Stuart aims to corral city of Scottsdale through legal barrage

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

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Mr. Stuart is a lawyer. He is not, but says he is a law student who is self-taught. Also, co-plaintiff Margaret Stuart is his daughter, not his wife, which was incorrectly reported. The TPC Scottsdale case is set for trial not a hearing as earlier reported.

When Mark Stuart enters Scottsdale City Hall everyone knows it.

He’s no stranger to the people who work for the city, nor those who attend city council meetings. He routinely addresses local leaders on the travails of Scottsdale municipal government operations during city council meetings.

Mark Stuart

He’s also no stranger to taking on the city via the legal system. Mr. Stuart has filed several legal claims against the city of Scottsdale, its top policymakers and a number of law enforcement officials.

In his latest effort, Mr. Stuart last month — on behalf of his political action committee, Save Our Preserve — filed an extensive claim that accuses the city of violating his First Amendment rights, among other civil liberties.

The 91-page lawsuit filed in the United States District Court accuses the entire city council and all charter officers of suppressing Mr. Stuart’s free speech rights by using public money to promote the Desert Discovery Center, interfering with his ability to secure petition signatures and most recently, arresting him for trying to speak at a city council meeting.

Mr. Stuart’s organization opposes the Desert EDGE proposal and is pushing for a public vote on the matter.

The city of Scottsdale has a standing policy to not comment on pending litigation, city officials say.

During its Aug. 28 meeting, Scottsdale City Council is expected to indemnify City Treasurer Jeff Nichols who is also named in the Stuart vs. city of Scottsdale lawsuit. The council vote will allow the city to pay for Mr. Nichols’s legal representation.

“Nichols was named because he disbursed public monies to try to influence and fix the outcome of a pending election,” Mr. Stuart said in an Aug. 23 phone interview. “I named him individually, because he needs to be punished for his unlawful actions. This is standard procedure in this type of litigation.”

Mr. Stuart’s current civil suit alleges 21 claims against the city and 37 specific allegations of civil rights violations on behalf of Mr. Stuart and his daughter, Margaret along with his PAC.

“I have offered to settle for $2.4 million,” he said. Mr. Stuart is requesting a jury trial. “My daughter and Save Our Preserve have offered to settle their claims for $750,000 and my wife has offered to settle her claims for $500,000. If we go to trial we will be seeking punitive damages. Punitive damages would likely be two or three times higher than actual proven damages.”

Earlier this summer, Scottsdale City Council voted to indemnify themselves as well as charter officers named in the Stuart lawsuit.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Stuart has brought claims accusing the city of Scottsdale of “institutionalized unconstitutional practices.”

In the summer of 2013, Mr. Stuart filed a notice of claim against the city alleging the municipality was subsidizing the private operator of McDowell Mountain Golf Club with taxpayer dollars, according to Scottsdale Independent archives.

The city’s position, as outlined in the July 8, 2013 submittal to the Maricopa County Superior Court: There’s no law that requires the city to recoup or make any money on its investment in a project that benefits the public.

The case was dismissed, but Mr. Stuart is appealing.

“The city conceded that the contract violated state law and our city charter,” he said of that case.

“A judicial commissioner reversed a sitting judge and ruled that I lacked standing to pursue the claims. The appeal is in its 14th month. This means that the Court of Appeals will issue an opinion. It also means that the court will grant judgment to me and to the public on the claims in that case. A decision should come down any day now.”

Scottsdale City Hall is oftentimes a place where many — residents and otherwise — attend meetings on the major items of the day. (File photo)

Squeaky wheel or Whistleblower?

Mr. Stuart claims — and has provided the Independent documentation to the fact — has been awarded $75,496.81 for his efforts in alerting the Internal Revenue Service, he says, for the usage of tax-exempt bonds for a private enterprise in Scottsdale.

City officials dispute that claim saying the 2016 settlement there was due to the legal question of whether the lease for a city-owned parking garage was classified as an operating expense or a capital expense.

In September 2016, Scottsdale agreed to pay the IRS $750,000 to settle the dispute regarding interest on a portion of Scottsdale’s bonds specific to a lease term for a public parking garage.

In 2013 the IRS issued a notice to the city and municipal property corp. that the allocation of a portion of the proceeds of the bonds to refinance the initial lease term of the existing municipal Scottsdale Fashion Square Partnership Parking Garage Lease Agreement causes interest on the bonds to be taxable.

