OV 'ham-handed' when it comes to free speech

Posted on January 30, 2008 | Type: In the News | Author: Emil Franzi
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Art Segal has a blog. A lot more people know that now, courtesy of one more ham-handed attempt to squelch dissent in Oro Valley.

Segals blog letorovalleyexcel.com often says uncomplimentary things about some folks at town hall. Hell also tells you to fix that by electing some new council members. That was the towns rub.

In December Segal received a letter from Oro Valley Town Clerk Kathy Cuvelier alleging that since he was endorsing candidates in Oro Valleys election, he must register with the town as a political action committee. Segal found the allegation ludicrous but declined to disclose if he would comply as he was familiar with Oro Valleys many other losing attempts to muzzle and harass others.

It all began in 1998 when the town attempted to enforce its sign code by citing then private citizen, later Amphitheater School board member and present state Rep. Nancy Young Wright. Wrights violation was placing a 2-by-2-foot sign on a card table containing a petition in a park. The town enforcer claimed it could be seen from the road. In 2000, that cost OV taxpayers $5,000 to Wright and $21,000 to her attorneys when U.S. District Judge William Browning explained the First Amendment to the towns lawyers.

Browning did the same for perennial candidate and political pariah Joe Sweeney, awarding him $5,000 in 2000 and $7,500 in 2002 for similar harassments. OVs crack legal team was beaten in federal court by a nutcase representing himself. Twice.

The next bad court trip for OV had the biggest price tag. In 2004, the town denied petitions filed by Stop Oro Valleys Outrageous Giveaways to place the Vestar development deal (Oro Valley Marketplace) on the ballot, classifying it as an administrative act not subject to referendum. While the Pima County Superior Court agreed, the appellate judges didnt and ordered the petition process to continue. That one ultimately cost taxpayers $72,000 in attorney fees. SOVOG then inexplicably turned in petitions without the attached copy of the ordinance. OV again refused to accept the petitions but again lost. To over $100,000 in attorney fees and other awards lost, add hard costs to the town for attorney and employee time, outside consulting, court fees and other related items. Attempted stifling isnt cheap.

Back to Segal. He contacted Clint Bolick, the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institutes lead attorney on constitutional questions, who told him to wait it out. Bolick stood by to see if the town was about to act as dumb as it had before.

Not quite. Noting that Segal did no candidate fund raising, wiser heads prevailed, although the town paid for an additional opinion from an outside law firm. Any first year law student wouldve told them for free the First Amendment still applied in Oro Valley.

More fascinating is the reaction of council members when Segal finally went public with the original threat. The council members Segal whacks the most, Helen Dankwerth and Terry Parrish, both claimed no prior knowledge. The third councilman seeking re-election, Barry Gillaspie, magnanimously said Segals freedom of speech was OK with him. Council members Paula Abbott and K.C. Carter are liked by Segal and Councilman Al Kunisch and Mayor Paul Loomis arent up for re-election and remained silent. Its like a bunch of kids doing who, me?

Well, if not you, then whos in charge? This is clearly a policy decision. The council supposedly makes those, not the town clerk or town attorney. Anybody want to tell us whos bright idea harassing Segal was in the first place?

And people wonder why some of us oppose annexation.

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