Longform

Silly Con Valley

Page 5 of 6

And Northeast Phoenix Partners had already committed to sell the lease to Sumitomo.

So no matter who showed up to bid on the land, Sumitomo would have won. In some circles, that's known as a rigged bid. But Hassell dismisses that label.

"People still could have bid," he says rather unconvincingly.
Edward Jones, the state official who sent Chierighino and Wirth their new instructions on the appraisals, also denies that he received any communication from the Governor's Office. He says he was unaware that Symington had ever considered the first appraisals "flawed."

And he vigorously denies that he was party to an effort to artificially lower the price of state trust land. "No. That's against our ethics. And it's against my ethics," he says.

Arizona's constitution spells out the state's responsibility very clearly: Before being sold or leased, state lands "shall be appraised at their true value," and not sold or leased for less than that amount.

But more than the state's constitution may have been betrayed if the governor and Land Department officials artificially lowered the price of Sumitomo's land below its "true value."

The beneficiary of that land's value is the public school system of Arizona.
If Governor Symington has been able to survive the wrath of angry retirees left holding the bag after his previous business failures, the ire of the state's parents may be another matter entirely.

Given the governor's increasingly precarious position--just last week his former accountants agreed to help federal investigators in their case against him--the last thing he needs is an angry electorate.

And Chris Klein thinks that's just what an investigation into Sumitomo's appraisals will generate. Klein is a member of the coalition of residents opposed to the Sumitomo plant who has spent hundreds of hours going through government documents about the factory.

"The governor used his authority to leverage a state department to discount state land. That money is supposed to go to Arizona's children. What the governor did is wrong," Klein says.

"The whole process sure looks crooked," says Steve Brittle, one of the leaders of Phoenix residents who oppose the building of the silicon-wafer plant. Brittle says the coalition of anti-Sumitomo protesters will urge state Attorney General Grant Woods to look into the appraisals and the governor's involvement.

"It's a scandalous way of robbing our children of their education fund, especially at a time when the state is so concerned with how to finance education," Brittle says.

Karie Dozer, spokeswoman for Attorney General Grant Woods, says that the matter has not yet come to the attorney general's attention, and that she couldn't offer any comments about the appraisals. "It's best for us to see what somebody has sent us before we offer to comment," she says.

Former attorney general Bob Corbin says there is precedent for the AG to act. He once filed a lawsuit to get the state more property after the Land Department had agreed to an inequitable land swap.

"I said, 'We're getting a bad deal on this exchange,'" Corbin recalls. "So we went after them and we got a bunch more land for it."

Corbin says a citizen or a school district could also sue in an attempt to get a true value.

"This land belongs to the people," Corbin says. "When you start selling it for half price, you've got to have a reason. If there's not a logical explanation, then I'd look into it."

Sumitomo Sitix President Robert Gill declined to comment on the Land Department's handling of the appraisals, saying that his company had nothing to do with how the department valued state land. "I can say that we were surprised by the initial appraisal. We thought it was too high from what it was originally estimated at," he says, saying that those "original" estimates had come from appraisers hired by Sumitomo. "We assumed a number far less than what the [Land Department's original] appraisal was."

Gill says he was not personally in contact with either Land Department officials or Governor Symington at the time the appraisals were being produced.

He also claims to be unaware that Symington was in contact with his superiors in Japan.

"I never saw such a letter," says Gill.
Chierighino also says he was never aware of the governor's concerns about the appraisals, and he is adamant about his independence from the Land Department. "I did not know about that [Symington's] letter. I was not influenced in any way to come up with that value . . . and I think I adequately documented how I got from one value to the other," he says. "I don't do whatever [Land Department officials] tell me to do. . . . If they ask me to multiply three by six and come up with 12, I won't do it."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega