Stuart: Censorship has no place in city council public comment

“It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error”; (U.S. Supreme Ct., Comm. Assoc. v. Doud, 1950)

These eloquent words, written by Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, remind us of an important responsibility we share as citizens of these United States.

Our role is not to sit back and let government decide how best to represent our interests. Rather, our role is to represent our interests before the government and hold that government accountable to our collective will.

I oppose the development of and the commercialization of our McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

My daughter and I have sponsored the Save Our Preserve ballot initiative. If the voters approve our initiative, there will not be any future construction in the preserve without voter approval, obtained in advance.

Mark Stuart

Since January, I have been providing the Scottsdale City Council with a bi-monthly update on the progress of the Save Our Preserve ballot initiative. The updates are designed to demonstrate to the council that continued council resistance to a public vote is futile.

On Feb. 7, I attended a Scottsdale City Council meeting intending to convince the city council to call an election on the Save Our Preserve Ballot Initiative.

Calling an election early would save us all a lot of time, expense and effort.

Based upon the early success of our fast-growing group of volunteers, it is inevitable that Scottsdale voters will decide the future of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in November 2018. Many, many advantages accrue to all of the citizens of our city from an early resolution of this issue.

Why wait?

After patiently and peacefully following all of the proper procedures, it was my turn to speak for three minutes during open public comment. I brought a 15-page written presentation with me to the podium. This presentation was provided to the mayor and city clerk in advance. (copies of the presentation are available at www.savemsp.org)

I was never allowed to give my presentation.

Instead, Mayor Lane continually interrupted and badgered me. After I calmly insisted that I be allowed to give my public comments, uncensored, the mayor ordered two police officers to escort me out of city hall. I was then arrested, handcuffed and incarcerated in city jail. While in jail, I suffered a stroke.

This entire shocking episode was recorded on video. It can be viewed at (http://www.noddc.org/)

What the video does not show the viewers is the history behind this exchange. The history of this relationship reveals the council’s true motives for having me arrested.

The city council does not want the public to know that the proposed Desert Discovery Center in the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy is now kaput. Unless the voters reject our ballot initiative, the Desert Discovery Center has no future in our preserve.

For the past three years, I have been engaged in litigation on behalf of the public to prevent the misuse of public resources by our city council and city staff.

Ultimately, I seek to recover more than $100 million of public money that was unlawfully given to private entities and return it to our general fund for the benefit of the public.

Our city charter and our state constitution does not allow politicians or public employees to give away public monies or other public resources. Our council does not like these laws, so they simply ignore them. Litigation is the only means available to the public to force our council to obey the law.

The council is very angry about these lawsuits. Many of them receive large campaign donations and other relationships in exchange for gifts of public money and other resources.

The proposed Desert Discovery Center is council’s newest giveaway of public assets. A review of campaign finance reports clearly shows the linkage between the DDC and those politicians that oppose a public vote on the DDC.

The Save Our Preserve ballot initiative effectively freezes any public spending on the Desert Discovery Center until voters decide this issue in November 2018. State law prohibits the use of any public resources by elected officials or public employees, about ballot issues. The penalties for violating these laws are very severe. (Remember former Attorney General Tom Horne?)

Our council is now in a quandary. If they ignore the law, then our city could potentially lose $60 million in state shared tax revenues.  The council cannot proceed with its newest giveaway, unless the voters approve it in November 2018.

Consequently, our council is very angry with me and the other volunteers supporting the Save Our Preserve ballot initiative.  Based upon Mayor Lane’s recent actions, it’s clear that I am now a target for the council’s wrath.

Recently, more than 200 Scottsdale voters sent a letter to the Arizona Attorney General, and to several of our state legislators, asking for an SB 1487 investigation into the misuse of public monies to influence an election issue here in Scottsdale.

We sent this letter because Scottsdale refused our simple requests:

  1. Remove signs announcing the Desert Discovery Center from the Preserve;
  2. Remove all DDC related promotional materials from the city’s website;
  3. Freeze all spending related to promoting and publicizing the DDC, including using city employee time on this project;
  4. Allow us to place signs in the Preserve in the same location as the DDC signs.

Our request for help from the attorney general further angered the council. More importantly, it really angered and scared those parties who are hoping to make big dollars developing and commercializing the Preserve. They are mad, and they want revenge.

On Feb. 7, Mayor Lane provided the revenge they so desperately sought.

I believe the mayor’s actions are retaliation for the SB 1487 investigation, and the ongoing litigation involving public corruption and misuse of public resources.

The public is becoming organized. The public is effectively using strategies that will force the council to obey the law. By arresting me, the council is trying to teach me and other community activists a lesson: Stop trying to effectively influence public opinion, or face some severe consequences.
My arrest is the culmination of a sequence of actions by the council to silence and degrade the Save Our Preserve ballot initiative. Between October 2016 and Feb. 2017 our civil rights were violated in the following ways:

  1. City police seized our signs, and told us they we could not use Mountain View Park for peaceful First Amendment activities;
  2. Some of our signs have been seized and never returned;
  3. We were told that we would be arrested and cited for trespassing in a public park if we ever returned;
  4. We were told that we could not place any temporary signs anywhere on public property;
  5. We were told that we could not walk around open public property seeking signatures for our petitions;
  6. Our signs were seized, and we were told that we could not solicit signatures in public rights of way more than 0.3 miles from the entrance to the Phoenix Open.

After each event, our council retreated after I threatened litigation for these actions. These actions are illegal violations of citizens’ civil rights. Long ago, federal courts began punishing those who insist on violating others’ civil rights.

Our council actually practices and embraces a strategy of intentionally violating peoples’ civil rights, and daring the citizen to sue. These practices are bad for our society, and will be financially very costly to our city treasury.

Censorship has no place in the open public comment period of a Scottsdale city council meeting. Intimidating your political opponents with rude behavior has no place in Scottsdale. Abusing the legal process and utilizing police force against your political opponents is un-American.

Every person in Scottsdale should feel free to publicly comment on any issue of public importance without fear of arrest, citation for trespassing, or fear of being treated rudely by the mayor.

Civil rights abuse has no place in Scottsdale. Joe Arpaio’s civil rights transgressions cost the county more than $40 million. We don’t want this fiscal tragedy to be repeated here in Scottsdale. We have far better uses of our tax dollars.

Freedom is always worth fighting for. Wide ranging and raucous disagreement about public issues is an indispensable part of our free society. Censorship has no place in Arizona, especially during open public comment at a Scottsdale city council meeting.

It’s time for our city council to embrace disagreement about issues of public importance. It’s time to put the Save Our Preserve ballot initiative up for a public vote.

We all benefit by resolving our disagreements at the ballot box, rather than through litigation.

Editor’s Note: Mark Stuart is a resident of Scottsdale.

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