Two before Scottsdale voters in November.
Resident Mike Norton filed the complaint on Jan. 21 alleging that Phillips improperly benefited from his opposition to Southbridge Two.
The complaint alleged that payments made by the Committee for the Preservation of Old Town Scottsdale PAC to Phillips’ wife Cora Phillips for gathering signatures and anonymous donations to a GoFundMe page set up to benefit Phillips may have violated city ethics rules and campaign finance law.
Norton alleged that Cora Phillips received a preferential pay rate and that the anonymous GoFundMe donations may have been tied to Southbridge Two opponents with the PAC.
On Feb. 3, City Attorney Sherry Scott referred the complaint to an independent ethics panel made up of three retired Arizona judges following the recommendation of Hon. Ken Fields, the city’s independent ethics officer and a retired judge who reviewed the complaint.
In his motion for dismissal, Phillips had denied any wrongdoing, arguing that Cora Phillips was paid a fair rate for gathering signatures and no improper payments occurred.
“There was no evidence that the job was created for her and, in fact, the evidence is quite the opposite since other people were hired to do the same thing,” Phillips wrote.
Phillips also said the payments could not constitute a conflict of interest because Cora Phillips did not begin gathering signatures until after the Council voted on Southbridge Two.
Phillips wrote that that the GoFundMe account was set up by Scottsdale resident Susan Wood to help without his knowledge to help him following an injury he suffered on while working with the HVAC contracting company he owns.
Phillips said he did not solicit the gift from Wood, a friend, and there was no conflict of interest because Wood is not a member of the Old Town PAC and did not have any other business before the city.
Wood signed an affidavit affirming those arguments.
Wood told the Progress in January that she took consulted City Clerk Carolyn Jagger before setting up the GoFundMe, but her affidavit makes no mention of that.
A city spokesperson said Jagger declined to comment, because she may be contacted as a witness in the ongoing ethics investigation.
The GoFundMe ultimately raised $2,470 from 18 anonymous donations, which were used to pay a medical bill as well as bills for cell phone service, car insurance and another bill from a Valley HVAC supplier, according to Wood’s affidavit.
Both Phillips and Wood have said Phillips did not know the identity of the anonymous donors.
Phillips also argued the donations could not have influenced any of his decisions, because he did not know the identity of the donors.
According to an email sent to Norton by GoFundMe customer support, “While you can make your donation anonymous on the public GoFundMe campaign, there is no way to make your donation completely anonymous from the campaign organizer or beneficiary.”
In his motion, Phillips said there was never any discussion about his voting record or anything else political in relation to the GoFundMe account.
According to Phillips’ filing, he disclosed the GoFundMe gift to the City Clerk’s office in December.
Phillips’ most recent required financial disclosure statement does include a letter disclosing the GoFundMe account, but the letter is on an undated sheet of paper. The disclosure statement itself includes the date Dec. 19, 2019, next to Phillips’ signature but lacks a timestamp from the City Clerk’s office.
Other gift declarations included with the disclosure, including $1,000 worth of tickets to the Scottsdale Arts Gala and $85 tickets a holiday event at the Princess resort, were submitted on official city “Declaration of Gifts” forms and included a timestamp
Norton has suggested Phillips disclosure statement and/or the GoFundMe letter may have been added after the fact.
“Unfortunately, the record as produced by the City also lacks a date,” Norton wrote the ethics panel, adding:
“This is a highly irregular situation since it is the custom and practice of the City to Date and Time stamp all such documents at the time they are received. Without a date and time stamp, questions arise about when Phillips really filed this report. That becomes even more important due to another highly irregular page in that report.”
Phillips declined to comment for this story, citing the hearing.
In an email to Norton, Scott, the city attorney, said she did not believe any protocols were violated by Phillips’ disclosures and it, along with all City Council financial disclosures, were filed by the due date on Jan. 31.
In another email to Norton, Scott wrote that the timestamp issue may have been a simple clerical issue.
Norton has also raised questions about a late disclosure by Phillips revealing that he has received pro bono legal services from former City Attorney Bruce Washburn, who retired in 2019.
According to a recent gift filing time stamped on March 5, Phillips received “Pro bono/legal advice and help from a retired lawyer who is a personal friend. This help from a friend is not considered a gift required to be declared as defined by the Ethic’s Code (sic). I am declaring this only in order to be completely transparent.”
The form later identifies the friend as Washburn and states that the gift has no face value and/or the value is unknown.
Phillips, who is currently running for reelection, declined to comment on why he was unable to assign a value to the services.
Norton alleged Washburn helped Phillips author the motion to dismiss and only filed the gift disclosure when Norton raised questions about who was offering the councilman’s legal services.
According to city rules, the ethics panel has 60 days from the date it received the complaint to review the case and report back to the council. The council must then consider the report in a public meeting and either accept or reject the findings.