El Mirage Officials Celebrate Narrow Victory in Bond Election, AG Opens Investigation over Allegations City Used Public Resources to Influence Outcome
El Mirage officials are planning to declare victory regarding the narrow approval of an $8.5 million bond at a special City Council meeting this afternoon.
Their adoption of election results comes two days after the Attorney General's Office opened an investigation into whether the city improperly used public resources or employees to influence the outcome of that election.
City officials, who have been pushing for voters to approve the bond to finance a new police station and part of a YMCA, squeaked by with a three-vote lead in the November 8 election.
On November 14, Assistant Attorney General James Barton on wrote a letter to the El Mirage City Council, putting them on notice about his inquiry and giving them a chance to respond to the allegations made against them.
City officials have until December 5 to explain why El Mirage dispatched several
city employees, including the city engineer and a police officer, to the
Shell gas station, owned by bond opponent Joe David, when a couple of
pro-bond campaign signs on his property went missing.
"What is the reason for such attention over one location's campaign signs?" Barton asks in his letter.
New Times first reported the city's heavy-handed response to David's bond opposition in September and, again, in October.
City officials will also have to explain why they changed the city's laws to allow employees to get involved with local elections -- just in time for them to take an active role in the city's own bond election. (Several weeks before that change, El Mirage officials decided to shut down the city for a week and give employees a paid vacation during that time.)
"In what ways did the City encourage city employees to campaign for passage of the bond? Did the City recently lift its restrictions on city employees involvement in city politics? If so, any did any officer of the City suggest that city employees could now support the bond election?" Barton's asks in his letter.
And Barton is also asking for copies of El Mirage News, the city-produced newspaper.
The city publication contained columns by Mayor Lana Mook which advocated for the passage of the bond, and state law prohibits the use of city resources to influence an election.
Mook could not be reached on her cell phone or at City Hall.
Vice Mayor David Shapera told New Times that he didn't have any comment, and punted the call back to the Mayor's Office.
Councilman Jack Palladino said he didn't have any comment because it was "all a bunch of lies."
One of the El Mirage residents who raised questions about the election and the city's involvement is Linda Kleiner.
"Circumstances surrounding the bond election raised a lot of questions, starting with the city giving the employees a week of paid vacation and then giving the same employees the ability to participate in a city election -- when no other city in Arizona allows that," she tells New Times. "El Mirage residents deserve to have a fair election processes."
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