Town tells blogger he needs to register

Posted on January 16, 2008 | Type: In the News | Author: Lourdes Medrano
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You could say local politics is the bread and butter of Art Segal's blog.

The Oro Valley resident has been highly critical of his town's elected leaders since starting his blog www.letorovalleyexcel.blogspot.com early last year.

But it was his endorsement of two Town Council candidates challenging the incumbents that prompted an official warning of a state law violation.

Segal, 71, said he was incredulous. His blog which is linked to the Web site www.letorovalleyexcel.com is merely an exercise in free speech, he said.

"I thought this was harassment," said the retiree, who maintains the blog with help from friend Richard Furash.

"There are thousands of bloggers out there doing what I do."

In a December letter to Segal, Oro Valley Town Clerk Kathryn Cuvelier said that acting on an unnamed citizen's complaint, the town had reviewed his blog's candidate endorsements. She then directed Segal to register his organization as a political committee.

A few days later, Segal said, he got a call from then-interim town attorney Tobin Sidles reiterating the town clerk's message.

Sidles also asked the blogger if he would be willing to add links to the Web sites of the three incumbent candidates, as he had done for challengers Salette Latas and Bill Garner, Segal recalled.

Sidles, now the town prosecutor, said he only asked Segal if he planned on adding the Web links: "It was more of a curiosity question."

Oro Valley sought an outside legal opinion on the matter and turned it over to the Town Council, said Tobin Rosen, the current town attorney.

Rosen refused to discuss the opinion, citing attorney-client privilege, but said: "The town has not directed me to take action against Mr. Segal."

Council Vice Mayor Helen Dankwerth, who is running for re-election with colleagues Terry Parish and Barry Gillaspie, declined to answer questions, citing confidentiality concerns.

Clint Bolick, a litigation attorney with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Phoenix, offered counsel to Segal.

Bloggers such as Segal are not required to register with the government to express an opinion unless they cross the boundary into financial support, he said.

"His blog is not a political action committee," the attorney said. "He is simply a citizen expressing his political views."

The clear intent of the town was to silence political opposition, Bolick said.

"That is the sort of government activity that is impermissible under the First Amendment," he added.

Should the town keep after the blogger, Bolick said he is prepared to take legal action against Oro Valley on Segal's behalf.

The whole affair left Segal who said he has given no money to the candidates he endorsed months before hearing from the town with a bad taste in his mouth.

The resources that town officials spent trying to strong-arm him into compliance would have been better used to address issues important to Oro Valley residents, he said.

"It's just another example of the wastefulness that this town has shown a propensity to do on much too many occasions," Segal said.

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