County voting officials have found Scottsdale City Council hopeful Nan Nesvig fell 89 signatures short of earning a spot on the March ballot.
The finding by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office is a victory for the forces — both known and unknown — who sought to prevent the outspoken fledgling politician from running for city office.
Who, exactly, is behind the official complaint that led to the county inspection of Nesvig’s signatures is still unresolved.
A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday before Colleen French, a Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner, during which the 43-year-old legal consultant can challenge the recorder’s finding.
"Nothing’s insurmountable at this point," Nesvig said Friday.
However, inspections by the recorder’s office, which is charged with keeping voter registration information, are typically considered conclusive. Nesvig’s attorney, Don Peters, said earlier this week the campaign is unlikely to contest the agency’s review.
For the past two weeks, Scottsdale political observers have wondered along with Nesvig who was responsible for the threat to her candidacy.
Three council incumbents running to keep their seats — Wayne Ecton, Bob Littlefield and Kevin Osterman — have agreed to pay legal expenses out of their campaign accounts for the complaint, which was filed in superior court Dec. 23.
The councilmen said they agreed to cover the bills of attorney Tom Irvine, who is representing the complaint. But their supporters hired Irvine without their knowledge, all three have said.
The incumbents have refused to name those supporters.
The complaint was filed under the name of Karl Kulick, a south Scottsdale resident previously unknown in the city’s political circles.
"The right thing happened," Osterman said. "A candidate who was not qualified to be on the ballot basically was identified and is going to be removed, presumably, from the ballot."
The incumbents said they only became involved in the complaint Wednesday. Their individual explanations for how and why that happened vary.
Ecton said on Friday that he wanted to pay the lawyer’s fees because he supports challenging Nesvig. Osterman said the trio decided it was important that they financially back their supporters, who filed the complaint for their benefit.
Littlefield said the incumbents were wary of violating campaign finance law because the supporters’ actions could be seen as an illegal campaign contribution, and that’s why they agreed to pay Irvine.
Littlefield said he could not point out how they violated the law if the incumbents were not involved in the complaint.
Osterman disputed Littlefield’s statements, contending that campaign finance never came up when they met Wednesday.
If Nesvig is removed from the ballot, only Tony Nelssen, a longtime preservation activist, will remain to challenge the incumbents. Nelssen campaigned unsuccessfully for the council in 2002.
Election day is March 14.
Nesvig emerged as a candidate in the fall after battling city officials over the construction of water tanks beside the Arizona Canal. She has campaigned for Scottsdale’s government to be more open.
County inspectors checked 581 signatures on Nesvig’s petitions that were disputed, the recorder’s office report shows. Of those, 336 were invalid signatures from people who were not registered to vote or do not live in Scottsdale.
To be placed on the ballot, Scottsdale requires that candidates gather 1,652 voter signatures.
Nesvig turned in 1,899 signatures to City Clerk Carolyn Jagger minutes before the close of business on the deadline, Dec. 14.
The agency’s inspection turned up fewer problem signatures than the 590 alleged in the complaint.
Irvine hired Derrick Lee, a signature gatherer, to check Nesvig’s petitions for the complaint, Lee said. Irvine did not return calls for comment Friday.
Despite the county findings, Nesvig still plans to find out whether a group was illegally working as a political action committee against her without disclosing its role. Last week, Nesvig’s campaign called for a city investigation on the matter.
The incumbents were the only people to request copies of the candidates’ petitions, held on compact disc, Jagger said. Osterman and Ecton picked up theirs the first day they were available, Dec. 15, she said.
Osterman said he delivered his disc to a supporter, whom he won’t identify, that day.
Ecton said Friday he provided his copy to one of his supporters on Dec. 15 before attending a community forum. The next morning, he left to visit family in Singapore. Ecton also refused to name the supporter.
Lee and his employees were checking signatures on Dec. 16, according to logs kept by the recorder’s office.
"That is weird, that is really weird because my volunteer told me that they reviewed the sheets," Osterman said.
Irvine has said that Kulick did not complete work for the complaint, but refused to detail what role the resident played. The incumbents said they do not know Kulick, a senior deacon at Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church in Phoenix. Kulick has declined comment on the issue.
Brad Wishon, pastor at Gentle Shepherd, said he was surprised to hear Kulick was involved in such a political drama.
"That just seems totally out of character for who I know Karl to be," Wishon said.