COTTONWOOD – If it’s not the whole truth, it isn’t the truth at all.
That’s essentially what the Mingus Union School District claims in the lawsuit it filed July 10 to stop an effort to consolidate with Cottonwood-Oak Creek from going to public vote.
The lawsuit’s application for an order to show cause states that even if the consolidation petition effort was valid, “it fails” because the petitions “contained language designed to confuse and mislead petition signers.”
Demand for judgment
In the lawsuit to stop consolidation from going to vote, the Mingus Union High School District is asking Yavapai County Superior Court Judge David L. Mackey for the following:
• Declaration that Arizona Revised Statute 15-459 (B) (7) is invalid special legislation under the Arizona Constitution;
• Declaration that Section 4 of SB 1254 is invalid special legislation under the Arizona Constitution;
• Declaration that the petition created confusion and misled electors by obscuring the fact that A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7) was not yet in effect;
• Precluding the Board of Supervisors and Recorder from placing SHT18001-INT on the Nov. 6 general election ballot in Yavapai County;
• Awarding plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees under A.R.S. 12-348 (A) (4), -2030, the private attorney general doctrine and any other applicable rule, case or statute;
• Awarding plaintiffs court costs against the committee pursuant to A.R.S. 12-341 and -1840; and
• Awarding plaintiffs all other relief as is just, proper or equitable under the facts and circumstances of this case.
Petition language is one of four reasons the lawsuit gives for invalidating the efforts of the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools 2018.
Mingus Union High School District said in a July 13 press release that the lawsuit seeks to prohibit the defendants “from incurring any additional expenditures to place the question on the ballot.”
The lawsuit names the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools 2018 as the Real Party in Interest, and names the Yavapai County School Superintendent, Yavapai County Recorder, Yavapai County Election Director and the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors as defendants.
Effective date of revised statute
Signed into law by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on May 16, SB 1254 is the piece of legislation that amended Arizona Revised Statute 15-459 to include subsection (B) (7), which allows school district consolidation “if a common school district that is part of a union high school district made up of two or fewer common school districts desires to consolidate with that union high school district.”
Ballard Spahr LLC, Mingus Union legal team, contends in the lawsuit that A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7) “will be in force only from Aug. 3, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2020, and as of Aug. 2, 2018, it will be retroactive to Dec. 31, 2017.”
Which, according to the Mingus Union press release, is “unconstitutional because it applies to only a small number of union high school districts in Arizona for a short period of time and retroactively seeks to bestow a benefit on the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools.”
The lawsuit states that even if A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7) “survives constitutional scrutiny,” the committee’s petition drive is not valid “because the petitions were circulated and filed several months before” the Aug. 3 effective date of A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7).
According to the district’s press release, the committee “began circulating petitions on April 10, 2018 asking voters to agree to consolidation and place the consolidation question on the November 6, 2018 ballot.”
On June 4, the committee turned in 2,312 signatures to the Yavapai County School Superintendent’s office in Prescott, of which 2,121 signatures were accepted as a result of what Carter called a “very cursory check.”
“From the beginning of this process, we were confident that we could collect the minimum number of signatures,” committee leader Andy Groseta said in June.
Attempts to reach Groseta since being served with the lawsuit have gone unanswered.
Day in court
Also named as plaintiffs in the consolidation lawsuit are Yavapai County electors Michael Westcott, Cyndi Ricca and Kassidy Thagard.
Honorable Judge David Mackey will hear the case at 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 31 in the 226 Courtroom of the Yavapai County Superior Court, Verde Valley Judicial District, located at 2840 N. Commonwealth Drive in Camp Verde.
What the Mingus Union lawsuit alleges
Four counts. Sifting through more than 500 pages of legal paperwork, it boils down to four counts – accusations – by the Mingus Union legal team of Ballard Spahr LLC.
The lawsuit first alleges that Arizona Revised Statute 15-459 (B) (7) violates Article 4, Part 2 Section 19 of the Arizona Constitution because it is an “impermissible special law.”
“The classification consisting of a common school district that is ‘part of a union high school district made up of two or fewer common school districts is impermissible under Arizona law because it is not rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective, does not encompass all members of the relevant class, and is inelastic,” the lawsuit states in its verified complaint for declaratory, special action and injunctive relief.
According to Joseph Kanefield of Ballard Spahr LLC, efforts by the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools 2018 show that the pro-consolidation group was “clearly eager to get this question before voters quickly.”
“In doing so, they did not follow the laws and procedures governing these elections and sought – and obtained – special treatment from the Arizona Legislature,” said Kanefield, one two Ballard Spahr attorneys for the plaintiffs.
“In my experience, mistakes are most common when candidates and ballot measure proponents rush to qualify for the ballot,” Kanefield said. “That is often a recipe for disaster.”
The lawsuit alleges that since A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7) does not go into effect until Aug. 3, the Yavapai County school superintendent “has no authority under A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7) to place the consolidation question set forth on the Nov. 6, 2018 election ballot.
The injunctive relief the lawsuit cites pertains to the Ultra Vires petition effort, meaning beyond one’s legal power or authority.
This is a violation of A.R.S. 15-459, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that the petitions circulated by the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools 2018 “inaccurately stated” that consolidating the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts “would result in administrative savings that would pass through to the classrooms.”
“By erroneously informing electors that consolidating the two districts would result in administrative savings that would pass through to the classrooms,” the lawsuit states, “the description created confusion and misled electors.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the petitions circulated by the Committee for Better Upper Verde Valley Schools 2018 violated A.R.S. 19-102 because the proposed amendment’s description “failed to inform electors that A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7) did not go into effect until Aug. 3, 2018.
The lawsuit also states that the petition’s description “created confusion and misled electors by implicitly representing that the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board could exercise the legal authority granted under A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7) even though A.R.S. 15-459 (B) (7) had not yet been enacted.”
This is a violation of A.R.S. 19-102, the lawsuit states.
‘The right to read or examine’
The lawsuit alleges that the petitions did not include an “attached copy of the title and text of the proposed measure as required in Article 4, Part 1, Section 1(9) of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. 19-102(A), -111(A), -112(B), -112(C).
Under A.R.S. 19-102(A), the statutorily mandated form “requires that signers be instructed that ‘Before signing, make sure the title and text of the measure are attached,” the lawsuit states. “You have the right to read or examine the title and text before signing.”
Included in the lawsuit are signed affidavits from seven of the district’s taxpayers, stating that “Had I known that there was no guarantee of savings, I would not have signed.”
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