Oro Valley's government overreacted when it tried to get a blogger critical of some of its elected officials to register as a political committee. The situation made the town look like a bully and could have been avoided if workers had done more homework.
Art Segal, a 71-year-old blogger, over the past year has repeatedly endorsed a couple of Oro Valley Town Council candidates Salette Latas and Bill Garner who are challenging three incumbents, Vice Mayor Helen Dankwerth, Terry Parish and Barry Gillaspie.
He refers to his blog www.letorovalleyexcel.blogspot.com by the acronym LOVE. However, there is little love for the blog in the halls of power in Oro Valley.
The Star's Lourdes Medrano reported this week that an unnamed citizen complained about Segal's blog, which prompted Oro Valley in December to ask him to register as a political committee. First the Town Clerk's Office sent Segal a letter telling him to register. Then the interim town attorney, Tobin Sidles, called Segal to reiterate the clerk's message, Medrano reported.
Sidles also asked if Segal planned to add links on his blog to the Web sites of the three incumbent candidates, as he had for the two challengers he supports, Segal told the Star.
"I thought this was harassment," Segal said Thursday. "I felt they were trying to intimidate me."
Oro Valley was out of line.
Segal's endorsements are similar to the endorsements made by this editorial board. We don't have to register as a political committee and neither should a blogger.
Tobin Rosen, the current town attorney, said, "I don't see this as bullying. We were doing what we were supposed to do under the election statutes."
Oro Valley's elected officials said this week they had nothing to do with the effort to get Segal to register. Dankwerth and Parish both said they didn't find out about the situation until the Town Attorney's Office told the council it was seeking an outside opinion as to whether Segal was required to register.
"I don't think anyone was trying to put pressure on the blogger," Parish said. "That's like saying that if someone calls 911 it's the police's fault for checking into someone."
We disagree with Parish.
When a blogger who openly opposes certain elected officials starts getting calls and letters from city workers and a suggestion is made to include links to the incumbents' Web sites that is pressure.
To his credit, Segal kept saying what he wanted to say.
Segal then received some legal backing from Clint Bolick, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Phoenix.
Bolick told the Star that bloggers are not required to register with the government to express an opinion unless they cross the boundary into financial support. The state statute Oro Valley officials cited in their letter to Segal also deals heavily with financial contributions to campaigns, something in which Segal has not engaged.
"His blog is not a political action committee. He is simply a citizen expressing his political views," Bolick said earlier this week.
It seems Oro Valley's legal officials have come to the same conclusion. Parish said at a council meeting Wednesday that Segal won't be asked to register.
"The town was advised that it was not an election violation and we should just leave it alone," Parish said Thursday. "But I want to clear up the misconception that there was a conspiracy on the Town Council to silence this blogger. The council had nothing to do with that."
While the council might be in the clear, the Oro Valley government needlessly started this confrontation. After it received the citizen's complaint, town workers should have done their research on blogging and political committees before pressuring a man who was only giving his opinion about local politicians.
Alas, by picking the fight, the town gave the blogger more attention than he would have received otherwise.