Scottsdale politics continue to push residents to the edge of civility

Residents can make public comments during city council meetings at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Following the filing of campaign finance violations, representatives for the Protect Our Preserve political action committee have requested to respond to the opposing parties.

The communication traveling through Scottsdale City Clerk Carolyn Jagger’s office is a part of a campaign finance violation filed on May 25.

Attorney Roopali H. Desai, on behalf of the Protect Our Preserve political action committee, sent Ms. Jagger’s office a letter outlining three alleged violations surrounding practices and an alleged lack of transparency by a group called Desert EDGE Advocates, and Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc.

Desert Edge is a proposed desert-appreciation venue envisaged on less than 6 acres just south of the established Gateway trailhead within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The facility includes a series of structures coined “pavilions” and has an asking price of $61.2 million.

The issue of how and if a desert-appreciation venue ought to be built within Preserve limits has drawn a line in the political sand for many Scottsdale residents and elected leaders.

North Scottsdale resident Jason Alexander has founded the political action committee, Protect Our Preserve, to try and force a public vote on the matter.

Following the initial complaint, the two parties involved — Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc. and Desert Edge Advocates — were given 10 days to respond to the complaint.

Letters from attorney Loren Molever of Scottsdale-based Molever Conelly Attorneys representing DDCS and attorney Thomas Basile of Scottsdale-based Statecraft Law representing Desert EDGE Advocates was received by Ms. Jagger on June 11, records show.

Ms. Desai has now requested to respond to the two entities, Ms. Jagger says.

“Ms. Desai has asked for permission to respond to their responses,” she said. “She’s been given until June 20.”

Both groups say that they’re not a political action committee, and therefore are not organizations for influencing the result of an election or receiving and making expenditures.

“Attorney Desai’s letter contains material inaccurate conclusions that our client is compelled to controvert,” Mr. Molever said in his letter.

“Contrary to the conclusion in Attorney Desai’s letter, DDCS is not a political action committee.”

Similarly, Mr. Basile outlines that Desert EDGE Advocates is not a political action committee or an entity as well.

“Desert Edge Advocates is financed, managed and operated solely and exclusively by a single individual, and hence cannot qualify as a PAC as a matter of law,” Mr. Basile says. “In addition, PAC status attaches only to entities that are ‘organized for the primary purpose of influencing the result of an election.’”

The campaign finance document filed on behalf of Protect Our Preserve PAC, alleges that paid operatives of Desert EDGE and Desert EDGE Advocates have followed individuals circulating initiative petitions.

“When a circulator approaches a prospective petition signer, the assigned paid operative also approaches that signer, attempts to dissuade them from signing, and also presents them with a printed advertisement that asks signers to ‘KNOW the FACTS before you sign a petition,’” the filed complaint states.

The three outlined complaints brought by Protect Our Preserve include:

  • Not disclosing the words “paid for by” on their solicitation literature;
  • Failure to register as a political action committee; and
  • Failure to file campaign finance reports.

Mr. Alexander spoke at Scottsdale City Council’s June 12 meeting on the complaint.

Jason Alexander

He says while Mr. Basile says Desert EDGE Advocates is operated by one individual, they refused to divulge that person’s identity.

“We have identified Melinda Gulick. She was the last person to speak publicly for the Desert Edge Advocates at the Nov. 6, 2017 City Council Meeting,” Mr. Alexander said in an email to the Independent.

“Their claim is there is only one advocate, and it’s a woman living in a $2.5M house in Paradise Valley, saying all manner of horrible divisive things about the residents and demographics of Scottsdale. As for collusion, Gulick was the Chair of the DDC Advocates group in 2014 and 15 before they were even organized as a corporation, and she was on the Board of DDCSI until 2016. Now she is again chief of their advocacy group.”

Ms. Gulick, however, says she has never colluded with anyone.

“I have long been an advocate for the Desert Discovery Center, including serving on multiple private-sector and publicly-appointed committees for the project starting in 2004,” she said in a statement to the Independent.

“I was the founding volunteer chair of the group that ultimately incorporated as the Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale. However, I resigned in May, 2016. I have spoken publicly in support of the vision for the DDC many times including as an advocate at two Scottsdale City Council meetings after my resignation from DDCS – June 6, 2016 and Nov. 6, 2017. My goal has simply and always been to build a nature education center to teach people about the Sonoran Desert and tell the inspiring story of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.”

Ms. Gulick’s resignation stemmed from personal matters, records show.

Mr. Alexander says he has forwarded information from public records, IRS complaint, blogs and other records to their attorneys showing Ms. Gulick is tied to the DDC Advocates, DDCS and Desert Edge Advocates.

“Emails she sent and documents she signed in conjunction with DDCS Advocates and DDCSI are everywhere. Expect further developments on our campaign finance complaint soon,” he said.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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