Phoenix Councilwoman Thelda Williams Says She's Not a Member of Private Committee Organized by Councilman Sal DiCiccio, Firefighters Union Boss

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Phoenix Councilwoman Thelda Williams tells New Times that she isn't part of a private committee pulled together by Councilman Sal DiCiccio, Pete Gorraiz, president of the firefighters union, and Billy Shields, a Phoenix lobbyist and former head of the fire union.

"I was just on a e-mail list to get minutes of the meeting," she said, adding that she has rebuffed DiCiccio's efforts to include her in the group. "I have not attended any meetings."

New Times broke the story on Monday about an influential group -- including three elected Phoenix officials, members of the Goldwater Institute, and the firefighters union boss -- meeting quietly over the past month and developing strategies on how to change city government.

During one of the meetings, Shields said he and Gorraiz talked to Williams and councilmen Bill Gates and Tom Simplot. "He said that there had been a supportive response ... and that Thelda [Williams] was out of town for the meeting that morning."

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon told CBS 5 News, which followed up on New Times' report, that he has "spoken with council members who are attending these meetings, and he said they tell him they were misled and misrepresented by DiCiccio."

Gates told New Times that "the only substantive meeting I've been in has been the transparency meeting."

"That's an area that I'm interested in," Gates said. "I found it very, very helpful to get [David] Bodney's perspective on those issues."

(Bodney, an attorney with Steptoe and Johnson who represents the Arizona Republic on First Amendment issues, was invited to lead discussions about improving government transparency.)

Minutes from the October 1 meeting suggest that Gates arrived after the meeting started and "thanked everyone for allowing him to be there."

Williams said while there are areas in which the city can improve, she would not support going down the path that would limit government to providing only life-safety services.

She said Phoenix residents have been very outspoken about parks, for example, and other services they expect the city to provide. She cited the public turnout during budget hearings at which residents called on city officials to preserve various programs, including those related to arts and culture, recreation, and senior and youth centers.

Williams said she may attend some meetings just to see what is going on. But she said discussions and decisions have to include citizens, not just a "chosen few."

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