Match Game 2000

With its crude lettering, sloppy punctuation and juvenile doggerel, the ramshackle signage looks like something you'd expect to see outside Spanky and Alfalfa's clubhouse, not in the front yard of a home in the heart of one of the Valley's more exclusive neighborhoods.

But for more than three weeks now, neighbors and passers-by of a fire-ravaged mansion under renovation on Central Avenue, north of Bethany Home Road, have been greeted with an ever-growing menagerie of plywood placards right out of an Our Gang short.

"IF YOU HAVE BEEN SLANDERED BY NOSEY POSEY MOORE NASH CALL 703-8385," read one roughhewn proclamation that cropped up one weekend in early February.

Several days later, that sign was joined by another, this one announcing: "IT'S ABOUT TIME NOSEY POSEYS GOSSIP CAME BACK TO BITE HER." To ensure that no one misses the spectacle, one of the signs is draped with twinkling Christmas lights.

So who is Nosey Posey and why is the owner of 6560 North Central saying those terrible things about her?

For the answer to that one, flash back to December 28, 1997. That's when a fire gutted the home owned by Daniel Rifley, a retired road contractor who'd purchased the mansion just two years earlier.

Lavish even by the neighborhood's high-end standard (amenities included nine bathrooms and a six-car garage, according to county property records), the 4,800-square-foot home was reduced to a charred framework by the fire. In spite of the strange circumstances surrounding the blaze -- electric Christmas tree lights had been left burning on the tree for four straight days, fire officials say -- the Phoenix Fire Department classified the cause of the fire as accidental.

However, investigators for American Family Insurance, Rifley's insurer, failed to concur with that verdict and refused to settle Rifley's claim. In retaliation, Rifley commissioned a professionally painted sign, lambasting American Family; the mini-billboard stood in front of the burned-out shell on his property for more than a year.

Last May, Rifley finally filed a civil suit against the insurance company. Still unresolved, the case continues to wend its way through the court system. In the interim, Rifley is building another house on the site, as well as constructing a mini-subdivision in the rear acreage to be marketed as Central Enclave.

How "Nosey" Posey Moore Nash, a high-visibility neighborhood activist, came into the cross hairs of Rifley's billboard campaign is something of a puzzle. A longtime North Central resident who unsuccessfully ran for the Phoenix City Council several years ago, Nash, 47, declined to comment on the signs. And in a surprising burst of publicity-shyness, so did 39-year-old Daniel Rifley. He says he won't answer any questions until he receives -- in writing -- a rebuttal statement from Nash.

If Rifley and Nash have clammed up about the mysterious front-yard feud, they're the only ones in the neighborhood who have. The aisles of AJ's Purveyor of Fine Foods, the neighborhood's answer to a general store, has been abuzz with rumors about the fire since it happened.

According to a young man who fields phone calls from people who dial the number on Rifley's sign, the flap developed because Rifley believes Nash has been bad-mouthing him to the neighbors.

"She has told everyone in the neighborhood that he is an arsonist, that he is a drug dealer and that he burned the house down to collect the insurance money," a Rifley employee who identified himself as "Brian" told New Times last week. "From what I've heard . . . it doesn't make sense for a gentleman to buy a house, fix it up to complete mint condition, burn it down, and then turn around and build another [house]."

Perhaps fearful of finding their own names smeared across billboards, neighbors are understandably shy about speaking on the record. But several North Central residents (an area that runs from Seventh Street to Seventh Avenue, and from Bethany Home to Northern) claim that if anyone did anything to flame the arson rumors, it was Rifley and his signs, not Nash. "I've never heard her say the 'a' word," reports one neighbor who requests anonymity. "But she's about the only one who hasn't."

Phoenix city councilman Phil Gordon, who lives in the area, has been monitoring the situation with both professional and personal interest. He's been trying to get Rifley to take down the signs.

Gordon says Rifley promised he'd remove the signs more than a week ago but never did. So Gordon called Bobby Lieb, a real estate agent friend who is listing Rifley's home, in hopes that Lieb could convince Rifley to clean up the eyesore. The upshot? Lieb removed his own sign from the property.

"If [Rifley] feels there's a problem and he's been wronged, that's what the court system is for," says Gordon, who ironically beat Nash in the 1997 council race for District 4. "His dispute with her is a civil dispute. But [for him] to take matters into one's own hands like this, the problem becomes a blight and a potential safety hazard for people in cars slowing down to look at the signs."

While Rifley appears to be well within his legal rights to post the signs (Gordon says the signs are probably protected as "freedom of speech"), even the most liberal neighbors have adopted a NIMBY attitude toward Rifley's use of the First Amendment.

"If that yard were filled with old tires and weeds, the city would go in there and make him clean it up in a minute," says one longtime North Central resident. "Tires and weeds are no more offensive than those signs; I don't like to see my friends and neighborhood trashed like that. I was born and raised and North Central is sacred to me. That kind of crap is just trailer trash."

Contact Dewey Webb at his online address: [email protected]

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Dewey Webb