Apr 1, 2:02 AM EST

Man files complaint accusing Mesa of illegal campaign activities

MESA, Ariz. (AP) -- A Mesa man has filed a formal complaint accusing the city of participating in illegal campaign activities.

H. Steven Johnson filed the complaint after his wife and children attended "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Mesa Arts Center on Thursday.

The Southwest Shakespeare Co., the production group putting on the play, greeted patrons with a program, inside of which was an insert and a pre-show announcement promoting Mesa's proposed property tax and sales tax increase.

"I'm worried that my tax dollars are being used to promote an increase in my tax dollars," Johnson said. "I think it's irresponsible to believe that things like this happen by accident in a city this size."

On Friday, the company pulled the brochure from the program and scrapped the artistic director's announcement at the request of top city officials.

Southwest Shakespeare Co. managing director Chris Rhodes said she stands by the company's decision to promote the tax at the arts center.

"I think the success or failure of these two issues will have a profound impact on us as citizens of Mesa and we have every right to have an opinion on the subject," Rhodes said.

On May 16, Mesa voters will decide whether to implement a property tax and raise the city sales tax rate to 1.75 percent.

The Southwest Shakespeare Co. received $38,000 from the city this year for its operations, about 10 percent of its budget. It also pays $400 monthly - well below market rates - to rent rehearsal space in a city-owned building adjacent to the arts center.

The group has posted a "Yes for Mesa" campaign sign in their building's window.

The company is paying Mesa about $13,000 to lease the Piper Repertory Theatre for "Much Ado About Nothing," which had its preview Thursday and will run through April 15.

State law says "a city or town shall not use its personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or other resources for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections."

Johnson's complaint was forwarded to the Mesa City Attorney's Office, which did not issue a formal opinion Friday. City officials could not be reached to comment on their late decision to request the brochure be removed.

Campaign materials were obviously distributed on city property, but City Manager Chris Brady said there is a gray area because the arts group was paying to lease the facility.

The Yes for Mesa campaign produced the brochure, but the campaign maintains it was not involved in the decision to use it at the arts center.

"I don't know if what they did was appropriate or not, but it's not something that was done by the campaign," said John Giles, co-chairman of the campaign's committee. "We'll leave it up to the city to decide if there's a legal issue or not."

Bob Hisserich, co-chairman of a group opposing the property tax, said people attending the city-owned arts center for a performance should not be subject to campaigning.

"I'm not an expert in campaign law, but that doesn't sound very kosher to me," Hisserich said.

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