Over the past 25-plus years, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Burns has received many accolades for his dedication and public service to the people of Arizona. Some observers, however, now say Burns should refrain from any votes related to water or energy because of his wife’s position on the board of directors for the Central Arizona Project (CAP).
The CAP project is a 336-mile long canal designed to deliver approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River to Central and Southern Arizona every year to irrigated agricultural land areas in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties, as well as municipal water for several Arizona communities, including the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson. It is Arizona's single largest resource for renewable water supplies.
Since CAP uses the energy produced by the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) to pump water uphill to Phoenix and is a signatory on a Technical Working Group document detailing NGS’ collaboration with the U.S. Department of Interior, some believe as commissioner Burns would have a conflict of interest in any energy or water-related votes given his wife’s involvement with the CAP.
“My understanding is that the water project is completely dependent on the power coming out of that station,” Tyler Montague, president of the Public Integrity Alliance (PIA), told Arizona Business Daily. “The alliance feels that there would be a conflict there, and he would have to recuse himself or explain how it wasn’t.”
Montague noted that Burns has had a good record when it comes to public integrity issues.
Burns was elected as state representative in 1989 and was elected as a member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board of Directors in 2001. Then in 2003, he was elected to the Arizona State Senate and began serving as its president in 2009.
While serving in the legislature, Burns received the Watchdog Award, which is given by the Arizona Tax Research Association to legislators who fight for the taxpayer and target wasteful spending in government; and the Legislator of the Year award given by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Burns was also named Senator of the Year by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce; Champion of the Taxpayer by Americans for Prosperity; Nations Renewable Energy Leader by Business Facilities Magazine; and the Autism Society of America recognized Burns for his "dedication and leadership at the Arizona Legislature."
Despite his good standing and impressive reputation, Montague said the watchdog group will be paying close attention.
“Definitely that water project, as I understand it, has to pump a lot of water uphill and it is a huge user of power," Montague said. "In fact, the power station there -- one of its main purposes, if not its founding purpose, was to provide power for that. So there is clearly a link there, and I think it could be a conflict. That is our position and we will be watching."
The PIA aims to promote integrity in government officials and institutions by educating the public, and using the legal system to call attention to unconstitutional, unethical, unfair or illegal behavior in an effort to bring about necessary change.
“We go after government officials behaving badly or government behaving badly, not just one person,” Montague said.
In 2013, PIA informed the public of reports of misbehavior by former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. The FBI investigated Horne for allegedly cheating in his 2010 election. The investigation revealed Horne was found liable for nearly $400,000 in illegal campaign contributions and was ordered by the investigating county attorney to repay the money.
“We are non-partisan in terms of who we go after,” Montague said. “Most of the people in Arizona government we have been critical of have been Republicans, but I am a Republican and so (is) every board member of the Public Integrity Alliance. So we will go after anybody.”