Local News

Stilo And The Town of Tusayan Discuss How To Avoid Disclosing Some Public Records, Bad Publicity And A Bizarre Idea To Create Trouble For The Kaibab Forest Ranger

October 12, 2018

 Stilo and the Town of Tusayan’s close relationship is on full display in a series of recordings made after a July 20th Town Council meeting. Those involved likely did not know their comments were being broadcast on the internet. The voices heard on these recordings include Vice Mayor Becky Wirth, Mayor Craig Sanderson, Councilman Al Montoya, Town Manager Eric Duthie, and Stilo representative Tom DePaolo.

Stilo is an Italian developer trying to build a massive project at the doorstep of the Grand Canyon which would create 2.6 million square feet of commercial space and thousands of new homes. Its business partner, Elling Halvorson employs the Mayor and every member of the current Town Council. The U.S. Forest Service has denied key road access permits needed to make the Stilo project viable. As a result it has been stalled for several years.

The tapes outline the methods some in the town are using to keep certain communications outside the public record. They also reveal a disdain for opponents of the Stilo development plan, advice from Stilo project manager Tom DePaolo on how to counter bad publicity and remarks by DePaolo about concocting a harassment claim against Kaibab National Forest Ranger Heather Provencio. On the tape DePaolo is heard saying, “Then there’s always the fallback we start rumors of harassment and get her thrown out.” That statement can be heard here (click link) at about 19:54 into the tape. 

The tapes also discuss Stilo’s efforts to disparage development opponents, a mailer that disparages this publication, methods and tactics for advancing Stilo’s agenda, and hiding some discussions from Stilo’s senior agents.

The recordings were shared with the Watchdog. What was spoken by Stilo frontman Tom DePaolo, several members of the Town Council, and town staff were recorded from the live stream on the Tusayan Town website.  The conversations were available to anyone who kept their browser open after the meeting concluded.

As a public service the Watchdog is making all of the recordings available for listening by clicking here.

The following is a detailed account of the recordings. While there are gaps in time between when the recordings were made, none of the recordings have been edited.

The first recording was made at 2:19pm, minutes after the conclusion of a special meeting that approved Tusayan’s plans to assume flood plain duties.

Here is a link to that audio.

At the beginning of the tape Stilo’s Tom DePaolo discusses the handling of documents with Town Manager Eric Duthie as they mention requests for documents. Duthie said, “I mean it’s all documents. So let them make a request. As they saw here today (inaudible) provide the narrow documents.” Duthie continues “It’s just whatever you put in our hands is what we have, if we don’t have it we don’t have it. “ About 40 seconds into this recording Councilman Al Montoya is heard guiding Vice Mayor Rebecca Wirth how to log into some sort of online or email account.  At two minutes into the tape Montoya tells DePaolo that Stilo needs to do a better job in the publicity department, “Your intent is good but the process sucks.”  Councilman Montoya said Stilo should be placing ads. He said Stilo should have had an advertisement for the 4th of July celebration and a booth for a recent groundbreaking. Montoya added, “It seems to be looking like the Town and Stilo are once again holding hands. I don’t mind that as long as we have methodology to our goal.” Montoya goes at length on how Stilo needs to shore up its image as Wirth agrees.

At 4:43 into the recording DePaolo then explains how Stilo has a ‘piece’ going out in response to a Watchdog questionnaire with the piece outlining what Stilo has done.  DePaolo said “It’s going right after Clarinda ( Vail) and the Watchdog” to which Montoya and Wirth reply “Good” DePaolo said, “ I should not leave you that because if that gets FOIA’d. (as in a public records request). DePaolo said emails are public records. Wirth said she would read it and delete it. DePaolo said he would give Eric the data and leave a copy for him. Around 10 minutes into the tape Montoya is heard proofreading a document that mentions a PR group and EIA and EIS (Environmental Impact Statement).

The second recording made at 2:35pm seems to outline more efforts to keep records out of the public view via sending material to personal email addresses rather than the official town email. Here is a link.  DePaolo talks about a video on the Stilo project.  He says they don’t advertise that video because the video is primary for Europe and it may be a little more commercial “than you may be comfortable with.”  Wirth says she cannot navigate the website. Here is a link to that video. DePaolo then asked if he could send it to Wirth’s personal email because he does not want to “advertise it to the town.”  They then discuss email troubles and make a joke about blaming it on Clarinda Vail.

Three subsequent recordings are mostly inaudible or fail to mention anything worth noting. They have however been included on our master link.

At 2:49pm, the topic turns to the town’s flood plain takeover and potential efforts by opponents to place it on the ballot. Vice Mayor Wirth also voices her disdain for Clarinda Vail.
Here is a link to that recording.

