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Judge doesn't deflate World View lawsuit

A lawsuit alleging improprieties in Pima County's backing of high-altitude tech firm World View will move ahead, as a judge declined to toss out the claims made by the right-wing Goldwater Institute in a hearing Monday.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Catherine Woods told attorneys for the county that she was denying their request to dismiss three of the four counts alleged in the suit. Woods said she would rule later whether to dismiss a claim that the $15 million deal made last winter violates the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution.

The conservative think tank sued in April over the deal, approved in January, claiming that the county also violated state and county procurement codes, with World View paying below-market rent and no competitive bidding having been done.

"This was not a decision on the merits of the Goldwater Institute’s allegations," Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a written statement. "It simply means Judge Woods believes that enough facts are in dispute to warrant the case moving forward."

Noting that the county recently prevailed in a lawsuit over state funding for schools, Huckelberry said that "we remain confident that after all the evidence has been presented, it will be apparent that Pima County acted fully under the authority of state law and within the discretion of the Board of Supervisors. These allegations will be exposed as little more than an ideologically motivated campaign to damage Pima County’s efforts to grow our economy and bring good-paying jobs to our community."

Pima County has agreed to build a $15 million office and manufacturing facility near Tucson International Airport and Raytheon Missile Systems for World View. The company will pay rent on the plant for two decades, with the county eventually slated to be repaid more than the construction costs and interest, officials have said.

Construction work is underway at the site.

The startup that plans to offer top-dollar balloon rides to the stratosphere as a marquee attraction for what will at base be an operation carrying scientific instruments and communications gear to high altitudes. Company representatives have said that World View has lined up government and corporate contracts to loft the instruments, including military and NASA applications. The deal with the county calls for World View to eventually employ 400 workers at the site.

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Goldwater's suit maintains that World View plans a "an unproven, for-profit luxury adventure-tourism business" that will be facilitated by the county deal.

County officials have mocked Goldwater for focusing on the "space-tourism" aspect of World View's operations while not mentioning the expected economic impact of their plans.

"No reasonable person would argue that the stratosphere will, in the near future, replace Disneyland as a vacation destination for middle-class families. But providing affordable recreational opportunities for county residents, though a legitimate public purpose, is obviously not the public purpose the county is seeking to further in
its transaction with World View," wrote Regina Nassen, a deputy county attorney, in an April letter to a Goldwater lawyer.

Although Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller is named as a defendant in the suit, as are each of the other supervisors, the District 1 Republican worked behind the scenes with Goldwater on the suit before it was filed, documents she attempted to cover up demonstrate. Miller lost a 4-1 vote in January as the county board approved the contract.

Although Miller repeatedly denied any connection to the suit filed by the Goldwater Institute over the county's backing of the tech firm, her private message exchanges with a former staffer show otherwise.

In an April 4 memo to the Board of Supervisors, Huckelberry said that "it is clear... that the Goldwater Institute has joined forces with Supervisor Miller in her effort to defeat incumbent County Supervisors."

Goldwater's letter to the county demanding a reversal of the January move to support the aerospace company was "filled with politically charged rhetoric that has no basis in fact ... it appears designed to influence the outcome of an election," Huckelberry wrote.

Miller told the Arizona Daily Star that the administrator's allegation was "ridiculous," and that she had no contact with Goldwater lawyers.

But on February 25, Miller told her then-communications staffer Timothy DesJarlais that "I'm still working on Goldwater with the balloon thing."

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On March 29, Miller sent a Facebook message to DesJarlais:

Miller: "read the goldwater letter just posted."

DesJarlais: "I saw it. Made my day. I'd pay anything to see Chuck & Sharon's faces when they see it.

Miller: "they got it yesterday. response date April 8

It has taken 2 months but worth the wait

alot of work"

***

DesJarlais: "Can't wait to see what Chuck's memo says

Miller: "Chuck acts as if he is GOD....I got them via Goldwater once this will do it again"

Those documents were among hundreds of messages provided by DesJarlais last month, even as Miller has continued to not only illegally withhold public records, but deny that they exist.

Miller, subject of a probe into her cover-up of public records, warned staffers to whisper because of "listening devices in the walls" of her county office, and has not told the truth about her use of private emails and Facebook to carry out her duties, former staffers DesJarlais and Jeannie Davis said.

Records independently provided by the two show that Miller's falsehoods have extended beyond claiming to not use personal accounts for public business. In exchanges with DesJarlais, Miller discussed working with Goldwater to sue the county over the World View deal.

Despite proof otherwise, Miller has repeatedly denied using personal emails to do public business, and refused to release records requested by the press. That has led to a referral of her case to the Criminal Division of the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

Goldwater suit

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Click image to enlarge

A rendering of the World View balloon.