Thursday, December 3, 2009

Saguaro Ranch Dispute Heads to Federal Court (Update)

Posted By on Thu, Dec 3, 2009 at 11:14 AM

On Tuesday night (Dec. 1), neighbors of Stephen Phinny's Saguaro Ranch development went before the Marana Town Council to not only let them know that they continue to be dismayed at the town officials' bend-over-backward approach toward a bankrupt developer; they also handed out copies of a 54-page federal lawsuit filed the same day at 3 p.m. by Steve Blomquist and Sharyl Cummings.

You can take a look at the complaint here.

Those who spoke at the meeting made a grand use of the public-comment time. And in return, they were greeted with what is becoming a classic response from Marana Town Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler: "Are you a resident of Marana? Do you live in Marana?" Most towns have a policy that looks at areas just outside of the town limits as part of a growth boundary—an area the town may grow into—so town officials generally treat people who live within a growth boundary area with a little more concern and interest.

"You don't know how happy I am that you're not in the town of Marana," Ziegler told one of the speakers.

The lawsuit was filed against the town of Marana, Marana Police Chief T.P. Tometich, Town Attorney Frank Cassidy, several Marana Police officers and yet-to-be-named town officials. In the lawsuit, Blomquist and Cummings accuse Marana of violating their civil rights, particularly Blomquist's—who was arrested for trespassing (as well as disorderly conduct) a second time. But this time, rather than being issued a citation and asked to show up in court, Blomquist was handcuffed and taken to Pima County Jail and only released after his wife, along with friend and neighbor Tracy Chamberlain, showed up to pay his $500 bail.

Blomquist's arrest happened Friday, Nov. 13, just after the deadline for "Unincorporated and Unrepresented," Nov. 19, 2009, a TW cover story on Blomquist and his neighbors' travails with developer Phinny and the town of Marana.

Blomquist, Cummings and Chamberlain had been issued a previous citation for trespassing, but an Oro Valley judge dismissed the case on Oct. 14. He wrote on the order that Marana had improperly used the criminal process against plaintiffs. This is because the town knew about litigation between Phinny and his neighbors regarding the disputed easement, as well as litigation between the town and the neighbors regarding the Town Council's vote to abandon the easment.

Despite the first citation, Blomquist, Cummings and Chamberlain continued to walk the easement in protest. Usually they carry protest signs and end the walk at McClintock's restaurant. The night Blomquist was cuffed and taken down to Pima County Jail, however, he says he had no sign and simply walked into the restaurant, sat on the porch and ordered a beer. See, part of the reservations-only restaurant sits on the disputed easement—and that's where Blomquist chose to sit for his beer. You can listen to Blomquist order his beer and chat with employees up to his arrest right here.

After Blomquist addressed the council regarding his arrest, he handed Cassidy a CD of the recording he made while ordering a beer. The recorder was located in his shirt pocket. What makes the recording significant, from Blomquist's perspective, is that it shows he was welcomed and allowed to order a beer; he even began to drink it before it was taken away from him. According to the lawsuit, a McClintock's manager told police Blomquist was taunting guests and wouldn't leave.

A recording of a phone call between dispatch and a Marana officer mentioned in the lawsuit is even more intriguing. It's this call that the lawsuit says points out a highly unethical relationship between Phinny, town officials and the police department, who are working together to make sure Blomquist or other neighbors could get arrested. Look at Page 33 in the lawsuit. The document also alludes to an event at McClintock's two days after Blomquist's arrest in which Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson was allegedly given a champagne toast by staff.

"Upon information and belief," the lawsuit reads, "the toast, be it champagne or some other drink, was a thank you present for the Town of Marana arresting and hauling Steven Blomquist to Pima County Jail."

The Range called Cassidy for comment regarding this latest lawsuit, but received a message back from public information officer Rodney Campbell letting us know that Cassidy is unable to comment because he is named in the suit. The Range hopes to connect with Campbell today to find out about champagne toasts and other matters— including an action item on the council's agenda last Tuesday night. The council approved an ordinance amending town code to eliminate the requirement for Town Council approval of Marana Police Department rules and regulations, and to establish that police conduct business more separately from town officials while following federal and state law, as well as town code and ordinances.

"Under this change, the Town Council could not order the chief of police to disregard federal law, including the constitutional rights," the lawsuit states.

Better late than never.

UPDATE:

Town of Marana Public Information Officer Rodney Campbell told The Range this morning that the champagne toast Town Manager Gilbert Davidson was greeted by at McClintock's two days after Steve Blomquist's arrest as described in the federal complaint was nothing more than Davidson's wife's birthday celebration.

Campbell says that the fact that the event occurred two days after the arrest is completely coincidental. He also added that Tracy Chamberlain, who is suing Phinny and Marana with other neighbors, was there video tapping Davidson's arrival.

"She went right in their faces," Campbell says.

A copy of the videos - Davidson and his wife arriving at McClintock's and Blomquist's arrest - is being made available to The Range, and making their way to Tucson Weekly TV soon.

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