Glendale City Council votes to void deal with Coyotes

Coyotes arena photo

In a 5-2 vote Wednesday night, the Glendale City Council voted to cancel the city’s lease and arena management agreement with the Arizona Coyotes. (Flickr image from Jeff Shewan/Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story named an individual who was the reason for the council vote. City officials said late Thursday they had not revealed a specific individual. The story has been changed to reflect the new information.

GLENDALE – Over the last couple of years, it’s been common for Arizona Coyotes fans to head home from Gila River Arena disappointed after a loss.

Though there was no game Wednesday night, fans who attended the special meeting of the Glendale City Council just a few miles east of the arena left wondering if they would ever see their team skate there again.

The City Council voted 5-2 to void a 15-year, $225-million lease and arena management agreement signed in 2013 with the Coyotes, potentially leaving the team homeless.

After the decision, Coyotes President, CEO and co-owner Anthony LeBlanc said IceArizona is committed to keeping the Coyotes in the area, but he did not hide his disgust for the final vote.

“What we witnessed here tonight is possibly the most shameful exhibition of government I have ever witnessed,” he said.

Coyotes attorney Nick Wood of Snell & Wilmer announced his litigation team intends to file for injunctive relief and a temporary restraining order, as well as suing the city for roughly $200 million.

“At this point, that damage is done,” Wood said. “How do we negotiate our way out of being shot in the head by the city?”

Mayor Jerry Weiers, Vice Mayor Ian Hugh and councilmembers Bart Turner, Lauren Tolmachoff and Jamie Aldama voted in favor of ending the lease. Councilmembers Gary Sherwood, a primary architect of the original deal, and Sammy Chavira, whose Yucca District houses the arena, voted against canceling the agreement.

In the initial vote July 2, 2013, Weiers and Hugh voted against the original deal while Chavira and Sherwood voted in favor of it. The other three members, Turner, Tolmachoff and Aldama, were not part of the council at the time of the July 2013 vote.

Weiers and Hugh have been the most outspoken about what they believe was a breach of Arizona Revised Statute 38.511, which prohibits anyone who was “significantly involved in initiating, negotiating, securing, drafting or creating the contract” from working for the other party in an agreement. The statute allows for a cancellation of a contract anytime within “three years after its execution.”

In a release late Thursday, the city said that “Glendale has not revealed the specific violations, personnel or other specific information that triggered the city council vote.”

However, on a teleconference with reporters Thursday afternoon, LeBlanc said the council’s action would “smear the good name of a good man who happens to be our general counsel.”

The Coyotes general counsel is Craig Tindall, who had previously worked for the city of Glendale as city attorney.

“The intent of this law is to ensure that, for lack of a better term, cronyism, doesn’t occur and, quite frankly, there was no nefarious dealings,” LeBlanc said during the Thursday teleconference. “Craig Tindall was terminated two months before we started negotiating. We didn’t close until four or five months later, and then we needed a general counsel and Craig Tindall was the perfect fit for that position.”

Tindall began working for the Coyotes roughly one month after the City Council voted to approve the deal with IceArizona.

Tindall’s resignation from the city was effective April 1, 2013. According to his severance agreement, he continued to “remain in the employment of the city” and “provide limited consulting services” for six months. He started his position with the hockey club in August of that year.

Weiers was clearly frustrated with the fan interaction at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We’ve all taken a beating here tonight and I think most of it’s been unjust because I think most of the fans don’t understand the complexity of the issue,” Weiers said.

A fan interjected from the gallery, “Are you insulting us?”

Weiers denied that he was insulting the fans and threatened to have anyone interrupting his explanation removed from the meeting.

In all, 22 private citizens addressed the council Wednesday. An unofficial tally counted four speakers who supported an immediate void, 16 who did not and two who did not offer an opinion.

One particularly impassioned speaker was Ronda Pearson, a north Phoenix resident and Coyotes season-ticket holder who wore a Coyotes sweater, like a few dozen other citizens in attendance. She addressed Weiers directly, questioning his loyalty to the city’s sports franchises and citizens.

“I’ve seen you at so many games a number of times sporting a jersey that looks just like this one with ‘Mayor’ on the back and No. 1 on the back,” she said, pointing a finger at the mayor. “How much did you pay for your jersey? How much did you pay for your tickets for those games? Because I know I paid a hell of a lot more than you did. I support this team. You don’t.”

After the meeting adjourned, she wondered what the future of Gila River Arena would be.

“What they’re going to do is end up bankrupting this city because now they’re going to be faced with a lawsuit that they can’t afford,” she said. “They can’t afford an arena with a tenant. What are they going to do with an arena without a tenant and without anybody coming to Westgate?”

Not all those in attendance were opposed to the motion, though.

Gary Hirsch, who unsuccessfully ran for the City Council in each of the last three elections, addressed the council and, after the session, said he was thrilled.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Glendale after having been held hostage by outside forces for years and years and finally take control of its own financial fate,” he said

An interesting development during the meeting involved councilmember Jamie Aldama of the Ocotillo District, located just east of the district that is home to Gila River Arena.

Aldama made the first motion of the meeting, suggesting that the discussion be tabled for two weeks to allow for more discussion between parties. Chavira seconded but the motion was voted down 4-2 without Sherwood, who did not appear to be connected yet via telephone.

In the final vote, Chavira and Sherwood came out against ending the lease but Aldama voted in favor. He said he did not want to come across as anti-business, but he did not want to hold up the vote.

“I extended the olive branch,” he said.

It does not appear another will be offered for quite some time during what will likely be a drawn-out legal battle between the Coyotes and Glendale.

Cronkite News reporter Tyler Freader contributed to this story.