Drama at City Hall: Mark Stuart not allowed to make public comment

Mark Stuart at the Feb. 7 Scottsdale City Council moments before being removed. (Screen Shot)

Scottsdale resident Mark Stuart was escorted from City Hall and subsequently cited and released for trespass and failure to obey a police officer the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 7.

“Mr. Stuart was cited for trespass and failure to obey a police officer after he refused to limit his comments during the open call to the public at last night’s city council meeting,” said Scottsdale spokesman Kelly Corsette in a Feb. 8 statement.

“There is a state statute, A.R.S. § 38.431.01(H), which states in relevant part, ‘A public body may make an open call to the public during a public meeting, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, to allow individuals to address the public body on any issue within the jurisdiction of the public body.”

Mr. Corsette says Mr. Stuart was seeking to make a political statement and campaign for an ongoing petition regarding the building of the proposed Desert Discovery Center.

The discovery center proposal has become a focal point for local politics with citizen factions fully entrenched on both sides of the issue.

The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve encompasses 30,000 acres of land within the rough boundaries of the Pima Road alignment to the west, McDowell Mountain Regional Park to the east, Stagecoach Road to the north and Via Linda Road alignment to the south.

Mr. Stuart is the leader of the 2018 Scottsdale ballot initiative to stop the Desert Discovery Center, according to Jason Alexander, the public face of the No DDC political action committee.

“(Mr.) Stuart acts as his own attorney, and currently has several open lawsuits against the city for other violations of the rights of the citizens,” Mr. Alexander said in a Feb. 8 statement.

“We’re sure this is only the beginning of this battle. Mark Stuart is motivated and tenacious — he is not going to back down from (Mayor Jim) Lane’s heavy-handed tactics. This shameful display shows the lengths Lane, (Linda) Milhaven, (David) Smith, (Virginia) Korte and (Suzanne) Klapp will go to in order to suppress discussion of the DDC and marginalize the citizens. We’ll share additional details as soon as we have them.”

Mr. Stuart asserts the law is on his side and contends he suffered a shoulder injury during contact with the Scottsdale Police Department.

“I can tell you that in Arizona, the law is well established and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals if you have public comment in the meeting the city has no power to limit what you say,” Mr. Stuart said in a Feb. 8 phone interview.

The city of Scottsdale disagrees.

“The obtaining of signatures on petitions is not a matter that is within the jurisdiction of the Scottsdale City Council, and therefore under the open meeting law is not a permissible topic to be addressed during the call to the public,” said City Attorney Bruce Washburn in a Jan. 30 letter to Mr. Stuart.

“Also, your doing so implicates provisions of ARS 9-500.14 regarding using city resources for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election. You are, of course, free to address your comments to other matters that are within the council’s jurisdiction, such as, for example, whether they should authorize any particular construction that might take place in the Preserve, but state law does not permit you to use the call to the public to address matters that are not within the council’s jurisdiction.”

Mr. Stuart says everyone has a right to be at City Hall and explained that his citation and injury were sustained outside of the Kiva auditorium at City Hall following his escort out of the public meeting.

“They, like six police officers and people were watching us, said can you come over here and sit on the bench. I said, ‘no, I am not going to.’ Then they handcuffed me and they made. They handcuffed me and this when they hurt my shoulder,” he recalled.

“Everyone has a right to be in City Hall. The mayor nor the city council has any power to stop you. That is the message Mayor Lane needs to learn and he is going to learn it the hard way.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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