Fri, May 24

Commentary: Legal challenge to consolidation all part of checks and balances

Any citizen has the right to legally challenge the validity of an election. It is an exercise in the old saying of “if you are going to do something, do it right”

The clock is ticking toward the Upper Verde’s first school district consolidation election in 10 years, and our fourth such election since 1959.

Petitions have been submitted calling for the election. County School Superintendent Tim Carter is meticulously following the process of law before a consolidation election is officially declared.

One overlooked part of the process involves a legal challenge to the validity of the signatures gathered, or the methods by which they were obtained.

That could happen.

Last week, Mingus Union School Board President Anita Glazar requested, paid for, and obtained copies of the consolidation petitions from Carter’s office.

There has been no official school board decision authorizing Glazar to take such action, but it is no secret the consolidation issue has been discussed several times in closed executive session by Mingus board members and the district’s legal counsel.

Regardless, it bears emphasis that Glazar did this as an individual citizen, including paying the copy costs for the petitions -- $43.75 – with a personal check. Further, according to Mingus Superintendent Penny Hargrove, Glazar will not be reimbursed with district funds for that expense and “no district funds or resources will be use to promote either a favorable or unfavorable vote.”

Hargrove continued: “Anita is honorably acting as a community member, not a board member. If Anita paid $43 to Mr. Carter, it was not district funds. No staff member has been asked or will have anything to do with verifying signatures.”

As for Glazar, she is tight-lipped about the whole matter. “This is a matter currently under legal review and it’s best for me to follow our attorney’s advice and not make any comment.”

While consolidation proponents might view this as a Mingus attempt to block the election, a legal challenge of the petitions – should that happen – is simply part of the checks and balances of the process. Any citizen has the right to legally challenge the validity of an election. It is an exercise in the old saying of “if you are going to do something, do it right.”

Saturday, consolidation advocate and former Mingus board member Andy Groseta said he fully expected the petitions circulated by his committee to face such review. “That’s part of the process and we welcome the scrutiny,” said Groseta.

All of which brings another old saying to mind: “Be careful what you ask for, Mr. Groseta.”

Revamped laws essential on residency requirements of elected officials

Last week, the Daily Courier in Prescott published an excellent editorial about the repeated pattern of state and congressional politicians running for public office in political districts in which they do not live.

Just a few days later, we saw a textbook example with the myriad flaws in the law that govern the residency of those who seek public office.

Former Yuma lawmaker Don Shooter was expelled from the Arizona House of Representatives last year following allegations of sexual harassment against lawmakers, lobbyists and others.

He is attempting a political comeback by running for the Arizona Senate in the same Yuma district he formerly served in the House.

His ability to seek that office was legally challenged last week in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Among the arguments to support the claim that Shooter does not live in Yuma:

-He has a home in Phoenix that is owned by a trust run jointly by Shooter and his wife, Susan, and that the home is listed on tax records as owner-occupied primary residence.

-After he was expelled from the House, Shooter had his mail forwarded to the Phoenix address and the electricity at his Yuma apartment was turned off.

-His voter registration was changed from South Palo Verde Drive in Yuma on April 30 to the Phoenix address. Shooter’s attorney intimated that it was someone else, possibly a political foe, who changed his voter registration information.

In the end, while the judge hearing the case acknowledged there are a series of facts that could lead to the conclusion that Shooter’s real residence is a home in north central Phoenix, she eventually ruled he is a resident of Yuma and legally qualified to seek public office to represent that part of Arizona.

If ever there was the need for election reform, it should begin and end with clearly defined laws about residency requirements for those seeking public office. The basic concept of living within the jurisdictional boundaries of the office being sought has been abused in Arizona for decades.

It has been abused at the congressional, state and local levels. Let’s not forget disgraced and eventually imprisoned former Arizona congressman Rick Renzi, whose family lived in Virginia while he rented a house in Flagstaff and justified that as a legal residence to run for the House of Representatives in Arizona’s First Congressional District.

Even here in the Verde Valley, we’ve seen cases where a town council member in Jerome was forced to resign after it was revealed he lived in Verde Village.

In another case, a Clarkdale Town Council member was living and working in Bisbee. Council members were planning to remove her from the council for excessive absences. That didn’t happen. A helicopter landed in the parking lot of the town square just before the meeting commenced and the council member was in the cockpit, having been flown to the meeting from Bisbee.

The laws that govern the residency of elected officials are designed to let politicians dishonestly claim they live in one place when they actually live in another.

Living in the area an elected official represents is as basic as it should get.

In Arizona, we can’t even get that one right.