Feathered Bastard

Florence "Evaluating" Purchase of Johnson Utilities, while AZ CorpCom Treats It Like a Done Deal

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Then there's the question of the litigation Johnson Utilities is engaged in, such as the two lawsuits I addressed in a previous column, and whether the town will be on the hook for any future legal bills, if the purchase goes through.

Additionally, the relationship between George Johnson and Mayor Rankin continues to raise eyebrows. And in light of a possible sale, even more so.

As discussed in "Florence Exposed," Johnson and his family supported Rankin's candidacy for mayor in 2012 with donations totaling more than $6,000. Johnson once lent Rankin $5,000, and Johnson employs Rankin's grown son Robert.

At one time, Johnson employed Rankin's other adult son, Tom Rankin, Jr., known to family and friends as "Tom Tom."

Also of concern is J.U.'s track record with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which has issued numerous notices of violation to the utility over the past decade.

The utility's customers have complained of "low water pressure" and "yellow water." The company endured a high-profile E.coli scare in 2012, and earlier this year, it garnered further criticism for releasing semi-treated wastewater into a San Tan Valley pond.

My source said a worry among some in the town is the unknown cost of any improvements that might be necessary to the utility.

As a side issue, it's worth noting that before Queen Creek purchased H2O, Inc., it put the matter to a vote of the town electorate, citing a 2012 Arizona Court of Appeals decision that stated such a purchase would have to be approved by voters.

But officials with Queen Creek and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns were unclear if that particular decision would apply to Florence.

(Note: The Arizona Supreme Court denied a petition to review that case in late 2012, allowing the Court of Appeals decision to stand.)

John Kross, Queen Creek's Town Manager said the town held its special election earlier this year on the advice of counsel. The proposed purchase passed by a landslide.

"In our situation when we were completing our deal with the H2O owners, in order to acquire the company, go through the next steps, we had to first put the question to our voters, which we did," said Kross.

But Kross said the situation may be different for Florence.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons