Suit: Toss names on pension-vote petitions

2013-07-28T00:00:00Z Suit: Toss names on pension-vote petitionsDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Two city employees have sued to have an initiative dismantling the city pension system thrown off the ballot over what they contend are illegally collected signatures.

The suit claims city and county officials improperly accepted thousands of ineligible signatures collected by felons or ineligible, out-of state circulators. The plaintiffs are Yolanda Parker and Chris Anderson, both city employees, and John Springer Jr., a taxpayer.

Neither the plaintiffs nor their attorneys responded to calls for comment.

City Clerk Roger Randolph said he had not read the suit and could not comment.

Earlier this month, the Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits submitted about 23,000 signatures to place a measure on the November ballot to switch the city's pension system from a guaranteed-benefit plan to a 401(k)-style plan. The measure qualified with 17,000 signatures verified as valid.

But the three plaintiffs are asking a judge to throw out all the names because they were dated improperly, or at a minimum disqualify the 10,222 signatures they contend should never have been accepted by the city clerk or Pima County recorder.

If those 10,222 signatures are booted, it would place the measure far below the 12,730 signatures required for the ballot.

The claim alleges at least six of the petition circulators were felons who the plaintiffs contend never had their rights restored. Their alleged crimes, ranging from theft to drug-related charges, occurred between 1993 and 2001, the claim says.

They also allege three petition passers never properly registered as out-of-state circulators, and one gave a false name.

A spokesman for the committee called the lawsuit nothing more than a gambit to subvert the will of the people.

"This is clearly an effort to obfuscate the issue," said Peter Zimmerman.

"The 23,000 people who signed the petition deserve to see this issue on the November ballot. Let the voters decide."

Zimmerman said the petition drive was meticulously conducted, and both the clerk and recorder "rigorously" scoured the signature petitions.

While felons can't collect signatures, Secretary of State's Office spokesman Matt Roberts said, it's not always open and shut who has or has not had their rights restored.

"There's a little bit of a sticky wicket when you're talking about rights restored, because rights are automatically restored if it's their first felony," Roberts said. "And just because they've been restored doesn't mean they're a registered voter yet."

Since the matter is headed toward litigation, Roberts said his office wouldn't comment further.

The matter is to be heard Aug. 2 in Pima County Superior Court.

"The 23,000 people who signed the petition deserve to see this issue on the November ballot. Let the voters decide."

Peter Zimmerman, spokesman for committee seeking pension change

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com.

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