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Lawsuit says Tucson officials are campaigning against 'sanctuary city' initiative

Lawsuit says Tucson officials are campaigning against 'sanctuary city' initiative

Billy Peard speaks on the steps of the Tucson City Hall about Prop. 205 after a recent rally.

The backers of the "sanctuary city” initiative are taking the city of Tucson to court, arguing city leaders are trying to influence voters on the issue.

The lawsuit was filed just days after the six page memo with the subject line "Prop 205 Q & A" was distributed out of city hall. It answers nine questions related to the ballot initiative known as Prop. 205 signed by City Manager Mike Ortega, City Attorney Mike Rankin and Police Chief Chris Magnus.

The backers of the “Tucson Families Free & Together” measure, the People’s Defense Initiative, argued in a recent filing with Pima County Superior Court that the memo, along with several other instances where city staffers including Councilman Steve Kozachik, violate a section of state that forbids using its “resources . . . or any other thing of value of the city or town, for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections."

The lawsuit filed by PDI names Ortega, Rankin and Magnus but also singles out Kozachik, who has spoken out against the measure a number of times in his own personal capacity in comments to media as well as writing about it in his weekly electronic newsletter.

But there is also long-simmering friction between the People’s Defense Initiative and Rankin for an analysis he wrote and then sent to the Council back in January, only a few weeks after the group filed the qualifying paperwork for the initiative.

"Rather than offering his legal advice to his clients in a confidential setting, the City Attorney took the extraordinary step of issuing the memo publicly and distributing it to local reporters. The City Attorney chose this approach in order to influence public opinion about Proposition 205. As was intended by the City Attorney, various city officials later relied upon the memo to urge Tucson voters to vote ‘no’ on Proposition 205," wrote an attorney for the group, Paul Gattone.

That memo was the basis for other comments by city employees, including Kozachik, the group alleges.

"Many of the ‘facts’ included in the Kozachik newsletters are drawn from the City Attorney memo, which itself was prepared with the express purpose of advocating a ‘no’ vote on Proposition 205," Gattone wrote in the lawsuit. 

Zaira Livier, director and co-founder of the People’s Defense Initiative, said the actions of the city are contrary to the wishes of the 18,000 people who signed paperwork supporting the initiative 

“Tucson Mayor and Council have routinely abused their power to work against our constitutional right to direct democracy,” Livier said. ”We are offering our community a choice. Yet, rather than allowing voters to make an informed decision, certain city officials have broken state law by using city resources to aggressively push against this citizen-led proposal with lies and fear- based-based rhetoric.”

“Our simple demand is this: Stop using our own tax dollars to impede on our rights and let democracy run its course.” 

Rankin declined to comment, citing a policy not to discuss pending litigation.

Kozachik said the lawsuit is baseless, saying his comments were often educational.

"There's nothing illegal about educating the public. That's what the city attorney, manager and police chief are doing. People have a right to their opinion, but they don't have a right to stifle the ability of anybody else from spreading the facts surrounding the impacts 205 will have," Kozachik said. "205 supporters may not like the facts, but that doesn't change them."

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Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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