County sticks with policy on politicking

Attorney questions logic behind ban on leaflets

KINGMAN - Mohave County is sticking to its policy to not allow the public or employees to engage in political activity on county property.

Golden Valley resident Luca Zanna has challenged the county on the policy, and a Phoenix attorney contacted by the Miner does not believe the Arizona Revised Statute the policy is based on can be stretched to include the public.

In November, Supervisor Buster Johnson asked Zanna and another man to stop passing out leaflets listing the voting record of Sen. John McCain at a town hall meeting the senator held at the County Administration Building in Kingman. Johnson cited a county policy that prevents politicking on county property.

When Zanna tried to contact the County Supervisors and the County Attorney's Office about the policy, he did not get an immediate response. The County Attorney's Office did send him an e-mail stating that the county has a policy not to allow politicking or petitioning on county property.

Zanna attempted to get more information on the policy during January's Board of Supervisor's meeting but was asked to stop speaking because he was breaking the Arizona Open Meeting Law by talking about a topic that was not on the Board's formal agenda.

Supervisor Tom Sockwell said he met and spoke with Zanna on Nov. 3. McCain's town hall meeting was Nov. 13. Supervisor Gary Watson spoke with Zanna a few days after the Board meeting.

In a letter to the editor, Sockwell quoted Arizona Revised Statute 11-410, which states that a county shall not use its personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or other resources to influence the outcome of an election. It also states that county employees shall not use their positions to influence an election or subordinate employee's vote.

The statute does allow a county to distribute information on a bond election and the official actions of county supervisors.

Outside attorney weighs in

The Miner contacted Dan Barr from Perkins Coie in Phoenix, an attorney who works with the Arizona Newspaper Association, about the statute.

Barr didn't see anything in the language of the statute that would prevent someone from the public from passing out information on county property, as long as the person was not being disruptive.

Zanna said he was not being disruptive at the town hall and agreed to stop passing out the flyers in order to not make a scene.

"It appears to be directed only toward county employees," Barr said of the statute.

A county can restrict the time, place and manner of a gathering on its property, but this is not the statute that does so, Barr said.

If the county has a policy that extends the statute to everyone, then what was McCain doing there, he asked.

"If a person cannot pass out an elected official's voting record, then what's the point?" Barr asked. The First Amendment was designed to protect political speech, he said.

Not a campaign stop

Supervisor Buster Johnson and Ekstrom both said earlier this month that McCain was holding the town hall meeting to discuss issues with the public. The meeting was not a campaign stop.

McCain, who is running for re-election, held a political meeting with members of the local Republican Party at the Dambar & Steak House earlier that day, County Attorney Bill Ekstrom said.

Ekstrom agreed that the statute, as written, applies to county employees, but in order to prevent any political activity on county property, the county has to expand it to include activities by the public, he said.

The county does not wish to infringe on the rights of any of its residents, but it has to maintain a level of decorum during events and allow people and county employees to go about their business without being stopped by people with petitions or flyers, Ekstrom said earlier this month.

Zanna plans to stick with his challenge to the policy. He is trying to get the issue discussed at a Board of Supervisors meeting. So far, he has been unsuccessful.