Town councilman's actions are questioned - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Town councilman's actions are questioned

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Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 1:26 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is reviewing Marana Councilman Russell Clanagan’s dealings with area businesses and the Continental Ranch Community Association, considering whether to investigate them.

Last fall, Clanagan set up a free gym membership with a fitness center that had business before the town council.

And, while exchanging messages with another business seeking town approval to expand its offices, Clanagan mentioned that another council member had an out-of-work son. Clanagan wondered whom the council member’s son might contact regarding potential openings.

Also, in messages sent from his town e-mail account last fall, Clanagan pledged his support for a number of candidates for election to the Continental Ranch HOA board.

Marana town attorney Frank Cassidy investigated the incidents last month, not long after Continental Ranch resident Angela Wagner-Gabbard had sought access to Clanagan’s town e-mails and letters under the state’s freedom of information act.

Wagner-Gabbard wanted access to four months of Clanagan’s correspondence to determine the extent of the councilman’s involvement in the Continental Ranch HOA board election, for which she ran an unsuccessful campaign.

But, based on the other incidents her review turned up, she urged Clanagan to resign, and did so publicly at a town council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 6.

In a Dec. 31 memo to Marana officials, Cassidy said he found “insufficient evidence to conclude that Council Member Clanagan had committed a crime.”

In the memo, Cassidy addressed three issues Wagner-Gabbard raised through her records request.

One involved a free, lifetime gym membership valued at $636 annually, which Clanagan received from Anytime Fitness, where he was formerly employed.

On Sept. 24, the Marana Planning Commission heard a request for a permit to allow the gym, at 8235 N. Silverbell Road, to remain open 24 hours a day, according to the memo. Previously, it was required to close overnight.

The commission unanimously recommended approval of the request, which was then heard and unanimously approved by town council on Oct. 21, with Clanagan voting in favor.

Just before the Marana Planning Commission considered the gym’s request, Clanagan arranged through his town-maintained e-mail account to receive a lifetime membership at the gym for himself and Patty Gingrich, the woman with whom he lives.

In a Sept. 18 e-mail message to Tom Pritzker, a co-owner of Anytime Fitness, Clanagan wrote, “I plan on attending the (Planning and Zoning) meeting to ensure the success of your application.”

In a message dated that same day, Pritzker wrote to Clanagan, “You go Russell. Thanks. Did you get set up with Rich on membership?”

Clanagan said last week that he used poor judgment in that exchange and others. “Was it a proper use of a town e-mail account? No,” he said.

In a Jan. 11 statement, Pritzker wrote that Clanagan received the free membership due to his status as a former employee who had worked at the gym before his election to town council.

“All managers of our clubs receive free family memberships to our clubs,” Pritzker wrote. “This benefit carries forward beyond the term of employment assuming the employee leaves in good standing, so Russell’s free membership is a benefit that has been routinely available to all other Anytime Fitness employees past and present. It is not a special reward or ‘bribe’ for his support of us. We have also provided, at our discretion, free memberships to family members, partners, vendors and others who have supported us.”

The timing of the membership issue was happenstance, Pritzker wrote, and “comes as a result of my question to him over whether he had ever exercised his rightful benefit to a free family membership as a former employee.”

Cassidy wrote in his Dec. 31 memo, “Depending on how the facts are interpreted, an objective observer might view Council Member Clanagan’s receipt of the two lifetime Anytime Fitness memberships as either (i) bribery or (ii) a poorly-timed gift or former-employee benefit.”

Cassidy also wrote, “This Office concludes that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that Council Member Clanagan committed bribery by receiving the memberships.” He added there was no evidence the membverships were contingent on or connected to the success of the application.

Cassidy concluded that while the town does prohibit its employees from accepting gifts and favors, unlike many municipalities, Marana does not have a rule that elected officials can’t receive gifts.

Another matter under Cassidy’s review was Clanagan’s referral of Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler’s out-of-work son to a company with which the town had business.

FLSmidth/Krebs engineers asked Clanagan for help in expediting expansion of the company’s Marana facility, according to Cassidy’s Dec. 31 memo. Clanagan was invited to visit the site on Oct. 27, when he learned that the expansion might mean they company would be hiring.

On Oct. 28, Clanagan received an e-mail message from Ziegler:

“Dear Russell: On a totally different subject — my son (Jeffrey Bourg) is looking for a job. He was working at Border States Electric for the past two years but has parted ways with them. He worked in the warehouse cutting wire and managed the in-town shipping department. He can drive forklifts, do wire inventory, shipping and receiving, use a computer, etc.

“You know a lot of people, and I was hoping you might know someone who is looking for this type of person. If you do, let me know and I will have Jeff send them a resume.”

In a message dated Oct. 29, Clanagan replied, “I can have something for him by the end of the week. Please provide his contact numbers?”

On Nov. 11, Clanagan wrote to a FLSmidth/Krebs representative:

“Richard, Jerry called me yesterday and we are in agreement on how to proceed with your project to ensure that it is completed in a timely and successful manner, I will continue to monitor this project, and I am confident that we can achieve your goals.

“Also, Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler asked me to help out her son, Jeffrey, who is looking for employment. Who should he contact at your company to submit his resume?”

Wagner-Gabbard mentioned the exchange at the town council meeting during which she called for Clanagan to resign.

After the meeting, Ziegler told Wagner-Gabbard that she was just asking Clanagan to keep an eye out and had not known he would do what he did with her request.

In his Dec. 31 memo, Cassidy wrote, “This Office finds no violation of law or policy related to the FLSmidth/Krebs matter. However, we recommend that Council members refrain from mixing official business with personal business in a single message, letter or meeting.”

Clanagan has denied any wrongdoing in any of the matters. He said of Wagner-Gabbard’s call for him to resign: “I was kind of surprised by her tactics, but I know she’s just a very sore loser.

“I didn’t support her candidacy, and the reason is that she wanted a very heavy-handed approach to dealing with home owners,” Clanagan said. “She wanted to hire an enforcement person to deal with homeowners.”

Wagner-Gabbard said she had not sought Clanagan’s endorsement in the HOA election. “I didn’t know he was supporting anyone until the campaign was over,” she said.

The councilman’s involvement in the HOA election, which Wagner-Gabbard had initially set out to research, wasn’t prohibited by town policies either, Cassidy concluded in his investigation.

While the town’s personnel policies restrict political activities while on the job and “Council Member Clanagan’s actions relative to the Continental Ranch Community Association would appear clearly to violate these Town of Marana personnel policies, if they applied to elected officials,” he wrote.

However, they don’t apply to elected officials, Cassidy concluded.

Cassidy suggested that “two out of the three matters (under review) constitute a lapse of judgment by Council Member Clanagan.”

On Monday, Jan. 12, the state attorney general’s office confirmed receipt of Cassidy’s report, but had not determined whether it would investigate the matter.

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