Opposition to college tax hike goes to court


A Casa Grande businessman wants to stop Central Arizona College’s tax hike so much he is taking the board of governors to court.

Garland Shreves is accusing the board of violating Open Meeting law at its May 19 meeting and failing to provide the Truth in Taxation notice for its June 9 meeting. Ultimately, he wants to clear out most of the board and unseat the college president.

Through attorney Kent P. Volkmer of the Wallace, Volkmer & Weagant law practice, Shreves filed an injunction to prevent the raise in the primary tax rate from going into effect. He said all actions taken during both meetings should be nullified because the board ignored the law. It goes before a judge Aug. 10.

Shreves, chairman of the group Citizens for Fair Taxation (CFFT), said he is taking the case to court himself because he did not want to wait for the complaint process between the County Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General.

He said the college does not have a revenue problem but a spending problem and said board members “don’t have a clue” what’s in the budget. He described the board as “inept and senile” and the staff as “incompetent.”

Through public relations specialist Gordon James, President Doris Helmich said she had no idea her removal was part of the CFFT plan.

At the May 19 meeting, the board voted to raise the primary tax rate 45 percent to $2.76 per $100 of net assessed valuation. Shreves said the meeting was in a classroom on the Signal Peak campus with seating for 80 people. He said nearly half the chairs were taken by college employees and there was not room for several members of the public who wanted to attend.

In his suit, he claims the board did not follow the law regarding accommodating the public even after he brought the problem to their attention.

Shreves said when he told the board people were being turned away at the door because the room was at capacity, Board President Gladys Christensen had him escorted from the room by an armed guard. He claims Christensen told the audience they could speak in the meeting if they chose but could not remain and listen to others or the discussion of the board.

“They did not make any accommodation for the public at all,” Shreves said.

That, he said, violates Arizona State Statute 38-431.01(A), which states the public should be able to attend and listen to deliberations and proceedings of a public body. According to that law, any action taken during a meeting in violation of the statute would be “null and void.”

Shreves also said Boardmember Debra Banks afterward spoke to him and sent him an email saying she agreed with him about the alleged Open Meeting violation.

May 19 was the first time Shreves attended a CAC board meeting.

At the June 9 meeting, the board of governors voted to lower the previously approved primary tax rate from $2.76 to $2.30. By the college’s estimates, that will have a budget impact of $9.3 million. Only four board members were present, and Banks abstained from the vote.

That meeting was not agendized as a Truth in Taxation hearing. The Truth in Taxation law requires taxing bodies to provide 72-hour notice when they intend to raise the primary tax rate. Though the board used the meeting to lower the previously set rate, Shreves does not consider the previous rate decision to be finalized. In effect, the board voted to raise the rate from $1.91 to $2.30, he said, which should have required another Truth in Taxation hearing.

If a judge agrees with that interpretation and affirms the board violated the Truth in Taxation law, the college board would not be allowed to raise the rate at all this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2016.

Superior Court Judge Jason Holmberg will hear the case. The hearing to show cause is set for Aug. 10 at 9 a.m.

Ironically, that is CAC’s All College Day, when the board will hear from analyst Dan Hunting of ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy on strategic planning.

A judgment against the board could result in fines. Shreves wants a stipulation that any fines cannot be paid with tax-payer money.

Though the injunction and outlined penalties names all the members of the board, Shreves said he would ultimately like to separate Banks from the action. “I wish she had stood up,” he said, “but she apologized.”

Shreves’ definitive goal and the reason he formed CFFT was to remove the other four members of the board: Christensen, Rita Nader, Rick Gibson and Jack Yarrington. He wants to replace them with board members who are fiscally conservative.

He said he also wants the college to replace Helmich and Vice President of Finance Chris Wodka.

CFFT has approximately 180 people across the county trying to collect enough signatures to force a recall election. They have until September, but Shreves estimates they already have 45 percent of the signatures needed to recall Nader, 35 percent of the signatures needed to recall Christensen and 30 percent of the signatures needed to recall Gibson.

***ADVERTISEMENT***Maricopa is in District 4, represented by Nader, who lives in Casa Grande.

If enough signatures are gathered by the deadline, the group would have 90 days to submit a panel of candidates for the recalled positions.

“We do have people who are qualified to serve who are interested,” Shreves said.