Alliance Oks Land Buy For Asu Campus

Plans for university advance amid questions about open meeting law procedures

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The Rim Country Educational Alliance Thursday approved the $650,000 purchase of some 22 acres from Payson and Gila County to build the first phase of a university campus in Payson.

In addition, the Alliance board approved an agreement with the Forest Service to take over road ownership and control trespassing on 230 acres of additional land the Alliance is buying south of Highway 260.

Moreover, the board adopted a nearly $1 million budget for 2012, listing its income as a “loan,” without specifying the source.

The meeting in a Payson Police Department conference room proceeded smoothly and with little discussion, except for a flurry of questions about whether the board, set up to build a campus and related businesses, will post agendas of future meetings.

The only people in the audience, John Wakelin and Tom Loeffler, raised questions about whether the board appointed by the Payson and Star Valley councils had followed the state’s open meeting law.

Wakelin said that although the board posted a notice of the meeting in the Payson Town Hall 24 hours ahead of time as required by state law, it didn’t post an agenda until shortly before the meeting.

Loeffler, a member of the Gila Community College governing board, read portions of a state statute that said actions taken at an improperly posted and agendized meeting might not be legal.

Wakelin said the lack of a posted agenda made it hard for the public to participate. “If I want to make a comment on an agenda item, I don’t have the opportunity because that agenda is not posted.”

Alliance Chairman Mike Vogel said the meeting notice “was posted on the board.” However, he also said he wasn’t sure the Alliance had to post an agenda, since no one actually lives within the boundaries of the Separate Legal Entity (SLE) where investors hope to build the campus, a convention hotel, dorms, a research park, an incubator center to help professors turn ideas into products and solar and geothermal power generating facilities.

“My understanding is we have no residents. I could be wrong,” said Vogel.

“But you need a notice for the general public,” said Wakelin.

“The general public is elk and javelina. There are no people on the land we’re talking about,” said Vogel.

However, Scottsdale Attorney Russell Kolsrud said in the future both a notice of meetings and agendas will be posted in two places in the Payson Town Hall at least 24 hours before each meeting. “It will be done the way it is supposed to be done,” said Kolsrud, who was hired by the Alliance to provide legal advice.

Other than the discussion about posting the agenda, the meeting proceeded smoothly, turning into unanimous routine several issues on which the survival of the plan to build an Arizona State University campus here has hung.

The board voted 6-0 on every matter it considered, since Star Valley last week reconsidered its initial rejection of the appointment of Jim Scheidt, on the grounds he had too many connections to Payson rather than Star Valley. Scheidt replaced a University of Arizona law and ethics professor, asked to resign after she expressed doubts about the Alliance’s plans and procedures.

The board quietly approved the purchase of 20.863 acres from Gila County for $600,000 to build the first, 1,000-student phase of the campus, including dorms. The Alliance hopes that the Arizona Board of Regents will approve the agreement with ASU in February so that the campus can welcome its first students in the fall of 2013.

The Alliance board also approved the purchase for $50,000 of 1 acre north of the highway from the Town of Payson. Together, the 22 acres will give the Alliance a 10-acre campus north of the highway, plus room for a research park and an incubator center for new technology and business ideas.

The board also took early steps toward purchasing an additional 230 acres from the U.S. Forest Service, which lies between the current Payson Ranger Station and Tyler Parkway south of Highway 260.

The Alliance hopes to actually complete that land sale late this year, after finishing various environmental studies. By then, Alliance backers have said they hope they’ll have construction of phase one well under way on the county parcel north of the highway.

The agreement approved Thursday will make the Alliance responsible for controlling trespassing on the 230-acre parcel as soon as it buys the land.

In addition, the Alliance will accept responsibility for portions of Mud Springs and Granite Dells roads, which now cross the Forest Service land.

That agreement provoked the most memorable quip of the meeting, this one from board member Dean Martin, the former state treasurer who participated in the meeting over the telephone.

“We’re not going to let Star Valley put photo radar on those streets are we?” joked Martin, getting a big laugh all around.

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