Updates on stories regarding banned food drives, ballot bigotry and election databases

Charity and Integrity 

Updates on stories regarding banned food drives, ballot bigotry and election databases

News in 2008 was dominated by politicians and the election season--with some other assorted drama here and there.

In the "assorted drama" department, one update goes beyond 2008 and into the tail end of 2007, when the homeowners' association of Finisterra--a gated subdivision in the foothills--banned a holiday food drive for the Community Food Bank.

Resident Barry Austin was disgusted--especially after the community decided to spend $3,500 on lights for the palm trees that tower above the development's security gatehouse. (See "No Food for You!" Dec. 13, 2007.)

According to Austin, those lights stopped working a month after being installed. The vendor, he said, determined they couldn't be fixed and refused to issue a refund; instead, the vendor installed five floodlights aiming skyward at the base of the trees.

"So we now have five floodlights that cost us $700 each, when equivalent floodlights sell for about $55 each at Home Depot," Austin reports via e-mail. "In addition to the outrageous waste of money, the floodlights are likely in violation of the county's light ordinance."

In early November, Austin reported that food drives remained prohibited--but that turned around as the holidays progressed.

"(The board) was concerned about a repeat of last year's negative publicity both in the press and within the neighborhood. ... The (HOA) announced in its November newsletter that donations to the Community Food Bank would be allowed between Dec. 10 and 31," Austin says.

Austin offers kudos to the board for finally doing the right thing, "even though they were motivated by self-serving reasons." But he keeps thinking about the $3,500 spent on those palm-tree lights.

The change of heart from the HOA is timely, considering that on Dec. 29, the Community Food Bank announced family food-box distribution would be limited to one food box per month, per family, due to an unprecedented increase in requests.

While Finisterra was getting a chance to redeem itself, the good folks at Wingspan discovered a way to help Alan Stock, the CEO of theater company Cinemark, redeem himself (kind of) for lending his support to California's Proposition 8, which overturned gay marriage in the state. In the process, the Tucson LGBT-advocacy organization has found a new way to raise funds during this economic downturn.

In November, the organization led a march to protest the passage of Prop 8 and Arizona's own Proposition 102, which amended the state Constitution to include the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. (See "Demanding Equality," Nov. 20.) At the march, Wingspan executive director Jason Cianciotto talked about the need to take back the definitions of marriage and family, words which were hijacked by the religious right during the election season.

Cianciotto used the event to unveil Families You Know, an Internet-based video project (familiesyouknow.com) to show that LGBT families are not very different at all.

Recently, Wingspan's reaction to Prop 102 went further when Gus Van Sant's Milk, a movie about slain LGBT leader Harvey Milk, was getting ready to debut in Tucson.

Cianciotto sent out a message to supporters regarding Stock's financial support of Proposition 8 (a $9,999.99 donation), asking people to see Milk at the Harkins Tucson Spectrum theater, and not at Cinemark-owned Century Theatres.

Cianciotto also turned the boycott into a fundraiser--and for every donation made to Wingspan online, Wingspan sends a postcard to the Cinemark CEO, letting him know that a donation was made to the LGBT organization in his name.

"We heard from the community that they wanted to send a message that it was wrong for him to support anti-gay policies and then expect to financially benefit from a movie about one of the greatest heroes of the LGBT civil-rights movement. We even had an anonymous donor step up and offer a challenge grant toward this effort. The response so far has been extremely positive," Cianciotto says.

The anonymous donor agreed to match up to the first $4,000 raised. As of our deadline, Wingspan had raised $2,000 as part of the ongoing campaign and had sent Stock more than 50 postcards.

While nonprofits work on surviving the economic upheaval, Pima County Democratic Party attorney Bill Risner continues to battle for the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority ballots, because some activists believe the election may have been rigged. Meanwhile, the party's election-integrity committee continues to analyze the electronic database files it won this year in Pima County Superior Court.

Besides unsubstantiated affidavits, election-integrity activists have no proof that criminal activity occurred, and efforts to cajole Attorney General Terry Goddard into ordering a recount of the RTA ballots as part of a criminal investigation have been largely ignored. (See "Count the Votes," Oct. 23, 2008.)

One interesting twist in this ongoing saga--which began more than a year ago with a public-records request that was rejected by Pima County--is a similar public-records request filed in late October by the Arizona State Democratic Party, asking all Arizona county-election departments for copies of their 2008 electronic election-database files.

In response, the Arizona Secretary of State's elections director sent an e-mail to all county-election directors recommending against treating the database files as public records, leaving activists wondering how county election directors would respond. (See "Information Please," Nov. 27, 2008.)

Coconino County's Patty Hansen was the only county elections director to return the Weekly's call asking elections directors whether they responded to the state party's request. Hansen said her department sent the state party the 2008 database files as requested after the county attorney approved the request in late November.

"It wasn't a lot of work," Hansen says regarding the request, although she said parts of the database that should be protected were deleted, such as logins and passwords.

Hansen says the request sparked a lot of e-mail communication between elections directors throughout the state. There isn't an elections director in the state who hasn't kept a close eye on the case in Pima County, she says.

"We'd been watching ... curious to see what was going on and how it would end, just in case people in our county would ask for the same files," Hansen says.

She adds that nobody, except for the state Democratic Party, has asked for the database files.

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