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Mon, May 20

Rec center debate leads to claim of political threat

PHOENIX -- A Mesa Republican senator accused a GOP Sun City colleague Wednesday of making political threats to force him to vote for legislation.

David Farnsworth refused to vote for a measure that deals with a spat that affects the recreation centers in Sun City and Green Valley. Farnsworth said he sides with some homeowners who won a lawsuit about how those rec centers must be legally operated.

But as the debate was to begin, Farnsworth told other senators of a conversation he with Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray.

"He reminded me I was running for Corporation Commission and that if I continued to fight this bill there would be consequences,'' he said.

Gray, for his part, did not dispute the conversation.

"As an elected official, if anybody wants to tell my constituents how I vote on something, I've got no problem with that,'' he responded. "So my comment to him was everybody in Sun City will know you voted.''

What makes that Sun City vote significant is that the retirement community is known for its "high efficacy'' voters, meaning they turn out. And the area is largely Republican.

That means a Republican running for the commission, which regulates utility rates, could be losing critical votes, particularly in the GOP primary.

The threat did not work.

Farnsworth not only voted against SB 1094 but also told other senators why he thinks it's bad legislation.

In the end, however, his opposition did not matter as the Senate approved the bill on a 17-11 margin. It now goes to the governor.

At the heart of the fight is a ruling last year by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Roger Brodman that Recreation Centers of Sun City is subject to the Arizona Planned Communities Act.

That is significant as that law has certain requirements about public records and open meetings. There also are specific limits on assessments as well as the ability to foreclose on residents who do not pay those assessments.

Brodman rejected arguments by attorneys that the organization was set up as a corporation running a country club.

While Brodman's ruling affects only Sun City, the same decision, if upheld on appeal, could undermine a similar arrangement in Green Valley.

SB 1094 would effectively overturn the judge's ruling by amending the law to exclude from the planned community laws certain organizations that were incorporated before 1974.

Another provision, retroactive to July 16, 1994, creates an exemption from what is considered a planned community any real estate development that is not managed or maintained by an association.

Gray urged other senators to ignore the court ruling.

"If everybody believes that judges are absolutely right in every one of their decisions, man, I'm just not there,'' he said. "Judges make mistakes.''

Gray said the two rec centers at issue were started before there was a planned community act. And he said that law deals not with rec centers but homeowners' associations.

And he justified the pressure he applied to get the votes.

"You're making a decision that's going to impact the lives of people that I know, people that want this bill to go through, people that want their community protected,'' Gray said.

"People's lives are at stake,'' he continued. Gray said there would be sharp increases in annual fees because the organization would lose the authority to levy the one-time $3,500 "preservation and improvement'' fee imposed each time someone buys into the community, a fee that raises about $500,000 a month.

Farnsworth had a different take on the effect of the judge's ruling -- and what would happen if it were overturned by the Legislature.

"To me, it's a matter of property rights,'' he said, saying that there are issues about who within the Sun City community can use the facilities.

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