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Sun, Dec. 08

Conflict-of-interest claims continue to surface in election

PRESCOTT – Past history – especially that concerning the Gateway Mall – continues to arise in the election campaign for mayor of Prescott.

Although the mall construction is now well under way, and most of the City Council decisions about the project are about three years in the past, the matter has surfaced in regard to mayoral candidate Dick Cooper.

Recently, a number of people in the community questioned whether Cooper would have a conflict of interest in dealing with the lawsuit that the 69 Corridor Concerned Citizens (CCC) filed against the city in early 1999. They claimed that because Cooper's wife, Lula, had been involved with the 69CCC, Cooper would have a conflict of interest in dealing with the matter.

But Cooper has denied that, pointing out that Lula resigned from the 69CCC when the group decided to file the lawsuit. He said neither he nor she are currently involved in the decision-making process of the organization.

But the conflict-of-interest claims continued – especially on current Mayor Sam Steiger's television show.

That prompted Cooper's campaign to issue a press release in defense of Lula Cooper late last week.

The press release stated that both Steiger and former mayor Daiton Rutkowski (on his radio show) had inaccurately claimed that Lula Cooper was "suing the city" in a leadership role with the 69 Corridor Concerned Citizens.

"It saddens me and is a disgrace to our community when misinformation is spoken, through the airways, as the truth about my wife of 47 years, Lula," the press release quoted Cooper as saying. "I must and will defend her when certain muck-raking, talk-show bullies spread outright lies about her suing the City of Prescott."

In short, Cooper said, "She is not suing the city, and I do not have a conflict of interest."

Bill Kendig, chairman of the 69CCC, agreed. "Lula Cooper was not involved in the decision by the 69CCC to proceed with a lawsuit," he stated in Cooper's press release. "In January 1999, Lula Cooper resigned her office and any active membership from the organization."

However, Steiger continues to maintain that Dick Cooper would have a conflict in dealing with the lawsuit as mayor. He maintains that Lula Cooper still serves in an advisory role to the 69CCC.

"She is not an office-holder, but she is the soul of the Highway 69 group," Steiger said Tuesday. "She put the group together. It wouldn't be in existence without her."

Steiger agreed that he had made the claim about a conflict of interest on his television show.

Rutkowski, on the other hand, said he had been inaccurately "lumped together" with Steiger in the matter. Although he said he has questioned what Cooper's views on the mall are, Rutkowski said he never claimed that Lula Cooper's past involvement would present a conflict of interest for her husband.

"I think Lula has a right to speak out," Rutkowski said. "Having a strong wife – there's no crime in that."

But, Rutkowski said, he believes that Cooper "has never really outlined his stance to me on the mall. I thought he ought to come out and explain it."

Cooper's press release also maintained that city records show that "Dick Cooper not only removed himself from any votes regarding the mall and associated development, but even refused to participate in secret executive meetings regarding the mall."

On Tuesday, Cooper said he had questioned the blanket statement when a campaign worker wrote the press release. "I asked him to take that part out," Cooper said. He pointed out he was uncertain about specifically which votes he participated in during the 1998 mall consideration.

Records show a mixed bag. In June 1998, Cooper voted against the mall rezoning, because he said he opposed the process the city used in changing the master plan for The Ranch.

Then, in November 1998, Cooper declared a conflict of interest and abstained from an emergency-clause vote on five mall-related items, including the amendment to The Ranch master plan and the development agreements with the developers.

At that time, Cooper said he abstained from the votes because Lula Cooper was then chairwoman of the 69CCC, and he thought he would have a conflict of interest.

The 69CCC lawsuit against the city is currently stalled while the Arizona Supreme Court decides whether to consider it.

Contact Cindy Barks at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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