At the beginning of the tape Town Manager Eric Duthie says “In answer to your question a resolution is not referable and ordinance is referable. Wirth then responds, ”Once we put a flood plain ordinance together they can come back and say well we want a vote.” She adds, “They could basically prolong our (not specific).” Duthie replies they could. Wirth replies, “And they will.” Duthie responds, “They’ll do whatever they can do.” Wirth then says she is “just furious.” Wirth also falsely opines about Chris Thurston having a home in Phoenix. She then appears to say she is tempted to give up her seat on the Chamber because she does not want to be in the same room as them. (Vail)

The next recording was made at 2:51pm. Here is a link.  In addition to the ’joke’ about a harassment claim against Kaibab Forest Ranger Heather Provencio, it also discusses bad publicity and hiding certain discussions related to any changes in land deals with the top brass at Stilo. Some sentences are marked with time stamps indicating where they appear on the recording.

At the beginning of the tape Wirth opines about bad publicity and the need to counter with ‘facts.’ And she says it needs to be put in the paper.  Duthie responds that the Town has a new Facebook page and talks about press releases. Duthie said “We definitely need to utilize our PR person” and focus on “all the good things the town has done and use them in countering attacks.” (1:00)
They then opine about Red Feather Properties and claim it has much more developable land than Elling Halvorson. (Montoya, Wirth, Sanderson, and the rest of the council are employed by Halvorson). Duthie then says it’s all about maintaining control and being in charge (4:00). Logistics are discussed and then they discuss the road maintenance agreement they struck with the Forest Service. ( 4:41) Mayor Sanderson is heard participating in this discussion. Later in the recording Tom DePaolo then enters the room and discusses a meeting he and the town had in the morning with the Forest Service (10:49). Duthie said it seems as if the Forest Service got the message from DC to ‘play fair.’ Duthie also mentions a discussion he had with the Forest Service about purchasing Forest Service land within the town limits. They also discussed a land trade. At 13:14 DePaolo cautions about the PADA (Planned Area Development Agreement) and land trades and how “Vittorio would go crazy if you start talking about going around the deal.” At 14:44 DePaolo says, “This is not for Fedi’s ears, in our back pocket, we have 12 inholdings.” DePaolo said don’t volunteer “things” too early claiming, “That’s a good mitigation.” DePaolo is likely referencing Stilo principal investors Federico Pelliccioli and Vittorio Bianchi.

As talk of negotiations with the Kaibab National Forest progresses DePaolo then says there’s a fallback position of getting her (assume it’s Provencio) removed by starting rumors of harassment (19:54). DePaolo said, “There is always the fallback of starting rumors of harassment and get her thrown out.” Wirth said, “I like the way he’s thinking.” Town Manager Duthie laughed and said DePaolo mentioned that at breakfast this morning. DePaolo said, “That’s all you have to do is make an accusation and you’re guilty today.” Wirth responds and says “wow.”

DePaolo then explains to Wirth about a Washington DC trip and asking the Grand Canyon National Park to slow down on a pipeline replacement project because there is an alternative. (21:00) DePaolo said former Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Uberaga was a no go on this. DePaolo then praised Congressman Paul Gosar for keeping track of the pipeline proposal. Duthie indicated the new parks chief is willing to talk about the Black Mesa Pipeline project which would use an old coal slurry pipeline to siphon water away from the Colorado River at Laughlin.

The next recording was made at 3:24pm. Here is a link.

Duthie and DePaolo are discussing a recent trip to Washington DC, a water service project that could be the Black Mesa project, and how Tusayan could use its influence. DePaolo says Tusayan needs more water if the town is going to grow. Duthie discusses with DePaolo the fact that Tusayan is a municipality and that carries some weight as it relates to water discussions. DePaolo then mentions the pipeline project could go to Williams.

The pipeline conversation continues into the next recording made at 3:25pm. Here is a link.
DePaolo is heard talking about what is likely the Black Mesa pipeline project which would run from Laughlin to Kayenta and beyond.  He said Williams may want to buy water. DePaolo also talks of making the pipeline larger and working with the Salt River Project.

By 3:27pm (here is a link) DePaolo discusses water requirements for residential and commercial needs as well as related requirements with Wirth and Duthie.  DePaolo then instructs them to google Xeros washing machines. Duthie then introduces the new airport manager. Much of the rest is inaudible other than Wirth discussing internet service.

The last recording we received was made at 3:49pm. Here is a link. Tom DePaolo is talking to Vice Mayor Wirth. He mentions recognizing names on a document that references “Grand Canyon improvements.” DePaolo says “this goes back to 93.” Wirth notes that Brenda Tormo (Elling Halvorson’s daughter) is mentioned. Says this is very interesting. She then mentions that Cook filed for bankruptcy. DePaolo calls it a settlement agreement. DePaolo says it is a 100 year agreement.

As these recordings were made it appears that Wirth, Montoya, and Mayor Sanderson were in the council chambers at the same time. If that was indeed the case, then these discussions could violate open meetings laws because town business was discussed.

Setting that aside, the recordings also show the relationship some members of the Town Council and the Town Manager have with a major developer who is trying to undertake a controversial project that could damage the ecosystem bordering the Grand Canyon National Park.