[Source: Josh Bernstein, ABC News 15] — It’s the largest construction project in Maricopa County history, but the new-state-of- the-art court tower is shrouded in secrecy. “And why is any of this secret? What does the county have to hide?” said Clint Bolick, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute. “This is not a matter of national security. It is not some sort of tense lawsuit that the county has. This is a run of the mill project.”
The $347 million dollar taxpayer-funded project is already under criminal investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. But it’s the secrecy and the apparent conflict of interest that has Bolick outraged. “This is a flagrant abuse of public trust,” said Bolick, a former attorney with the United States Department of Justice.
Documents obtained exclusively by the ABC15 Investigators reveal attorney Thomas K. Irvine and his firm are representing both the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who are funding the project, and the Maricopa County Superior Court, that will occupy the building. “It is a blatant conflict of interest, one of the first kinds of conflicts you learn about in law school,” Bolick said. “It’s a matter of the fox guarding the hen house.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Jim Walsh, Arizona Republic] — Mesa Mayor Scott Smith doesn’t want East Valley residents to get stuck paying for the closing of Maricopa County Superior Court’s criminal divisions through extra travel costs and inconvenience. Smith plans to fight against plans to move the criminal divisions to Phoenix by the end of this year by meeting with Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell and the East Valley’s two representatives on the Board of Supervisors. “I think it would be a huge disservice to the East Valley for these courts to move,” Smith said. “It’s shifting the costs and burden to individual citizens.”
He said the size of Maricopa County alone justifies a full-service courthouse, including criminal courts. “We’re a huge county. The citizens are not served when the services are so far away,” Smith said.
But Mundell’s not budging, saying the move is necessary to improve efficiency and save money on transporting defendants from Phoenix jails to the Mesa courthouse for hearings on felony cases. “I would love to have criminal in all of our facilities,” in Mesa, northeast Phoenix, and Surprise, she said, but county can’t afford it.
The county also is building a controversial $343 million criminal tower in downtown Phoenix that is scheduled to open in 2012. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Yvonne Wingett, Arizona Republic] — The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors sacrificed $86 million in capital-improvement projects Monday, instead unanimously deciding to spend the money on a courtroom complex in downtown Phoenix. The 16-story Criminal Court Tower could cost $340 million and likely will be the county’s most expensive project, filling a block bounded by First and Second avenues and Jackson and Madison streets. Most criminal cases are tried in the downtown Phoenix Superior Court Complex, but with 40,000 felony cases filed yearly and the number projected to grow, the tower is meant to handle ever-increasing caseloads.
In shelving other projects, the board hammered home that it is committed to the tower, despite slumping revenues, a gaping hole in its budget, and bleak briefings from economists who predict the economic situation will get worse. “There will never be a better time to build that building than right now,” said Republican Supervisor Max Wilson. To help cover court-tower costs, the board shelved a $67 million plan to expand a regional court in Mesa, a $13 million project to build a sheriff’s office 911 center and crime lab, and a $6.3 million plan to knock down First Avenue Jail. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Associated Press] — The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is considering a plan proponents say will result in more recycling, better air quality, and improved decisions about land and building use. The program calls for planting garden roofs on its buildings to help offset the heat-island effect while requiring the use of solar energy or other renewable resources in the design of most new county buildings. And county workers would rely more on electronics, less on paper, and less on travel.
In approving the proposal unveiled Monday, supervisors would join other large county governments in setting comprehensive environmental policies. “It’s important for us to set the example and walk the walk,” Supervisor Don Stapley said. Stapley, R-District 2 of Mesa, is set to take over as president of the National Association of Counties this summer. He said he plans to make environmental policies a cornerstone of his term. “It will be a huge shift in the paradigm of how we do business,” Stapley said. “We want counties to be a catalyst for the change in the mindset of Americans.”
Officials said one main goal of the program is to save taxpayers money, although many of the measures would involve short-term costs. The strategies are essential to keeping costs and resources down as the county’s population continues to soar, authorities say. “Counties are now getting to the point where they’ve analyzed things like their air quality, transportation, building policies and now, we’re starting to see the trend where they’re taking all those pieces and putting them into a broader sustainability plan,” said Kelly Zonderwyk, a senior associate of the national counties association who runs its Green Government Initiative. “Green is sort of here to stay, and we need to be doing something to help the environment and to save taxpayer dollars.”
Goals set out by the county include increasing recycling while decreasing the use of paper. Several departments would step up the use of electronic documents while cutting down on hard copies. They also plan to increase by an average of 5% each year the amount of recycled and remanufactured products used.