By Linda Bentley | January 13, 2009

CAREFREE – Last week, a number of Carefree residents, including a few attorneys, called Sonoran News complaining about a Jan. 4, 2010 letter they received on official town of Carefree letterhead, addressed to “Citizens of Carefree” regarding the “State of Our Town,” signed by Mayor David Schwan.

The letter was sent to a majority of Carefree residents and was included with their water bill for Carefree Water Company customers, and sent as an independent mailing to those who are not.

Those who contacted Sonoran News after receiving the letter all said it was political in nature and, considering the timing – approximately one month before ballots were to be mailed for the recall election – believed it was an illegal use of town resources by Schwan to influence the outcome of his upcoming recall election.

A.R.S. 9-500.14(A)(B) states: “A city or town shall not use its personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or other resources for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections. Notwithstanding this section, a city or town may distribute informational reports on a proposed bond election as provided in section 35-454. Nothing in this section precludes a city or town from reporting on official actions of the governing body.

“Employees of a city or town shall not use the authority of their positions to influence the vote or political activities of any subordinate employee.”

The letter opened by stating, “Carefree discontinued its monthly newsletter to reduce expenses. It seems appropriate to use the beginning of 2010 to bring everyone up-to-date on the ‘State of Our Town’ with this simple letter.”

The discontinued newsletter, “Carefree Cares,” however, included articles and views from all council members not just the mayor.  

Although Schwan stated “Carefree is in a solid and very favorable financial condition,” he went on to say, “As of this date sales tax income has been below budget and may be below expectations at the end of the fiscal year.”

david schwanSchwan wrote, “The town staff and I have implemented reductions in expenses to meet this revenue shortfall. For example, “Rural Metro has rescinded its 4 percent rate increase for 2009-2010 …”

However, during the Dec. 8 council meeting, Schwan announced it was Vice Mayor Glenn Miller who “led the negotiations with Rural/Metro” that resulted in waiving the 4 percent annual increase for the remainder of fiscal year 2009-2010.

Schwan didn’t actually say in his letter how much the shortfall is and, depending upon which meeting a person may have attended, the shortfall is anywhere between $130,000 and $600,000.

A segment of the letter was devoted to bashing Councilman Bob Coady, who, incidentally, was the only council member to sign the recall petition.

In discussing the $588,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds allocated to Carefree for road projects, Schwan wrote, “Carefree Town Council voted six in favor and Councilman Coady opposed to accept these funds and use them for two projects …”

Schwan, prior to being appointed mayor, wrote about the exact same two ARRA projects back in May 2009, in the last edition of “Carefree Cares.”

Schwan’s letter also advised people to “shop local,” stated the Carefree Resort is no longer in bankruptcy, and then concluded with, “My door is always open to you. I’m usually in town hall beginning at 8 a.m. You can contact me on my mobile phone … The town staff and I look forward to your questions or suggestions as Carefree begins 2010.”

On Jan. 10, Coady forwarded a copy of the letter to Maricopa County Campaign Finance Director Kristi Passarelli asking if the use of town funds to facilitate a mailing “for such obvious personal political purposes” was a violation of state statute or “just another violation of the spirit of the law?” 

If Passarelli was not the appropriate party to take action on the issue, Coady asked if she would point him in the proper direction.

Passarelli responded the following morning, “This would be something that should be handled by the town attorney as misuse of city/town resources and reported directly to the town clerk as the filing agency for town candidates.

“I do not have the authority to act on this matter. MCED is only a vendor for the town to conduct the election.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, Coady forwarded a copy of Schwan’s letter and Passarelli’s response to Town Attorney Tom Chenal.

Coady wrote, “Well it looks like Carefree will be making the papers again on more abuse of power. I have been getting calls for days now regarding this "State of our Town" letter from Schwan … none are supportive. It is being considered a gross misuse of town funds for personal election campaigning.”

Coady asked Chenal, “Did you have input on this thing before it was sent out?” adding, “In my opinion, this is nothing more than a blatant violation of election law. If you disagree, please tell me who to contact further up the chain.”

Equally curious, Sonoran News sent an inquiry to Town Clerk Betsy Wise asking who folded and stuffed the mayor’s letter into the Carefree Water Company bills; who prepared the mailings of the mayor’s letter sent to Carefree residents that are Cave Creek Water customers; how much it cost per piece to mail; and the postage meters used and cost of postage for mailings.

Wise responded with information provided by Carefree Water Company General Manager Stan Francom, who said, “All mailings for the water company billings, including billing inserts are folded and stuffed by the water company’s Pitney Bowes folding and stuffing machine,” citing no additional labor was involved with stuffing the letter into the water billing envelope.
Francom also said Carefree Water Company has a bulk rate of 41.4 cents per piece up to 1 oz and since the bill, envelopes and “the two additional stuffed pieces” weighed less than 1 oz., there was no additional postage required.

Since the mayor’s letter was a single page printed on both sides Sonoran News has since questioned the nature of the second additional stuffed piece.

According to Wise, Assistant Planner DJ Stapley prepared the mailings of the mayor’s letter that went to 361 of the 511 Carefree residents who are Cave Creek water customers at a cost of $158.84 and the criteria used to select which of those Carefree residents would receive the mayor’s letter was based on having a mailing address in either Carefree or Cave Creek.

Chenal returned Sonoran News’ phone call at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday and left a message saying he would be willing to speak about the issue “off the record.”

David Schwan