Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE board member Suzanne Cummins resigned Thursday in a dispute with board chairman Mike Vogel.
Alliance chairman Vogel asked Cummins to resign and she complied, submitting a letter of resignation that cited concerns about the Alliance’s negotiations with Arizona State University on building a university in Payson.
Cummins said Vogel approached her asserting he had heard from numerous sources that she did not believe in the project or trust Mayor Kenny Evans and Vogel.
“I don’t believe it’s imminent. Every time I ask about when this project will be on the Board of Regents’ agenda, I hear it’s another two months out,” said Cummins.
The University of Arizona law professor said the negotiations and financing of the campus remained “extremely opaque.”
However, Evans said Cummins never called him seeking answers to any of her questions. Cummins said she felt uncomfortable calling Evans because she didn’t trust she would get a straight answer since none of the questions she raised with the board were answered.
Evans said the Alliance board has not yet adopted its procedures nor put any of the issues she raised on its agenda.
He said he would have answered any of her questions confidentially as a board member had she asked him directly.
Cummins maintained that as an SLE board member she had only “glimpsed the plans by the mayor, outside investors and counsel before formation of the SLE.” She described herself as a funnel for Evans and the investors in which they poured demands without explanations.
“If I’m a funnel, I need to understand what I’m funneling,” Cummins said.
Due to the lack of detailed information about the sources of financing and the negotiations with ASU, she said she felt uneasy about her role on the board.
“Whenever I do not understand something, I have a difficult time orienting my ethical compass. Although I believe in both the integrity and commitment of our chairman and our mayor, I cannot rest on faith when I undertake serious responsibilities and I have been given little documentation to rest on anything else.” Because of the lack of transparency, she felt she had 100 reasons to resign from the board.
In resigning she said, “I take this action with the sincere hope that this worthy endeavor manifests itself quickly and profitably for the benefit of our beautiful community and the students who will have the opportunity to study in such a spectacular environment.”
Vogel did not return calls seeking comment at press time.
However, Evans said, “she could have received any or all of that information had she asked. I am more than happy to go over all of the history.”
Cummins’ resignation letter suggested the Alliance board often found itself left in the dark as negotiations continued.
“The board has no documentation regarding promised donations that appear to be critical to the fiscal short-term solvency of the campus once it is built. The board has not seen any of the documentation regarding ASU’s input on building plans. If ASU has had input, the specifics of that have not been disclosed,” wrote Cummins, who lives in Tucson but owns a home in Chaparral Pines.
Mayor Evans does not sit on the Alliance board, but has played the lead role in the negotiations with both ASU and the group of investors that has promised to put up some $500 million in donations and investments to build a 6,000-student campus in Payson. He has refused to publicly divulge the identities of most of the investors, although he has provided a list to ASU. He has said the donors have backed their pledges with secured assets, but requested confidentiality at least until ASU or some other university signs a binding agreement to build a campus.
Cummins believed this lack of disclosure opened the SLE board up to legal consequences.
“If we’re going to borrow money from an anonymous donor and they want the money back sooner than we can pay it, what is our liability?” she asked.
Cummins was appointed to the Alliance board by the Star Valley council, which joined with Payson to form the SLE and appoints half of its members.
Cummins was recommended for the seat on the board by the Scottsdale-based Winners Development Group, which represents the bulk of the investors and has played a leading role in developing detailed plans for the campus and various spin-off facilities, in consultation with ASU.
Evans said the Alliance board has met three times so far and will continue to meet on a monthly basis. The Alliance must abide by the same public meeting laws as town councils, which means the board must post agendas and can only talk about topics listed on those agendas.
Evans said that so far the Alliance board has focused on developing a list of rules and procedures to govern its operations. He said Cummins’ initial top priority was to make sure the board had a liability policy that insulated board members from lawsuits as a result of their actions on the board.
The board last week also authorized negotiations with Gila County to buy a 22-acre parcel on which backers want to build a 1,000-student, $30 million phase one of the campus, complete with dorms.
Cummins does admit she might be wrong about the SLE.
“Everything could be true. I just don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes,” she said.