Town council files lawsuit against San Tan Valley incorporation petitions

A lawsuit challenging the filing of petitions for incorporation of San Tan Valley is needed to protect the town of Queen Creek’s planning area and allow residents in adjacent Pinal County to self-govern in a smaller section or become part of the town, council members said.

“It’s simply a matter of preserving our right – planning-area conflict, No. 1 – and we’ve always been in favor of self-determination for the residents of San Tan Valley, but they need to do it the right way,” Councilman Robin Benning said after the meeting.

“When they draw a map that includes parts of Queen Creek, that’s a problem for me. And when I’m hearing from people saying ‘we don’t want to be part of this,’ that makes me feel less comfortable,” he said.

“There’s a series of steps they could have done. They could have re-drawn the map, but they weren’t willing, and so, for me, it was really simple,” Councilman Benning said.

On April 4 the Vote San Tan Valley Steering Committee submitted more than 5,000 signatures from San Tan Valley citizens asking the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to call an election. They are asking that more than 100,000 people form their own local government.

According to an October 2017 story, the proposed San Tan Valley municipal boundaries were to be Germann Road on the north, Meridian on the west, Phillips and various smaller streets on the south and Central Arizona Project canal and Attaway on the east.

“Apparently Queen Creek Town Council was not listening when, in 2017, the Arizona legislature determined that the 100,000-plus population of San Tan Valley could choose whether to incorporate without objection of a town of less than one-half that population,” according to a statement e-mailed by Kate Bigelow on behalf of Vote San Tan Valley.

“Queen Creek’s vote to proceed with a lawsuit opposing the San Tan Valley attempt to vote means that Queen Creek council members only believe in San Tan Valley citizens’ self-determination when they proceed the way Queen Creek wants them to proceed,” Ms. Bigelow said.

Voting April 12 on directing the town’s attorney to file the lawsuit were Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, Vice Mayor Emilena Turley and council members Jake Hoffman, Mr. Benning, Julia Wheatley and Jeff Brown. Council member Dawn Oliphant was absent.

Following the close of the meeting, San Tan Valley resident Rebecca Thuer approached the dais and thanked council members.

Ms. Thuer, a member of the political action committee STV Citizens for Responsible Growth, said she is in favor of incorporation, but not such a wide area or encompassing her home near Octotillo and Ironwood roads.

“The research we’ve been doing with this map: it’s illegal; the big, gigantic 70 square miles on a budget of $35 million,” she said.

“We’ve been fighting this, every angle we can, trying to get information, trying to find out what they’re doing,” Ms. Thuer said.

“We’re for incorporation, just not this incorporation,” she said.

The meeting at the Queen Creek Town Council Community Chambers, 20727 E. Civic Parkway, began at 4:30 p.m. with four of the council. Mayor Barney and council members Mr. Benning, Ms. Wheatley and Mr. Brown voted to go into a closed-door executive session, not open to the public, which was to be held in the Ironwood Conference Room in the Community Chambers Building.

In the executive session the council was to consult with the town’s attorney for legal advice, to consider the town’s position and instruct its attorneys regarding a potential lawsuit related to the incorporation petitions filed by the San Tan Valley Committee. The town’s attorney, Scott Holcomb, spoke to them by phone.

About 5 p.m. the six council members entered the community chambers to discuss and vote on the lawsuit. Only council member Hoffman in the public meeting explained how he would vote.

“I loathe having to make this decision…. We all have stood in support of self-determination for San Tan Valley. We believe that you have the right, that San Tan Valley has the right to create its own destiny,” Councilman Hoffman said prior to the vote.

“The reason why I am going to ultimately vote in favor of this motion is because there are individuals within that area – there are individuals in communities over there – that have said ‘we want self-determination. We want the same right that the rest of San Tan Valley has. We just don’t want or might like another option. We like to have our choice,’” he said.

“We’ve been approached. If I’m going to stand strong as a proponent of self-determination of the folks of San Tan Valley, that also means I need to stand strong for the smaller minority within that community that wants to self-determine somewhere else,” Councilman Hoffman said.

“I would have stated something extremely similar to Jake,” Vice Mayor Turley said after the meeting.

“The reality is, the most important thing to us is self-determination. We want to support that. We want the people to be able to choose whether they want to be in San Tan or whether they want to be in Queen Creek. By so doing, we are going to protect the rights of those people to choose,” she said.

“It is consistent with our position from day one,” Mayor Barney said after the meeting.

“We still think they have self-determination but we have to protect Queen Creek at the same time as far as our planning areas, in our opinion,” he said.

The lawsuit paperwork he had was not yet public record and was to be filed in the Superior Court of the state of Arizona, Mayor Barney said after the meeting.

Editor Richard Dyer can be contacted via e-mail at rdyer@newszap.com or at twitter.com/rhdyer or https://www.facebook.com/RichardDyerJournalist

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