The IRS rewards people who report those who fail to pay their taxes. If the IRS uses information provided by the whistleblower, it can award he or she up to 30 percent of the additional tax, penalty and other amounts it collects.

“I will be discussing the benefits of whistleblowing to our public treasury at the council meeting on Monday,” Mr. Stuart said of the Aug. 28 pending city council meeting.

He has also brought civil claims in summer 2014 to Superior Court regarding financial arrangements surrounding TPC Scottsdale improvements made two years prior to the 2015 PGA Tour stop in Scottsdale.

Published news reports show that in that case, both Mr. Stuart and John Washington, a resident of Scottsdale, filed suit against the city claiming the TPC Scottsdale arrangement violated the Arizona Constitution and Scottsdale City Charter.

That case is set for a trial Wednesday, Oct. 18, but only one plaintiff, Mr. Stuart, has stayed in the fight, records show.

“The city denies any liability to Mr. Stuart,” said Scottsdale Public Affairs Director Kelly Corsette in an Aug. 23 statement.  “The city has already prevailed against Mr. Stuart in his attempt to obtain a temporary restraining order and we intend to continue our defense of this matter.”

Man on a mission?

Last February Mr. Stuart was arrested under the charge of trespass and failure to obey a police officer while attempting to make a public comment during a city council meeting.

Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. in downtown Scottsdale (File photo)

“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,” Mr. Corsette told the Scottsdale Independent at the time of the arrest.

Mr. Stuart says everyone has a right to be at City Hall. Along with the citation, Mr. Stuart said he sustained an injury 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 this is when they hurt my shoulder,” he recalled at the time of the incident.

In his latest legal filing against the city, Mr. Stuart also named each police officer and Police Chief Alan Rodbell in the amended notice of claim against the city.

The lawsuit cites several examples of city officials obstructing his efforts to collect signatures and interfering with his efforts to promote his campaign. But his arrest at a city council meeting may have been the last straw.

“I have filed suit against the city of Scottsdale because they violated my civil rights, and the civil rights of the Save Our Preserve volunteers with their actions,” he said.

“The allegations are detailed fairly extensively in the complaint. I have suffered physical and psychological injuries, as well as injuries to my civil rights because of their illegal acts.”

When asked if this is now a personal fight against Scottsdale City Council and its hired hands, Mr. Stuart replied, “would you be pissed if someone through you in jail? In this kind of a situation, you either give up or you fight back. I would say mine is a normal response.”

Nothing to see here?

Mr. Stuart holds steadfast to his assertion things are going to change at Scottsdale City Hall.

“Scottsdale has institutionalized unconstitutional practices, such as free speech zones, content-based discrimination on signs in public places, some of the council rules of procedure and some Scottsdale city ordinances,” he said.

Those opposing the proposed Desert Discovery Center held up red pieces of paper last Wednesday as the topic continues to drive the local political conversation. (File photo)

“We are seeking to permanently enjoin some Scottsdale ordinances. There are 21 claims, and more than 37 specific allegations of civil rights violations. We will be adding claims for substantive due process violations and an institutionalized scheme to deprive me, and others of due process in the Scottsdale court system, shortly.”

Mr. Stuart says the issues he alleges surrounding the proposed Desert EDGE is a symptom of the real problem.

“We, the citizens and taxpayers of Scottsdale, own the Preserve,” he said noting his passion for the outdoors and the idea the Preserve represents.

“The city council is seeking to break promises they made to us by attempting to commercialize the Preserve. This is morally and ethically wrong. The Preserve is our most valuable city asset. If we allow any commercial development, then we will eventually destroy this asset. This is ethically and morally wrong.”

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 says he believes the proposed development within the Preserve is wrong on its face and will have detrimental affects to surrounding home values.

“It is wrong to change the character and ambiance of any neighborhood without the explicit permission of the property owners,” he said.  “This is an ongoing issue in Scottsdale. Home values near the Preserve will drop by more than 25 percent after commercialization begins. It is morally and ethically wrong to take another’s property.”

Mr. Stuarts says he and his family are due restitution and he stands amongst those against any commercial development within the Preserve.

“The Preserve should be used for everyone’s benefit and enjoyment, not to provide welfare for cronies of the city council,” he said.

“Stop the illegal practices. Properly train city staff and the city council to be cognizant of and protect the civil rights of our citizens. Pay my family and I $3.6 million to compensate us for our damages.”

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

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