BULLHEAD CITY — Taxpayers Against City Takeover, a political action committee supported by EPCOR Arizona Water, has filed complaints with the county and state, claiming Bullhead City officials have engaged in “unlawful electioneering” to persuade voters to approve Proposition 415.
The proposition, set for an all-mail referendum this November, will ask voters to authorize the city’s plan to acquire EPCOR Water Arizona, Inc.’s local infrastructure and use it to run its own water utility service.
“The claim is baseless,” City Manager Toby Cotter wrote in a text sent Wednesday evening. “The city has only posted facts about EPCOR and the city of Edmonton (Alberta, Canada). The city has never told residents how to vote or violated Arizona election law.”
TACT’s complaint, dated Wednesday, asserts that city officials have been using city resources to advocate for the proposition through such methods as social media, the city’s website, on the video website Youtube, on an electronic billboard and in the media.
The complaint asks that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith direct their offices to investigate the claims, then file suit against the city in Mohave County Superior Court.
TACT contends that the city has been spreading information about Prop. 415 with a supportive slant and cites Arizona Revised Statutes 9-500.14(H)(2) in its complaint:
“ ‘Influencing the outcomes of elections’ means supporting or opposing a candidate for nomination or election to public office or the recall of a public officer or supporting or opposing a ballot measure, question or proposition, including any bond, budget or override election and supporting or opposing the circulation of a petition for the recall of a public officer or a petition for a ballot measure, question or proposition in any manner that is not impartial or neutral.”
The complaint includes a statement made by Mayor Tom Brady during the July 16 Bullhead City Council meeting. That was the meeting at which the council approved putting the EPCOR referendum on the ballot and the statement was taken from the meeting video posted on the city’s website:
“I firmly, for one, believe that (passing the ballot referral) is the right thing to do. And I hope you see through all of EPCOR’s propaganda and greed and allow us to move forward with this acquisition. So this evening, I will be voting yes on this item and I hope the citizens who trust my research and my judgment will do the same when they vote in November.”
Brady’s statement was made before the referendum was called, which is an exception cited in 9-500.14(B): “The prohibition on the use of public resources to influence the outcome of bond, budget override and other tax-related elections includes the use of city-focused or town-focused promotional expenditures that occur after an election is called and through election day.”
However, TACT said, the subsequent posting of the statement on city communication channels is a violation. Video recordings of meetings of the city council and advisory committees and commissions are posted on the city’s website for public viewing.
Another assertion in TACT’s complaint includes the contracting of Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc., to build a strategy that informs the community about what the November bond election is about. TACT noted that Raftelis has referred to that as presenting to voters “the potential for local control of its water supply and lower long-term cost of water service — both are significant benefits to residents, businesses and future city water customers.”
Another issue TACT points to is possible use of digital billboards to display campaign slogans, such as “Our City, Our Water, Our Rates” and “Local Control = Local Benefit.”
If the city is found to have violated the law, the court could require payment of up to $5,000 — along with any amount of misused funds subtracted from the city budget — against the person who knowingly violated this law.
The penalty applies to each violation.
The person responsible for the violation would be responsible for payment of all penalties and misused funds, according to Arizona Revised Statute 9-500.14, which concerns use of city or town resources or employees to influence elections.
Prop. 415 asks voters to support the acquisition of EPCOR’s local infrastructure but also sets the maximum terms for acquiring the utility through bonding of an amount not to exceed $130 million through borrowing at no more than 8% per annum.
The city has said it anticipates that the cost to acquire the infrastructure from EPCOR would be about $55 million, based on research conducted by Raftelis.
EPCOR has said the Bullhead City assets are worth at least $130 million.
“The city has never told residents how to vote or violated Arizona election law,” Cotter wrote. “Bullhead City voters are smart enough to read the information and decide for themselves on which direction to take — city ownership or the city of Edmonton.”