The Scottsdale, Arizona, City Council has voted 7-0 to spend nearly $2 million for a new police station – and refuses to disclose where the building is located.
In addition to keeping the location secret, the City Council has also kept its discussions secret. Council members made the decision to spend $1.87 million for the secret police station with no public discussion.
The building, an office-warehouse mix, is planned for the Scottsdale Police Department’s Investigative Service Bureau. Council members approved the expenditure as part of their consent agenda – meaning, items of mundane or non-controversial nature that are normally batched together and passed without discussion.
The city rarely handles real estate transactions that near $2 million, according to Arizona Republic reporter Peter Corbett, who first reported the story. Corbett declined to comment further on the issue.
‘Don’t Want Lives in Jeopardy’
So why the unwillingness to release the location of the facility? Arizona Public Records Law does require governments to allow citizens access to most records, albeit with certain exceptions. None of the council members contacted for comment responded. The mayor, meanwhile, was out of town, according to his chief of staff, J.P. Twist.
At the meeting, according to Corbett’s report, a Scottsdale police spokesman said the location was secret in order to protect the officers.
“We don’t want to put lives in jeopardy,” he reportedly stated.
Kelly Corsette, communications and public affairs director for the City of Scottsdale, explained similarly in an email: “A substantial number of police undercover personnel will work out of this building. Therefore, in the interest of the safety of our officers and the integrity of future undercover investigations, the city will not disclose its precise location. Redacted versions of the purchase agreement and the property appraisal have been provided to media upon request.”
Seller Also Hidden
The Arizona Republic has reportedly filed a public records request to obtain more information about the building, including the name of the seller – which the city is also withholding – and its exact location. Dan Barr, an attorney practiced in Freedom of Information Act issues and Arizona state laws regarding open records and public meetings’ laws, characterized the city’s secrecy as baffling.
Moreover, the building’s sale creates a public record in the county’s recorder’s office, he said, while the justification offered by the city to exempt the location from public record does not hold water legally.
“The Arizona public records law is fairly broad,” said Barr, an attorney with a Phoenix firm who does work for the National Freedom of Information Coalition. “But there’s nothing in the statute that would exempt this information.”
Corsette did not cite the specific section of Arizona’s public records law that allows the facility’s location to be kept secret. Rather, she cited a 1984 court case.
City Claims Wide Latitude
“Arizona public records statutes have been defined and interpreted by the Arizona Supreme Court,” Corsette said. “Arizona Supreme Court decisions establish legal precedent and have the same legal effect as a statute. The Arizona Supreme Court decision in Carlson v. Pima County 141 Ariz. 487 (1984) and other decisions authorize the decision that Scottsdale has made to keep the location of this facility confidential.”
Carlson v. Pima County, according to SunshineReview.org. was a case that considered the release of prisoners’ offense reports, and questioned whether these documents were public record.
“The court ruled in favor of the inmate,” SunshineReview.org reported, “and in so doing, eliminated the distinction between public records and ‘other matters,’ in favor of a comparison of the interests of privacy and the policy of openness with regard to whether records should be released.”
In effect, the case gave government, or the holders of government records, more leeway in determining whether privacy trumped the public’s right-to-know in requests for documents.
Lucy Caldwell, a spokesperson at the Goldwater Institute – an Arizona-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving individual liberties – said Scottsdale was normally known for its open governance.
‘Everybody Knows Where CIA Is’
Barr said most people in the vicinity already know where the facility is located, given its expansive 17,827 square-feet. But it’s the principle of the government withholding the information – coupled with the flimsy justification that’s cited, he said – that’s the bigger issue.
“They say keeping officers’ safety is the reason. But look at the CIA building. Everybody knows where the CIA building is,” he said. “Really, if you just stood outside the building and watched everybody going in and out, then you would know who the officers are.”