The city’s longest serving member of a village planning committee, Doug Cole, has retired from the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee after accepting an agreement with The True Life Companies to provide public relations services as they work to develop the former Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.
Cole sent a letter to the city on Monday resigning from the committee effective immediately.
“For almost the past 20 years, I have been honored to serve on the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee (AFVPC), most of which as chairman,” the letter said in part. “It is now time to pass the baton and let others serve.”
Cole said it’s time to move on from his service on the AFVPC. In his time he’s seen Ahwatukee go from a junk yard on Ray Road to the thriving community it is now. Cole did confirm his firm, High Ground Public Affairs Consultants, has been hired by The True Life Companies, the new owners of the closed Lakes golf course, but said he’s been considering retirement from the committee for some time.
“While as chairman and as a member for the last 20 years I’ve had many occasions where I have recused myself from engaging on an issue that was in front of the committee because of a conflict,” he said. “I have a long history of doing that and we’re good about doing that in our committee. That’s not the issue… Twenty years is a long time. We’ve done a lot.”
The AFVPC will have to vote for a new chairman at the next meeting.
The True Life Companies has not said what they plan to do with the closed golf course, but the company is primarily a real-estate development firm. David Sabow of True Life said the company is working with Engineer Hilgardt Wilson and Land Use Attorney Jason Morris. The professional relationship between High Ground and True Life is still very new, Cole has not done any work for the company yet, but he is personal friends with Sabow. Sabow said to date TTLC has been focused on technical analysis of the property.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio sent a letter to all members of the AFVPC on Monday reminding them to disclose possible conflicts and recuse from voting if there is a conflict on an issue. He also sent an email to his staff to let them know his office would have no communication, verbal or written, on any project associated with True Life.
“You can’t be, as a company, going out there buying individuals on select committees. It’s a problem. It doesn’t work,” he said. “I think it tells me a lot about the type of company they are... I need to send a message to them and other people that do business in this community that this is not how business should be done.”
DiCiccio said he plans to do some digging to see if True Life is hiring any other individuals involved in organizations in the community.
“I think the problem in our community is much deeper than a committee member getting paid,” DiCiccio said. “Everything about the golf course and how it has been handled is concerning.”
The True Life Companies will need support from the councilman and the city to do anything with the land, which they purchased for $9 million from Wilson Gee. DiCiccio said the only way anything will happen with the land is if there is support from the community, especially the group known as Save the Lakes, which has been fighting development on the land for years.