Did Fulcher use COINS to influence outcome of election?
By Linda Bentley | March 4, 2009
Resorts to possible malfeasance to rip council candidate as ‘reckless and irresponsible’
CAREFREE – As last week’s edition of Sonoran News had barely hit the stands, a COINS (Carefree Official Information Notification System) e-mail was sent out at around 3 p.m. as a “Public Information Alert” with the first item addressing “Sales Tax.”
It stated, “Mr. Doug Stavoe, a candidate for town council, has issued a press release containing erroneous information that must be corrected. He stated that it takes $1.3 billion in retail sales to generate the $3.5 million in sales tax dollars that the town requires. We receive 3 percent of the 9.3 percent sales tax that is charged. Therefore, from all sources the Town would have to generate $120 million in sales to yield 3 percent or $3.5 million. The information provided by Mr. Stavoe is not only untrue it is reckless and irresponsible. The general economy is severe enough without trying to create this kind of panic.”
Stavoe, who did issue a press release that appeared as a guest editorial in the Feb. 25 edition of Sonoran News with a mini-bio stating he has a B.A. in accounting from Michigan State University, said when he scribbled out the math longhand on a piece of paper at his restaurant, he must have accidentally counted an extra decimal place.
Embarrassed about his error, Stavoe asked to have a correction included in the following week’s edition.
However, the COINS Alert was e-mailed out before the ink was even dry on Wednesday, although it too was inaccurate in stating the town would have to generate $120 million in sales to yield $3.5 million in revenue.
In actuality, the town would need to generate $116,666,666 in sales to yield $3.5 million in revenue, which rounds up to $117 million not $120 million. But that’s beside the point.
According to Stavoe, who went to town hall and asked Town Administrator Jon Pearson, Town Clerk/Treasurer Betsy Wise and Jim Keen, listed as Carefree’s website contact, town accountant and assistant town clerk, if one of them wrote the “Public Information Alert” sent out through COINS, all three denied writing it.
Stavoe said Pearson finally volunteered, “[Mayor Wayne] Fulcher did it.”
On Thursday afternoon, Sonoran News sent an e-mail to Keen asking the following questions: How many subscribers does COINS have? How long has it been in use? Is COINS published on a regular schedule? i.e. daily, weekly, monthly, etc.; Is there a publisher/editor contact for COINS? How are topics chosen? Can citizens submit content?
Keen never responded.
So, on Friday, an e-mail was sent to email@example.com, which is listed as the e-mail address for Fulcher and four other councilmen, to confirm that Fulcher was responsible for the “Alert.”
Neither Fulcher nor anyone else responded.
According to A.R.S. § 9-500.14(A), “A city or town shall not use its personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or other resources for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections.”
Keen, as assistant town clerk, should have known the COINS Alert content regarding Stavoe violated state statute. The COINS Alert wasn’t just sent out as an e-mail; it is also posted on the town’s website.
The Alert calls Stavoe out as “a candidate for town council” in the first sentence, it then states his press release contains “erroneous information,” that is “untrue,” and accuses Stavoe of being “reckless and irresponsible,” and creating “panic,” which can only be construed one way – Carefree is expressly advocating the defeat of Stavoe.
For clarity, state statute (A.R.S. § 901.01) defines “expressly advocating,” as applicable to this situation, as “conveying a communication containing … words that in context can have no reasonable meaning other than to advocate the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidates.”
It further states, “Making a general public communication … referring to one or more clearly identified candidates and targeted to the electorate of that candidate(s) [t]hat in context can have no reasonable meaning other than to advocate the election or defeat of the candidate(s), as evidenced by factors such as the presentation of the candidate(s) in a favorable or unfavorable light, the targeting, placement, or timing of the communication, or the inclusion of statements of the candidate(s) or opponents …”
And, since using the town’s website, e-mail system and/or employee(s) to distribute information for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election is against the law, assuming Fulcher is indeed responsible, it would appear he has engaged in malfeasance, which is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as “a wrongful or unlawful act; esp., wrongdoing or misconduct by a public official.”
Courtesy Photos: Doug Stavoe
Mayor Wayne Fulcher