Canoa Hills town hall

About 90 people showed up to the Friends of GVR town hall held at Canoa Hills Center lobby on Jan. 30 after the Board of Directors voted to cancel their meeting room reservations per the CPM. The Board Affairs Committee now says the event made the lobbies unsafe for emergency situations.

Last month's Friends of GVR candidate town halls caught the attention of the Board Affairs Committee, which voted Monday to recommend banning all future events from being held in GVR lobbies.

The forums were moved to the lobby after a disagreement over whether a campaign event could be held in GVR meeting rooms.

Committee chair Suzan Curtin cited the two Friends town halls as the impetus for the decision as well as a February 2018 East Center meeting on a controversial pickleball site that drew an overflow crowd and was cut short when the Green Valley Fire District fire marshal stepped in. 

After Monday's meeting, Curtin said the 6-3 vote was a question of safety.

"It has nothing to do with campaigning, but it has everything to do with safety," she said. Curtin said the move would affect all GVR events and didn't single out the Friends group, which has a slate of four candidates on the March GVR election ballot.

Friends president Nina Campfield didn't agree. She said the group was targeted and that the town halls were not unsafe given the nearby double-door exits.

"What could be safer than the front door?" Campfield said.

About 90 people attended that meeting, with the majority gathered in the lobby's northwestern corner occupying about 25 to 30 percent of the overall area. The center's lobby has exits on the north wall and south wall and access points to the rest of the center.

"If there had been an emergency, I will guarantee you people would have cleared like the parting of the Red Sea," Friends board member Eric Sullwold said.

There was a second town hall the following day at Las Campanas with more than 50 in attendance.

BAC recommendation

The BAC recommends potential changes to the Corporate Policy Manual to the Board of Directors, which makes the final determination to accept or reject. 

The BAC on Monday recommended adding, "GVR lobbies must be kept egress-accessible and not impair movement by people, emergency responders or equipment should there be a fire or any other kind of emergency."

CEO Kent Blumenthal said neither he nor staff received calls from the fire district or GVR members about the two Friends events violating safety codes or member access to the facilities. He said he's unaware of capacity requirements for lobbies, as there are for rooms.

Curtin said determining whether a lobby is unsafe has nothing to do with capacity ratings and is only about "blockage."

However, she pointed to the number of attendees at the Friends' town halls as the determining factor that the events were unsafe.

"It was very clear in the paper that there were 40 people in the one lobby and 50 in the other," she said.

Capacity issues

GVR has had incidents where events exceeded capacity in the past. The February 2018 East Center meeting was one.

In December 2011, GVR turned away people for a Final Exit Network event at the East Center when more than 230 people showed up.

In January 2017, a Green Valley Fire District official said he turned away about 100 people from the West Center for a presentation of the $40 million WSM Architects plan. The meeting drew more than 780 members, many lined up against walls.

During the BAC meeting, audience and committee members pointed out that GVR has regular events that often draw crowds to facility lobbies, such as Fit 'n' Fun and the artisan fairs.

GVR Director Mike Zelenak said he doubted the artisan fairs are within fire code during busy times. He attended the BAC as an audience member.

"How are you going to govern that," he asked the committee. "I understand that we all want our facilities to be safe but I'm just a little curious at some of the things you point out here. The different gatherings, it seems a little pointed."

Blumenthal said that turning away people at that West Center meeting in 2017 was the correct thing to do, but controlling planned events are different from unplanned gatherings such as the town halls that staff aren't involved in arranging.

With no known capacity count to determine what is safe and what isn't for the lobbies, Blumenthal said he expects to meet with the GVFD fire marshal to get an opinion on what determines safe occupancy.

Going forward

The BAC's move comes on the heels of last month's board meeting where directors reversed Blumenthal's interpretation of the CPM, which he said allowed members to reserve rooms for private events, including the Friends' town hall meetings.

The board disagreed and voted, 6-3, to cancel the Friends' reservations. Two directors were absent and Director Donna Coon abstained since she's a candidate and is endorsed by the Friends of GVR.

Subsection 3 of section 4 in the CPM states that GVR campaigning is only allowed in facility lobbies, common areas or curbsides and parking lots. Because of the decision, the Friends moved their town halls to the lobbies.

Blumenthal said changing the CPM to allow GVR campaign events in the meeting rooms would make it easier for him to address safety concerns while making them less disruptive to other activities and more fair to members.

Although the BAC can make recommendations to the board on CPM changes without direction for the board, as they did with the current one on safety, Curtin said they hadn't received instructions to do so.

During the January meeting, they discussed changing the language to Subsection 3 to reinforce prohibiting GVR campaigning in meeting rooms but didn't consider language allowing the practice.

Curtin said allowing GVR campaigning in reserved rooms wouldn't correct the safety issue but ended the interview when pressed to explain.

Sullwold said holding GVR holding four candidate forums on GVR property and then denying the Friends of GVR from doing so is censorship.

GVR held its first candidate forum at the East Center on Tuesday.

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

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