The Fix Is In
Charity work isn't supposed to be about fame and fortune -- unless you're Susan Heywood, czarina of the Scratch & Sniff Awards. Scratch & Sniff -- the annual Academy Awards-esque dinner party held to raise money to help cats and dogs -- is the pet project of Susan and her husband, radio morning guy Bill. Scratch & Sniff board members have been leaving the organization in packs, amidst allegations of shoddy accounting practices and power-grubbing by Susan.
With the exodus in place and the Scratch & Sniff event coming up in January, The Spike figured Susan would be keeping a low profile, busily addressing envelopes and trolling for new sponsors. But Susan's found other tasks to occupy her time.
Over the past two years, Scratch & Sniff has donated $45,000 to Maricopa County Animal Care and Control for a "Neuter Scooter" -- a mobile spay/neuter clinic, expected to fix about 5,000 animals a year. But last month, Scratch & Sniff yanked its money back, according to a piece of county correspondence that came across The Spike's fax not long ago.
Why? Because the county refused to name the van the "Scratch & Sniff Neuter Scooter."
Ed Boks, the county's animal control director, assured The Spike that the county would have happily called the scooter anything Heywood wanted -- if Scratch & Sniff had provided the majority of funding for the vehicle.
But it didn't; the total cost is more than $138,000. Boks said the rules associated with naming rights were made clear from the start.
Dan Maynard, Scratch & Sniff's attorney, disagrees. He says that Scratch & Sniff was promised naming rights regardless of the percentage of its contribution, and that the county later reneged. The Spike asked if Maynard ever saw that in writing. He did, he says, and The Spike invited Maynard to share that document. He didn't.
The county already has one vehicle named after the Heywoods' organization: the Scratch & Sniff Pet Mobile, which is used for pet adoptions.
The Spike wondered if a donor ever takes back a donation over naming rights.
"I've never heard of it being done before and I've talked to a lot of folks who are involved in working with a lot of grants," says Boks.
Still, The Spike is happy to report that the Neuter Scooter will prevail. Boks has found additional funding to make up for the Scratch & Sniff shortfall, and expects to place an order for the vehicle in the next few weeks. Totally unlike Susan Heywood, this donor is insisting on complete anonymity.
"They're certainly not all that concerned about having their name on the vehicle," Boks says. "They're not interested in any credit, they just want to see the vehicle out in the community making a difference."
The Spike is wondering when Helen Purcell got elected to the Legislature. The Maricopa County Recorder has recently decided to revise the state's public records law -- all on her own.
A few months ago, Purcell made the unilateral decision to block Internet access to military discharge records dating back to September 1991 that had previously been available through the recorder's Web site. The Spike would like to point out that Arizona's public records law contains no exemption for military discharge records.
And, in fact, the documents were "recorded" by the vets themselves. Lots of veterans post their discharges with their local county recorders on advice of the military, as a way to have easy access to the paperwork.
After identity thieves apparently began using information from military discharge paperwork they found on the Web, veterans' groups reconsidered their advice. Purcell says she heard tales of abuse in other states, which prompted her to shut off access to such records. She knows of no cases in Arizona where this has happened.
"The discharge contains so much personal information in addition to just your social security number, which is bad enough, but also [your] mother's maiden name -- the types of things that maybe aren't normally out there about a person," Purcell says.
Purcell says she's had no complaints -- just "a lot of thank yous" from worried veterans. Vets and family members -- and even the government, if need be -- can make individual requests for the information, she says.
The Spike agrees that identity theft is a growing problem. But that doesn't give Purcell the legal basis to withhold a public record.
Why not just black out the social security number? That's what officials did in Ohio, where a state law allows veterans to take their social security numbers off military discharge records. (Salt Lake County in Utah recently copied Maricopa County. Florida passed legislation that stops the posting of military discharge records; but if you want a previously posted record blocked, you have to make a personal request.)
Still, those states took action after (presumably) careful consideration and listening to all those who have an interest in holding the line on access to public information. Purcell just did it. No questions asked.
Paul Eckstein, an attorney with Brown & Bain in Phoenix, and one of the advisers to the First Amendment Coalition, says he's not so sure Purcell had the right to do that. And in any case, Eckstein thinks that she's gone too far.
"The county recorder has definitely overreacted," Eckstein says. "If the county recorder wanted to protect certain information such as a veteran's social security number, she could do so by redacting that information. The public has a right and interest in knowing when veterans have been discharged from service and the kind of discharge that they were granted."
Looks as though the issue will be debated in the Arizona Legislature next year. Purcell is working on a bill that would make her policy law.
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