Lawsuit filed over Tusayan referendum election
Lawyers for Stilo Group contend referendum petitions misleading
TUSAYAN, Ariz. - On top of a recall election scheduled for March 13 and referendum election on May 15, the Tusayan Town Council now faces a lawsuit, and possibly a second on the horizon.
Despite recent reports the Stilo Group is suing the town, Roopali Desai, an attorney with Coppersmith Schermer & Brockelman, said the claims and the complaint her firm filed on behalf of the developer are actually focused on five political committees under the same name, "Citizens for Sustainable Growth" who circulated the referendum petition, asserting they are "legally insufficient."
"It's important to mention right away that in these sorts of pre-election challenges where you are seeking to enjoin an election, you have to name the body of politics which are holding the election, which in this case is the town of Tusayan, the town is named as a procedural requirement," she said.
Desai explained that when an entity, in this case, the Committee for Sustainable Growth, hopes to overturn passed legislation, they are permitted to include a 100-word summary in their petition that accurately and neutrally defines or describes the key provisions of the law they are seeking to overturn. However, in this case, Desai claims the proponents of the referendum have intentionally omitted from each single 100-word summary any reference to housing, which forms the basis of their lawsuit.
"In fact, they include inflammatory, very biased political arguments as statements about what the ordinances are," she said. "When you take that to a voter and say, 'this is the particular ordinance that we are trying to overturn, please sign my petition,' and the voter reads a description that is inaccurate, you are essentially misleading them into signing."
Desai added she believes it was done with the intention to deceive voters.
"It's intentionally misleading, to take to the voters a petition, seeking to overturn legislation that has everything to do with housing, yet you are excluding from the description of the ordinances anything to do with housing," she argued.
Desai contends the 100-word summary is the largest issue her law firm has with the petitions, though there are other minor discrepancies that they claim are unclear.
"The ordinance numbers don't match up to the committee names, and the five committees registered in support of a referendum, but in fact are opposing the town ordinances which could add another layer of confusion to the voters," Desai said.
Committee for Sustainable Growth Treasurer Clarinda Vail said she hadn't seen the court document yet, but doesn't understand why Stilo doesn't want the voters to vote on it.
"It's not misleading," she said. "These are massive sized documents that you have 100 words or less to explain. I think they are completely accurate."
Stilo Group Spokesperson Andy Jacobs said that campaign projects - "Protect Your Rights" and "YES for Housing, Jobs and Independence" - are gearing up for both ballot items on referendum election.
"We've been out there talking to voters, registering voters and we think the voters are on our side, we are confident that we will win this election," he said.
According to Jacobs, both Stilo Group and Elling Halverson are teaming up under the name Logan Luca to file a second lawsuit on the code of ethics initiative with the same legal team, Coppersmith Schermer & Brockelman, arguing its unconstitutionality.
"I know the Halversons were concerned that some of their employees may not be able to serve on council under this initiative," Jacobs said. "Stilo doesn't have any employees yet in Tusayan, but someday we hope that there will be and the folks will have an opportunity to serve on the council regardless of who they work for.
On Feb. 8 during a special meeting, the town council opted to go ahead with the election after receiving a request to cancel by Desai. They decided they are unable to make decisions about the unconstitutionality of the proposed ordinance. Tusayan Town Attorney, Bill Sims was unavailable to comment as of press time.
There will be a hearing for the plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction Feb. 28 in Flagstaff.