Controversy related to the Councilman Mike Zinkin recall effort in Oro Valley culminated into police intervention on Jan. 25 during the weekly farmers market at Steam Pump Ranch.
The recall attempt was initiated late last year after documents surfaced tying Zinkin to complaints of misconduct.
Critics subsequently labeled Zinkin as unfit for council, while his supporters argue the real issue comes down to Zinkin’s willingness to question certain budgetary items such as the police department.
On Jan. 18 and Jan. 25, members of The Oro Valley Citizens for Ethical Government – the group behind the recall efforts – gathered at Steam Pump Ranch during the town’s farmer’s market to collect petition signatures.
The same days, town resident John Musolf showed up to counter-protest. On both occasions, Musolf sat adjacent to the group, otherwise known as PAC, holding a sign encouraging people not to sign the petition.
Musolf said he was not causing a disturbance during his non-verbal protest, a claim supported by the current property’s leaseholder, Manish Shah, who manages the Heirloom Farmers Market.
“Neither group was being disruptive,” said Shah, who is in a three-year lease with the town. “My problem was that we shouldn’t put them together. You don’t put a vegan shop next to a butcher shop. You don’t even put a butcher shop next to a butcher shop. It is our responsibility as a company to create festive events that heighten the wellbeing of the community. Less confrontation is better than more confrontation.”
Shah, first by phone and later in person, volunteered Musolf a booth in a separate location within Steam Pump Ranch, to which Musolf declined on the grounds that his message “wouldn’t be as effective.”
Musolf, who was part of the same protest the weekend prior, thinks he was unfairly targeted in being asked to move while the PAC group was allowed to stay put.
“Why would the peace need to be kept if I wasn’t doing anything?” questioned Musolf. “I never engaged the PAC group other than to say hello. I never said anything else to them or anyone else.”
To Musolf, the issue comes down to political favoritism.
Shah denies that, saying, “I don’t know anything about (the recall). I don’t have a dog in this fight.”
Shah said he asked Musolf to move because the PAC group had arrived first and had a large table set up. Musolf claims on Jan. 18, he and two others arrived before PAC, and neither group was asked to move.
When Musolf refused to relocate, Shah called the police, who arrived shortly thereafter. According to the police report, the officers reminded Musolf he was entitled to a booth at an alternate location. When Musolf again declined, the officers told him the leaseholder could have him arrested for trespassing.
Musolf then voluntarily left the premise, but has since filed a complaint with the Oro Valley Police Department.
“I believe the two Oro Valley police officers as representatives of the government violated my first amendment rights by taking a position in a political situation on public property,” Musolf wrote in an email.
The investigation is ongoing according to department spokesperson, Lt. Kara Riley.
Musolf has filed additional complaints with the ACLU and Goldwater Institute, organizations that deal with constitutional issues. He contends that Shah, as the leaseholder, did not have the right to have him arrested for trespassing on public property.
Town officials say differently.
“Generally speaking, the person/group to whom the property is leased has the authority to call police,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kristy Diaz-Trahan. “As the event manager, the lessee has the rules to which their vendors and patrons must adhere. If a vendor or patron chooses not to follow the rules, they will be asked to leave. Leasing or renting gives control of the property to the lessee.”
The leasing contract does not specifically address the issue, which town officials say is a more general law.
Musolf is calling for the town to issue a cease and desist order to bar the PAC group from Steam Pump Ranch based on the fact the contract reads, “Lessee shall use the premises solely for the purpose of a Farmers Market.”
Because political activity has also occurred on site, Musolf believes a breach of contract has taken place, and thereby argues the contract should be terminated with any future contracts banning any political activity.