A group aiming to oust the private Rural/Metro Corp. in favor of a Scottsdale-run fire department has indirectly violated state election law by sending campaign material to city employees, Scottsdale City Attorney David Pennartz said Wednesday.
The Committee to Protect Scottsdale and Our Firefighters recently e-mailed unsolicited campaign messages to city workers.
Pennartz warned the group on Monday to stop campaigning on city e-mail. He also sent an internal memo on Tuesday telling employees to unsubscribe and delete the messages because the law states that neither city equipment nor resources can be used to influence an election.
"Those e-mail addresses are provided to the public for one purpose only, and that is to conduct city business," Pennartz said. "City e-mails aren't provided so people can sell life insurance or solicit for charitable contributions or campaign."
On May 20, Scottsdale voters will be asked if they favor forming a municipal department that would replace Rural/Metro. The Committee to Protect Scottsdale and Our Firefighters, a union-backed group of firefighters and supporters, spearheaded the initiative.
Committee chairman Rich Woerth said his group won't stop using its e-mail campaign. He said he interprets the law to mean that city workers can receive campaign e-mail so long as they don't use city equipment to "forward or share" the messages, he said.
Woerth's group sent an unsigned e-mail to city employees on Wednesday that said, "The gist of Mr. Pennartz' message is that tax-funded resources cannot be used to influence the outcome of an election. He is quite correct."
If city workers don't distribute the e-mail, there is no violation, he said.
Pennartz said the group is indirectly violating the law because "what you can't do under law, you also can't allow to be done."
The state statute reads: "A city or town shall not use its personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or other resources for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections."
Kurt Krumperman, president of Rural/Metro fire and emergency services group, said he learned of the e-mails this week.
"They probably ought to be careful who they 'spam,’ " Krumperman said of the firefighter committee. "You really do need to respect workplace environments."
It is unclear how many city workers received e-mail messages. Pennartz said he did not receive an e-mail but was tipped off by employees who did.
One of the e-mails, obtained by the Tribune, is titled, "Councilman (Bob) Littlefield releases fire department budget."
Littlefield, a staunch supporter of a municipal fire department, released a financial scenario this week showing that a city-run fire department could be formed without layoffs or cuts to city services. The e-mail provided a link to the complete text of Littlefield's budget analysis.
City budget officials, however, have said that layoffs and service reductions are a possible scenario if voters choose a municipal department.
Littlefield said he has not been involved in the committee's campaign.
"Nobody consulted me on that," he said of the e-mails. "I'm for (a city-run department) but I'm not part of their campaign."
Another e-mail provided links to an Arizona Daily Star investigation of Rural/Metro emergency services.