Welcome to Donnawood

A west Phoenix neighborhood pays the way for activist Donna Neill to gain control. But who gets stuck with the final bill?

Donna and Jerry Neill say they were never told to report state grants.

By 1999, as Neill was becoming more of a presence at the capitol, Enniss and Neill's relationship was deteriorating. The two rarely spoke, and he was not included in brainstorming new NAILEM activities.

"I began getting calls from neighborhood leaders asking why NAILEM was supporting this issue, supporting that issue," Enniss says. "The calls from the neighborhoods really made me realize that organized neighborhoods were not being consulted."

Jerry and Donna Neill moved to the Westwood community in 1993.
Kevin Scanlon
Jerry and Donna Neill moved to the Westwood community in 1993.

Enniss saw baffling events unfold, such as a March 2000 raffle to help finance NAILEM.

The raffle was sponsored by Childress and Tanner. Neill sent out an e-mail announcing the raffle. Tickets were $1 each with special incentives for anyone buying 10 or more. Proceeds would go directly to NAILEM to cover the cost of "many projects" such as police memorials, legislative efforts, Web site maintenance and "basic operation expenses."

All checks were to be made payable to Donna Neill. Prizes, including a $700 motorbike from Childress and an auto detailing package from Tanner, would be handed out at a business alliance meeting.

In April, Donna Neill sent out a second e-mail concerning the raffle: "Someone reported us to the Arizona State Attorney General for conducting a raffle without a license," she wrote.

State law requires any organization wishing to conduct a raffle to register with the AG's Office. Businesses conducting illegal raffles have been prosecuted, including a recent case in Tucson that resulted in a $20,000 settlement payment to the state.

On May 12, 2000, Neill wrote a letter to the special investigator assigned to the NAILEM raffle. "Per your instruction, all monies collected on the raffle for NAILEM have been returned to those who bought tickets," she wrote, adding that the board would register with the AG's Office so it could hold future raffles.

The Attorney General's Office does not discuss specific complaints. But, as of October 2001, records show that no registration has been filed.

In November 2000, Enniss sent a letter to the Phoenix City Council announcing his separation from NAILEM and from Neill. The letter contained disturbing allegations.

Enniss told the council Neill was deceiving people by promoting NAILEM as a statewide coalition of concerned residents working to empower themselves. In fact, he wrote, the organization had one sole voice: Neill. He hinted, but did not elaborate, about possible impropriety, referencing "unethical concealed financial practices" that "may have also been attempted or undertaken."

Neill threatened legal action if Enniss did not retract his letter. He didn't, but Neill never filed a lawsuit.

The city, according to Councilman Gordon, investigated Enniss' claims but found no evidence of wrongdoing on Neill's part.

Enniss declines to discuss his specific reasons for publicly denouncing Neill. He also declines to address his claim that money might have been misappropriated.

"In retrospect, I wish I had been a little more politically correct, but I also felt a need to make sure that people were aware I had broken away completely," he says, "that I was not supportive."

After eight years in Westwood, Neill's energy level remains high and her Midas touch for fund raising is still strong.

Last December, seven months after the investigation into the NAILEM raffle, a second raffle was held to benefit Neill. This time, the sponsoring business was Kelly Clark Automotive Specialists, which has a store on North 19th Avenue.

The business had helped Neill on previous occasions by hosting car shows and giving Neill the proceeds raised by selling donated food, according to store manager Ed Rauch.

"We've had two or three shows," Rauch says. "I'm sure we've done well over $1,500 to $2,000."

The December raffle offered contestants a $500 shopping spree. Lynette Sadler, marketing manager for Kelly Clark Automotive, estimates that the raffle raised another $1,000 for Neill.

According to the Attorney General's Office, Kelly Clark Automotive never registered with the state to obtain a license to hold a raffle. No complaints were filed, however, and the raffle took place as planned.

The shopping spree definitely came after Neill was aware of state regulations. Yet Neill never mentioned this to Sadler, or asked whether the business had taken the proper steps to solicit money.

"They had been doing these raffles for years," Neill told New Times last month. "I probably didn't even think about it."

A review of Westwood's financial records since 1996 shows no donations listed as being received from Kelly Clark.

Neill says she's now soliciting donations for the 2001 Christmas party at Kids Street Park, as well as gifts for other causes.

The most recent, sizable contribution came this past summer from a used car dealership, which said it was interested in moving to the Westwood neighborhood. The dealership, Neill says, gave her $5,000, which she plans to use to buy school clothes for needy children.

The money is still sitting in Westwood's bank account, according to Neill, even though the school year began in August.

Such is the case with nearly all the private money Neill has received: Few of the donations can be traced. She either hasn't spent the money, or never documented what it was spent on.

On November 1, two weeks after being interviewed, Donna Neill called New Times.

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