After Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey filed a civil complaint to stop the recall election against him, the case’s first court hearing is Monday.
The hearing takes place at 9 a.m. at the Gila County Superior Court complex in Payson off of Main Street.
The case names 16 defendants, including everyone on the Payson Town Council, Gila County Board of Supervisors and members of Unite Payson.
Unite Payson is the political committee that is spearheading efforts to recall Morrissey. Stan Garner is the group’s chair and Kim Chittick, the treasurer, according to town documents.
Unite Payson has been circulating petitions for several months, gathering signatures from voters to force a recall election.
“A grassroots effort by concerned community members, led by Unite Payson, are attempting to exercise their constitutional right and force plaintiff to defend his mayoral record to the voters of Payson,” according to court documents from Unite Payson.
After collecting signatures, the group turned 89 petition sheets (containing 930 signatures) into the town, which then passed those on to the county recorder for verification.
The recorder determined 116 signatures were invalid, leaving 815 valid signatures, more than the 770 needed to recall Morrissey.
In his complaint, Morrissey asserts there are several reasons why the recall should not go forward, including “… it is clear from looking at the petition that a single person filled in the information for multiple signers of the recall petition, a violation of A.R.S. § 19-205(A) that invalidates the entire petition sheets ...”
While a person may have signed their name, Morrissey’s complaint alleges someone filled in their address — nullifying their signature and the petition sheet.
“After deducting 97 signatures from the total of valid signatures certified by the County Recorder, 814, the Recall Proponents are left with 717 valid signatures, fewer than the 770 that the Payson Town Clerk has concluded is needed to trigger a recall election,” according to court documents.
Morrissey’s complaint also alleges the town erred when it calculated the number of signatures needed to recall him. He says 1,255 signatures are needed, not 770.
On Oct. 15, Snell and Wilmer, the law firm representing Garner, Chittick and Unite Payson, filed a motion to dismiss.
“In sum there is simply no private right of action to file this type of lawsuit,” wrote attorney Eric Spencer.
“Even if plaintiff did have statutory authority to bring the lawsuit, his claims fail for two additional reasons. First, the town clerk properly calculated the requisite number of signatures necessary for a recall election pursuant to the plain terms of the Arizona Constitution,” Spencer wrote.
He argues the clerk properly calculated the number of signatures needed based on the last time a mayor was elected during a general election, which was in 2002. Since then, every mayor has been elected outright in the primary election.
“Second, plaintiff failed to plead his fraud claims with the requisite particularity required by Ariz. R. Civ. P. 9(b).” Unite Payson’s lawyers argue that neither the town clerk nor the county recorder are authorized to conduct handwriting analysis and that state law only disqualifies a signature if an address is missing. For these reasons, they requested dismissal.
Committee fundingThe town recently posted the finance reports for Unite Payson, the political committee pushing for the recall, and Reform, the group effectively against the recall.
Here is a breakdown of donors for the Aug. 11-Sept. 30 reporting period:
Collected $7,300; spent $6,027
Contributors included: The Toy Box, $5,000; MPG Inc., $500; Kenny Evans, $1,000; R. Floyd, $500; D. Owen, $200; and Donald Dedera, $100.
According to online records, Jennifer Smith is the director of The Toy Box and Margie Oldenkamp, the president of MPG. Morrissey had Oldenkamp removed from a council meeting after she showed up with a protest sign calling for Morrissey’s recall. She later said she would file a First Amendment violation complaint with the Town of Payson, the American Civil Liberties Union and the attorney general’s office. Smith meanwhile is a board member of both the Rim Country Educational Alliance and MHA Foundation.
Collected $2,050; spent $354
Contributors included: Barbara Buntin, $500; Patricia Nichols, $350; Inga Chouinard, $100; Scott Helmer, $200; Ronald Shepherd, $500; James Bruner, $200; Andy McKinney, $100; and Don Ascoli, $100.
Buntin served as the chair of both Morrissey and Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian’s campaigns.