October 11, 2018
Phoenix—Should a city be able to sell city-owned land for pennies on the dollar to its own favored interests? The city of Phoenix seems to think so—and now the Goldwater Institute’s network of pro bono attorneys is taking action to protect taxpayers’ investments.
Working with attorneys from the Goldwater Institute, Phoenix attorney Dennis Wilenchik of Wilenchik & Bartness, P.C. has filed a lawsuit against the city challenging one such government giveaway. The city entered into an agreement with private developer Trellis, which allowed the developer to purchase ten city-owned lots for $50,000—a fraction of the price the city paid for those lots ($928,081.84) and well under the land’s appraised value of $668,000. In fact, it’s a 92 percent discount from that appraised value. (For comparison, the city sold three other vacant lots as part of the same redevelopment efforts for $390,000.) In August, Wilenchik sent a letter to the city urging the city council to terminate this unlawful agreement. Because the city declined to do so, legal action became necessary.
“This agreement violates the Arizona Constitution’s ‘gift clause,’ which stops government from giving taxpayer money to private companies unless those expenditures are for public purposes and taxpayers derive a proportional benefit,” Wilenchik said. “In this case, private parties are the primary beneficiaries—not Phoenix taxpayers—and the public is not receiving fair consideration for city-owned land.” This overly sweet deal is hardly the only one of its kind: In nearby Glendale, a similar backroom agreement recently took place. About ten years ago, the city of Glendale purchased a piece of downtown property for around $735,000, and last month, it sold that property to a private company for a paltry $25,000—without any competitive bidding process.
Wilenchik is a member of the Goldwater Institute’s American Freedom Network, a national pro bono network of attorneys supporting the Institute’s efforts to defend liberty. American Freedom Network attorneys litigate cases, assist with legal research, write amicus briefs, represent clients at the administrative level, and serve as local counsel on a pro bono basis, on legal matters including free speech, public records laws, economic liberty, private property, and taxpayer protection suits, among others.
“The American Freedom Network is committed to protecting individual rights that are threatened by government action—and that includes shielding taxpayers from having to fund sweetheart deals the government makes with private entities,” said Jon Riches, director of national litigation for the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation. “We hope more attorneys will join the call to protect taxpayers, promote individual liberty, and support our structural constitution.”
For more information about the American Freedom Network, including how to apply, visit https://goldwaterinstitute.org/american-freedom-network/.
About the Goldwater Institute
The Goldwater Institute drives results by working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and strengthen the freedom guaranteed to all Americans in the constitutions of the United States and all 50 states. With the blessing of its namesake, the Goldwater Institute opened in 1988. Its early years focused on defending liberty in Barry Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Today, the Goldwater Institute is a national leader for constitutionally limited government respected by the left and right for its adherence to principle and real world impact. No less a liberal icon than the New York Times calls the Goldwater Institute a “watchdog for conservative ideals” that plays an “outsize role” in American political life.