"I've Been Had"

Councilwoman Frances Barwood, facing a recall over her vote on the Sumitomo plant zoning, now claims she was misled by the mayor

David Krietor, director of the city's Community and Economic Development Department, after checking his records of that time, admits that he could find no evidence that Barwood had been briefed along with the mayor before Rimsza wrote the July 3 letter. "We were in the process of interesting the company in Desert Ridge, and we asked Rimsza to send the letter," he says.

But he's quick to mention that public notices went up advertising hearings on the zoning change a week later, several meetings were held over the ensuing weeks with village planning committees, and the zoning proposals were advertised. And, he points out, on July 28 a story appeared in the Phoenix Business Journal which linked Sumitomo to the Desert Ridge site.

Asked if he's implying that although Barwood had not personally been briefed as the mayor had been, there was plenty of activity in July and August which should have tipped her off that Sumitomo was coming to Desert Ridge: "Yes," he replies.

"That's assuming I have time to read the Business Journal, which I hardly ever see," Barwood responds. "Why wasn't there a [copy of Rimsza's letter sent] to everyone on the council? Yes, there was zoning, yes, there were articles, but never was there a mention of Sumitomo."

Councilman Sal DiCiccio agrees with Barwood on that point. He says he did notice the Business Journal article, but he doesn't remember hearing the word "Sumitomo" in any city meetings or hearings before the September vote.

Councilman Craig Tribken remembers things differently. "You had to be unconscious not to know that this was going to be Sumitomo," Tribken says. In fact, he says, council members knew that after their September 20 vote, a press conference would be held with Sumitomo officials announcing that Phoenix had won the plant.

"Maybe there's a letter from Rimsza, but Barwood was upset the day after the vote that she hadn't gotten more attention in the press conference with Sumitomo and the mayor," Tribken says, adding that it's odd Barwood would raise objections so long after the vote. He does, however, admit that the city has deserved some of the criticism it has received about the Sumitomo matter.

"There's no question this thing was rushed. . . . It was obviously not a good exercise in terms of public input," Tribken says. "It was a little bit of a comedy of errors that made it the flashpoint that it is."

Opponents to the plant say it's some encouragement to hear city council members echoing their own complaints: that they were kept in the dark while a project with major impact was located in their backyard.

But they have little sympathy for Barwood.
"She's trying to save her own neck," says plant opponent Chris Klein, who has spent hours sifting through city files and has uncovered many startling documents in the case. He's angry that the Rimsza letter was not turned over with the rest of the documents he requested under the state's Public Records Act.

"I think the city is finally telling Barwood, 'Look, we can only help you out so far.' She failed in the zoning on her house, she lost on the recall lawsuit, and she's in a libel suit with [plant opponent and environmental activist] Steve Brittle . . . now she's crying 'Poor me,' and the city's dropping her like a hot potato," Klein says.

Klein is unimpressed at Barwood's claims of being set up.
"This is her district, she should know," he says. "It's ridiculous that she wouldn't know what was coming into her district. She has the same ability--actually an even better ability--to get documents that we found," he says.

If Barwood had bothered to research her September 1995 vote before she cast it, Klein says, she would have found what Klein and other opponents did later: that months earlier the city had all but promised Sumitomo-Sitix its zoning needs would sail through without a hitch.

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