A judge ordered Scottsdale to open City Manager Jan Dolan’s self-evaluation to public review.
Thursday’s decision in a lawsuit filed by the Tribune marked the second time in slightly more than two years that the courts have ruled the city improperly denied public records to the newspaper.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul McMurdie also ordered in his four-page decision that Scottsdale must pay the Tribune’s attorneys’ fees and costs. The amount could push the total cost to the Scottsdale taxpayers to about $50,000.
The document was not released by the city Thursday.
Scottsdale spokesman Pat Dodds said the City Council must provide direction on whether to pursue an appeal. The city has 30 days to decide.
The next scheduled City Council meeting is Aug. 21.
After having its initial request in December turned down by city staff, the Tribune sued in February to obtain the self-evaluation — the only written document pertaining to Dolan’s job performance.
Dolan — who has a slim majority of council support and has been criticized for her management style and the city’s low morale and high turnover — was awarded an 8 percent raise in January on a 4-3 council vote.
Dolan was on vacation Thursday and was not reachable for comment, Dodds said.
An early sampling of council members indicates an appeal is unlikely, even among members that still stand by the decision to not release the document and challenge the Tribune in court.
Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross said a judge’s decision was needed in this case. Manross said she now wants to move forward, implying that she will not support an appeal.
“Sometimes it costs a few dollars to get an answer to these kinds of questions,” said Manross, who said the issue was about protecting the process to have honest and constructive dialogue with top employees.
Councilman Bob Littlefield has vocally called for the release of the document and forced a council vote on the issue in January. The 3-3 deadlock meant the request remained unfulfilled.
“It’s a good ruling, it never should have been done in the first place and now we look stupid throwing $50,000 away,” Littlefield said.
Dan Barr, a First Amendment lawyer representing the Tribune, said the judge’s order could not be any more clear.
“Each one of their arguments was flatly rejected,” Barr said. “When Scottsdale spends over $20,000 and can’t find one case that has accepted its arguments, they should be thinking there’s a reason for that.”
Kelly Schwab, an attorney from a law firm who represented Scottsdale in the lawsuit, said the city did not believe as though there was a clear answer in state statute or case law.
“This court has now given us an answer,” Schwab said.
Scottsdale argued that because the document was produced for a closed-door session, the document itself was confidential. The judge disagreed.
Schwab said city fees have exceeded $20,000, and Barr said the Tribune’s fees have exceeded $26,000. The exact amount Scottsdale will pay to the Tribune will be determined by a judge at a later date.
In December, the Tribune requested the self-evaluations of the city’s four top officials that report to the council — Dolan, City Attorney Deborah Robberson, City Clerk Carolyn Jagger and City Auditor Cheryl Dreska. While the lawsuit focused solely on Dolan’s evaluation, the Tribune repeated its request Thursday for all four self-evaluations.
In 2005, a judge ruled the city’s policy governing the release of employee documents was arbitrary and capricious. That case involved the city’s resistance to make public the personnel records of an off-duty former police officer who was involved in an alcohol-related crash that resulted in the maiming of an off-duty Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy. In that case, the Tribune was awarded more than $24,000 in attorneys’ fees that were paid by the city.