Turmoil Wracks Nogales, Arizona City Hall

TUCSON (CN) — Nogales Mayor John Doyle campaigned on a vision of a harmonious City Hall, but infighting prevailed over harmony and he finds himself a defendant in a federal lawsuit — filed by the deputy city attorney.
     Doyle, a former City Council member who became mayor in January 2015, was sued last week by Deputy City Attorney Michael Massee, in fallout from a legal memo alleging inappropriate actions by the mayor’s assistant. Neither Doyle nor Massee returned calls seeking comment.
     Massee’s Aug. 2 lawsuit asks the court to enjoin Doyle from “any further acts of unlawful retaliation” against the deputy city attorney, including doing away with his position.
     “Doyle is well known in the community of Nogales for having a hot temper and holding grudges,” the lawsuit states.
     Two days after he filed the lawsuit, Massee sought to temporarily seal the court records to keep the case out of the media spotlight and allow for a cooling-off period. But if the most recent meeting of the Nogales City Council is any indication, turmoil has a grip on City Hall.
     The Massee memo debacle is the latest in a series of acrimonious squabbles involving elected leaders and city employees in the border community of about 20,000 some 65 miles south of Tucson. In July, at the mayor’s behest, the City Council ousted Deputy City Manager John Kissinger.
     In his lawsuit, Massee says an angry Doyle confronted him at City Hall on July 22. Earlier that day, Massee had delivered the memo to the mayor and City Council. In it, he said that Doyle’s assistant, Victor Fontes, violated the City Charter when he directed one employee to handle a resident’s complaint about garbage collection and another to help the mayor deliver school supplies.
     “It undercuts department heads’ ability to manage their work forces, in addition to being contrary to the Charter and the council-management form of government,” the memo states.
     The mayor expressed “extreme displeasure” over the memo, the lawsuit states.
     Massee says he asked the mayor to leave his office — and Doyle called the police. Doyle told the officer that Massee had approached him in an “aggressive manner with his hands in front of him” — a statement the attorney calls false.
     And that once false call wasn’t enough, Massee says: “Doyle has since contacted the police department to let them know that he now desires to amend and revise his report to offer additional, presumably false, statements regarding plaintiff, in furtherance of his scheme to bring unfounded criminal charges against him.”
     Massee, who is representing himself, adds: “The insular political culture in Nogales is such that friends are to be rewarded and enemies to be punished.”
     Massee cites the recent ouster of Kissinger as an example.
     The mayor said at the time that it was done to cut costs.
     But Kissinger is not going away quietly. His Tucson attorney, Douglas Clark, told the council during public comments last week that his client will pursue legal action if he isn’t reinstated.
     “They wanted to get him fired for years and they couldn’t, so they eliminated his position,” Clark said in an interview.
     Massee says in the lawsuit that Doyle viewed Kissinger as “a political enemy” and was instrumental in getting rid of the deputy city manager’s post after discussing it with three council members, who voted along with Doyle.
     Massee says that since the discussions involved a quorum of the council, they violated Arizona’s Open Meetings law. The law requires advance notice and an agenda before each gathering of a quorum of the council.
     Massee also claims that the mayor has discussed with other employees and City Council members the possibility of eliminating Massee’s position, which the attorney has held for nine years.
     “Throughout this course of conduct, Doyle has been primarily motivated by his desire for vengeance against plaintiff for having had the audacity to author the memorandum and then for refusing to suffer his verbal abuse for having authored it,” the lawsuit states.
     But at a contentious council meeting Wednesday, it was the city attorney’s job — not Massee’s — that was suggested for elimination.
     The mayor wanted to discuss a search for Jose Luis Machado’s replacement.
     The city attorney, who sat nearby, dared Doyle to fire him. A war of words broke out.
     “Do it,” Machado told the mayor. “If you don’t have the confidence in our office … terminate my contract.”
     Doyle alluded to the dispute with Massee, saying “the trust has been broken” between the Mayor’s Office and the city’s legal counsel.
     Doyle also asked to seek independent legal advice at city expense, which Machado said is not feasible under the City Charter.
     As the two argued over what the City Charter does and does not allow the mayor to do, Machado suggested Doyle abide by it and let employees do their jobs.
     “The people elected me to give direction to the city, and that’s all we’re doing,” Doyle said.
     Machado shot back: “The charter very clearly says you cannot give direction. You are a ceremonial head.”
     The municipal discord in Nogales is the latest in a string of political brouhahas and scandals that have engulfed City Hall in recent years. In 2014, former Mayor Octavio Garcia-Von Borstel was released from prison after serving 2½ years for corruption in office.
     Aside from the political implications, Massee’s lawsuit may face another problem. Stamped at the top of its first page is the statement: “This document is not in proper form according to federal and/or local rules and practices and is subject to rejection by the court.”

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