FLORENCE — Johnson Utilities is taking legal action against the town of Florence after the company allegedly was denied public records it requested shortly after state regulators appointed an interim manager to run the company.
According to a civil complaint filed this week in Pinal County Superior Court, Johnson Utilities claims it was denied documents detailing communications between Florence and the town of Queen Creek. The two municipalities were involved in a lengthy investigation by the Arizona Corporation Commission into complaints about water quality.
Florence and Queen Creek each offered to act as interim manager for Johnson, but the ACC picked EPCOR Water to oversee the company’s operations. According to a report presented to the Florence Town Council, the town believes Johnson Utilities “cannot provide just, reasonable, safe, proper, adequate and sufficient water and wastewater services to its customers.”
Johnson now wants to review all communications and agreements between the two towns that might involve the utility company. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, Florence denied releasing some documents that violated a confidentiality agreement it had with Queen Creek.
Johnson argues Florence is violating the state’s public records law and called on the court to have the documents released.
Kristin Greene, a spokeswoman for the utility company, said what’s been happening this last year between Johnson and the government is “unprecedented” so the company wants to know how and why all these parties got involved.
Greene added Johnson doesn’t know exactly what it may find in Florence’s records, but the company wants to know how the town reached its conclusions regarding Johnson.
Florence Town Manager Brent Billingsley, who is named as a defendant in Johnson’s lawsuit, could not be reached by phone and did not immediately respond to an email from PinalCentral.
Billingsley came into conflict with the company last year after he reported George Johnson, the company’s founder, had allegedly made threats against him. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office declined to prosecute Johnson.
Within the last year, Johnson Utilities has gone after Queen Creek and Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman by filing lawsuits in court. Johnson has accused Queen Creek of interfering in its business operations by trying to steal away customers. Counsel for Queen Creek has denied the allegations.
Greene said Johnson doesn’t quite have the same opinion of Florence because it doesn’t have the records and documents to make that assessment.
An appellate court recently ruled Queen Creek was free to release public records it had concerning Johnson, which the company asked to be deleted. Now Johnson Utilities is on the other side of the table, wanting the courts to release records it believes might favor the company.