PHOENIX - A judge has upheld the Glendale City Council's vote on an arena lease agreement with a prospective owner of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink on Thursday rejected a claim by conservative watchdog group Goldwater Institute that the city should have had open bidding on arena operations for Jobing.com Arena, the home of the Coyotes, rather than accept an offer from former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.
"We thought it was the right decision—there wasn't a strong legal basis for this action at all," Glendale City Attorney Craig Tindall said. "We attempted to discuss with Goldwater Institute, they didn't talk to us before they filed, they didn't talk to us before they got to court. It did go to court and obviously we agree with the judge's decision."
In a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the June 8 City Council vote, Goldwater argued that arena management was not a professional service, which is exempt from the public bidding process under the Glendale city charter.
Lawyers for the city contended that it was indeed a professional service and that Jamison was the only prospective owner who could buy the team, keep it in Arizona and run the arena.
Fink, citing previous court rulings and Glendale's charter, ruled that the contract with Jamison, which would pay him an average of $15 million per year to manage the arena, fell under the scope of professional services.
"Although there may be no recognized academic degree in arena management, plainly a wide range of specialized knowledge, predominantly mental or intellectual, is critical to success in the field," Fink wrote. "The Court finds that the arena management contract calls for the provision of professional services and therefore falls outside the scope of the Purchasing Ordinance."
The Glendale City Council voted 4-2 in favour of a 20-year, nearly $325 million lease agreement with Jamison, who has a tentative agreement to buy the team from the NHL. Jamison is working out a final deal to buy the team, which would have to be approved by the NHL Board of Governors.
Fink previously ruled on June 19 that an emergency clause in the ordinance was not in effect, allowing for a possible referendum on the deal.
Glendale residents Joe Cobb and Ken Jones, the plaintiffs in Goldwater's case, have been gathering signatures in hopes of getting the lease agreement ordinance on the November ballot.
Should the ordinance go on the ballot, the deal with Jamison could be put on hold until after the vote. The NHL is slated to start in October, barring a work stoppage.
Goldwater Institute President Darcy Olsen said if the arena management deal goes into effect, the organization will examine the terms to see if they violate the subsidy ban in Arizona's Constitution.
"We are disappointed in today's decision," Olsen said in a statement. "But we are glad that Glendale taxpayers have taken matters into their own hands by working to refer the arena management deal to the ballot."