FENNíS FANS AND FOES

                                                                        By Paul S. Lotsof

                                                                        Manager, CAVE 97.7 FM

            About thirty years ago I was sitting in a courtroom in California and heard the judge make a curious statement:

            ďSometimes the nicest people do the most terrible things.Ē

Obviously this judge had seen a good deal of life including the good and not so good.

THE BACKGROUND INFORMATION:    Mark N. Fenn entered this world on April 22, 1960.   Fenn was raised in Benson and graduated from the Benson High School.   He moved to California where he got into the construction business.    About a dozen years ago he returned to his hometown and began building houses, many of them along Pomerene Road.    In March 2003 Fenn ran for a seat on the Benson City Council and led the pack with 444 votes.    After he won the election, I asked him if he could explain his overwhelming success.   Fenn responded that he has a large family and his name is well known.

In March of 2007 Fenn repeated his earlier success and was elected mayor by a margin of 478 to 138 votes for his little known challenger who had never held a public office in his life.

Over the last couple years, Fennís  real estate development business has moved from home building to commercial projects such as the  office complex on West Fourth Street that houses Scott Realty,  the Boegemann  Law office and Enterprise Car Rental.

Fennís current and most controversial project is a giant commercial complex near Fourth and Prickly Pear.   On March 24th, the Benson City Council approved the rezoning that was needed to get the construction underway.

One fact of life in the real estate development business is that nearly every project requires a rezoning to be approved along with a site plan.    When the developer is also a public official, there are many opportunities for a conflict of interest to occur.

WHAT FENNíS CRITCS ARE CLAIMING:

If you analyze the complaints against  Mark Fenn, you will find that they fit into three categories:

1)       Conflict of interest.

2)       Improperly giving directives to city employees.

3)       Business dealings of a questionable nature.

To date, no formal charges have been filed against the mayor but on the evening of March 26th, the city council by a narrow margin  voted to have the City Attorney conduct a preliminary investigation to gather some facts.   At that same meeting, City Hall was packed with Fennís fans who showed up to cheer for their hero.   About a dozen of them got up to speak and their reasoning appeared to go like this:

          Mark Fenn is a man of the highest ethical standards.

          Mark Fenn isnít capable of wrongdoing.

          Because Fenn did nothing wrong, an investigation is pointless.

Many of Fennís fans also questioned the integrity of those council members who supported the investigation.

Fenn was among those voting for the investigation.  He said he had nothing to hide.

Very likely, a major problem is that the public has received precious little in the way of evidence that Fenn has done anything wrong.   The management of the Wednesday Wonder appear to side with Fennís fans and they have all but imposed a news blackout  on anything that tends to place the mayor in a bad light.

A major purpose of this web article is to allow the people of Benson to see the other side of the story.   Accordingly, letís take a closer look at what Fennís detractors are saying.

Among the few pieces of tangible  evidence against Fenn are some emails that were sent between the mayor and City Manager Martin Roush.   These emails were given to both the Wednesday Wonder and CAVE-FM.  The paper has yet to print them though they tend to lend credibility to the contention that Fenn was improperly using his authority and pursuing conflicts of interest.   A conflict of interest occurs when a public official uses his official position to further his business interests or to line his own pockets.    Itís also important to understand that the mayor isnít the City Managerís boss nor is the mayor supposed to deliver directives to any city employee.   The City Managerís boss is the entire city council.

Here are some actual emails that were exchanged between Fenn and Roush:

 

In this email, dated January 14, Mayor Fenn appears to be asking for  preferential treatment for his friends the Barney Brothers who want a new building for their dental practice.  Brown refers to Brown and Associates, a company with an office in Tucson.  Brown is an architectural company that was asked to review the Barneys' plans.


In this email to City Manager Roush, Mayor Fenn assails the SOP  (Standard Operating Procedure) that Roush has established so that all real estate developers will be treated equally. Fenn refers to "the bottom line impact it has on my business".    He also refers to requirements that developers donate land for parks in their subdivisions.  The developers could make more money if they just built houses.  Fenn seems to suggest that some existing developers be given preferential treatment over newcomers.  He also suggests that restrictions in general be relaxed to make Benson more attractive to developers.
 
 The mayor has no right to suggest that  the City Manager change policies without approval of the full city council.
 
First we see City Manager Roush's reply.  Then Fenn's letter:



Other Criticisms of Mayor Fenn

It appears that a developer named Paul Klink has informally complained that Mayor Fenn  and a partner have engaged in business practices that are questionable.   Klink is building a commercial complex near Wal-Mart.    We understand that Klinkís complaint is that Fenn and his partner have tried to lure away at least one of Klinkís  potential tenants.

We are also told that  several city employees besides Martin Roush have been approached by the mayor who has asked that his developments be given preferential treatment.

 

Here is Mayor Fenn's  response to the accusations of misconduct

It now appears that Mayor Fenn wants the city council to terminate the employment of City Manager Martin Roush.  It was Roush who released the e-mails to and from Roush that are reprinted above.   In particular, note Fenn's comments about a relationship between Roush and Planning and Zoning official Mike Lockett.

 

                        A Message From Councilwoman Dianne Tipton

(Dianne Tipton is the city council member who first called for Fenn to resign.) 

The current issues concerning Mayor Fenn are not about me or Councilwoman Kathy  Suagee nor should they be.   The issue at hand is whether or not Mayor Fenn was or is violating state conflict of interest laws.  It never ceases to amaze me when people do wrong, they always try to blame everyone but themselves.   They get their friends to back them up and help them escape the consequences of their actions.   After an investigation we will know whether or not Mayor Fenn did anything wrong.  Until then we should presume innocence.

During the March 26 council meeting, former Mayor George Scott commented about the role that I played in bringing about the resignation of City Attorney Ann Roberts.   Ms Roberts had altered a contract in such a way that her wages would have increased substantially.  While doing my due diligence as a council member, I caught the unauthorized change.   Roberts resigned because she got caught.  Scott seems to suggest that thatís my fault.  Who did the deed?  She did and she did the right thing by resigning.   I did not ask for any investigation but maybe I should have.

Ex Mayor Scott was defeated in last yearís election; he came in last place.  He needs to take full credit for his defeat.  Two years ago, Channel 9 did a feature story on both Scott and former City Manager Boyd Kraemer.   This feature story concerned their unethical behavior of charging Benson residents over $750 to install a gas meter in a location where there had been one in the past.  My son and I disputed this charge and after a two year battle, all  the thousands of dollars that were wrongfully charged to Benson residents have been refunded.  I hope that I am a reason why Scott was defeated.

Scott also held me responsible for Kraemerís resignation.  Kraemer resigned before an executive session was convened after Council Member Lori McGoffin caught him in a lie.   Kraemerís resignation was accepted by a six to one vote with only Scott voting Nay.

There is a pattern here but it is not mine.  It is corruption of city officials.   I believe that the present council members are good people trying to do what is good for Benson.   I believe that Mayor Fenn has always had good  intentions but sometimes even the best of intentions are not good enough.  Regardless of what the investigation shows, the concept of a Mayor/Developer/Builder inherently reeks of conflict of interest and puts Mayor Fenn and the City of Benson at odds.

CAVE News will air new developments as they unfold and this website will be regularly updated.   Thank you for visiting us.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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