TPT initiative survives initial court appearance
The Transaction Privilege Tax initiative brought by Kingman Citizens for Responsible Taxation remains alive after an initial appearance in Mohave Superior Court Friday, where Judge Lee Jantzen denied the City’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in addition to finding that representation for Councilman Travis Lingenfelter and the Kingman and Mohave Manufacturing Association failed to meet its burden of proof to invalidate 371 petition signatures.
The question in the City’s motion to dismiss, argued by City-hired attorney Gary Verburg of Phoenix-based law firm Gust Rosenfeld, is one of timeliness, he told the court. He said that City Clerk Sydney Muhle’s letter to Kingman Citizens for Responsible Taxation detailing the number of invalid signatures and petition sheets was sent Aug. 2. From that point, the committee had five days to file a complaint.
“Well if you add five days to Aug. 2, the time to file this challenge would have been no later than Aug. 7,” Verburg told the court. “The action was filed Aug. 13. That’s beyond the five-day time period. The complaint is not timely.”
But attorneys for the initiative committee, Roopali Desai and Andy Gaona, claimed the letter sent Aug. 2 by Muhle lacked the required information to be considered a proper notification. Gaona said the Aug. 2 letter “did not lay out the reasons for her refusal of any particular signatures or sheets,” and that another adequate letter was sent Aug. 7, which is when the five-day clock should have begun.
“I believe the Aug. 2 letter does not give enough information … so I find that the date of Aug. 7, where there’s more information about which signatures are being disallowed, is the day,” Jantzen said. “And I find that (the complaint) was filed in a timely manner. It’s ordered denying the motion to dismiss as filed by the City in that case.”
Attorneys for Kingman Citizens also filed a motion to dismiss the KAMMA and Lingenfelter suit brought against their client, which alleged that 371 of the signatures on 31 petition sheets “relied on” by the committee were invalid because of “false circulator affidavits.”
Desai challenged the timeliness of the suit filed, saying that Lingenfelter was well-informed as to goings on with the initiative, and that his suit should not have been filed so late seeing as signatures were sent to the City Clerk’s Office July 5. The KAMMA and Lingenfelter case was filed with the court Wednesday, Aug. 15 just after 4 p.m.
But Kristin Windtberg, arguing on behalf of Lingenfelter and KAMMA, said her clients’ challenge was timely because it was filed just two days after Kingman Citizens for Responsible Taxation filed its suit Aug. 10. Jantzen agreed and said the case should be heard on its merits, which allowed for the lawsuit to progress to the evidentiary hearing.
Mary O’Grady, also arguing on behalf of Lingenfelter and KAMMA, cited court precedent in her argument that “false circulator petitions” should disqualify the 371 signatures on 31 petition sheets. She said petition signers are required to sign their own address, which did not happen on the sheets in question.
“When these signatures are eliminated, the evidence will show that no matter how the committee’s challenges against the City and the county are resolved, the initiative does not qualify for the ballot because it lacks sufficient signatures,” O’Grady said.
However, Desai said the signatures in question are pairs of signatures, meaning individuals suffering from a disability or physical ailment unable to write their addresses requested that a spouse or family member fill in that information for them. She said that “substantial compliance” regarding the filling out of petitions is permissible, and does not prove petition circulators attempted to commit fraud.
Desai added that even if the court found that substantial compliance to be inadequate, only one of the signatures questioned within the pair would need to be thrown out.
Desai then called three petition circulators to the stand to testify to their beliefs that they followed the law in circulating the petitions, the first of whom was Doug Dickmeyer. Dickmeyer was handed multiple petition sheets for which he was the circulator and told the court of the process by which he acquired signatures. He testified that while a number of people requested an individual present with them fill out the printed name or address on their behalf, every signature signed on the petition was done so by the petition signer themselves. The other two circulators who testified said the same.
Jantzen was of the opinion that KAMMA’s representation improperly cited court precedent in saying that all 371 signatures need to be invalidated if the pairs of signatures in question were invalidated, the latter of which he said he was not inclined to do based on witness testimony and analysis of the petitions. He added that petition circulators had no intention to deceive those reviewing the petitions, as was the case in the precedent cited.
“I am ruling that the KAMMA petition has not met its burden of proving that the 371 signatures should be removed from the petition,” Jantzen said.