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 a six-page memo with the subject line “Prop. 205 Q & A” was sent out by various city officials. 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 memo details how the measure, if passed, would affect the city, including federal funding and police activities.
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 violate a section of state law 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 names Ortega, Rankin and Magnus, but also singles out City Councilman Steve Kozachik.
The Tucson Democrat has spoken against the measure in his personal capacity in comments to the media as well as writing about it in his weekly electronic newsletter.
The group is asking the court to find the city was involved with influencing the election, forcing the city to stop distributing the various memos, and to make the city take “corrective actions” related to its previous communications. It is unclear what a judge would be able to do, with the November election just weeks away and ballots printed and being mailed to Tucson households this week.
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 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 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 Paul Gattone, an attorney for the group.
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 rhetoric.”
“Our simple demand is this: Stop using our own tax dollars to impede on our rights and let democracy run its course.”
City Attorney Mike Rankin declined to discuss the lawsuit in detail, but said it isn’t clear how the court would be able to take “corrective actions” against the city given that voters are already receiving their ballots in the mail.
Kozachik said the lawsuit is baseless, saying his comments were educational.
“There’s nothing illegal about educating the public,” Kozachik said. “205 supporters may not like the facts, but that doesn’t change them.”
Some voters will get two ballots
Thousands of residents will receive two ballots in the mail for the November elections — one from the city of Tucson for its elections and another from the county for one of a handful of school districts and a fire district that have put forward a budget or bond override.
Officials have already set an Oct. 30 deadline for mailing back those ballots. With the election held on the following Tuesday, they are asking voters to send them back nearly a week early to ensure that their votes are counted. For those who miss the deadline, ballots can be dropped off at one of several Election Day sites open in the city of Tucson for its elections and by the Pima County Recorder’s Office for the school ballots.
Ballots for the Sunnyside, Flowing Wells, Amphitheater, and Altar Valley school districts, and the Golder Ranch Fire District will have a lavender stripe on them. Instructions for handling the ballots will also be printed in purple.
A quirk in how elections are handled is responsible for the two mailings in Tucson. The city of Tucson handles its elections in-house, but couldn’t add the school district question on its ballot as some districts’ boundaries stretch beyond the city limits.
Dueling impeachment rallies
In the span of about a week, Tucson will have had two impeachment rallies — one opposed to the impeachment investigation of President Trump and another, scheduled for this weekend, supporting an inquiry.
The Arizona Republican Party organized a rally Tuesday in front of U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s midtown office.
The midday rally brought roughly 100 people to the Tucson Democrat’s home base, with speeches from Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward and Pima County Republican Chairman David Eppihimer.
Ward blamed impeachment efforts on both Democrats and “Deep State” operatives.
“How many of you have seen the YouTube videos, the Facebook posts and the twitters of the Democrats wailing, crying, howling at the moon, crazily putting spells on President Trump? They definitely have Trump Derangement Syndrome,” Ward told the crowd. “We have to stop the madness.”
After the rally, a suspicious package found on the property forced the Tucson Police Department’s bomb squad to briefly shut down a section of East Pima Street near Kirkpatrick’s office and have her staff moved out a portion of her office. Police would not describe the package in any detail but said it was not a threat to public safety.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13, Indivisible Southern Arizona will hold an “Impeachment Now Party” on the corner of East Broadway and Randolph Way. The event coincides with similar parties planned across the country.