April 27, 2005 - Marana Town Council members unanimously voted April 26 in support of an indemnification agreement that will allow the town to pay Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr.'s legal fees pending his acquittal.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment April 22 alleging Sutton and his acquaintance, Richard "Rick" Westfall, conspired and agreed to unlawfully obtain money and a lucrative contract for Westfall from Waste Management, the nation's largest trash hauling firm.
Sutton, 35, and Westfall, 43, are each charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of attempted extortion in violation of federal law, carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and/or a $250,000 fine. Westfall is charged with a third count of making false statements to an FBI agent.
"The Mayor represents to the Town that he participated in the meetings and discussions that are the subject of the WM Matter in the scope of his position as Mayor," the indemnification agreement reads in part.
Sutton and his attorney were not in attendance for the special meeting inside Town Hall at which council members voted 6-0 in favor of the agreement, which states that the town will pay "all reasonable costs and attorneys fees incurred by the Mayor." The agreement does not give a limit as to how much the town is willing to pay.
Town Attorney Frank Cassidy said if Sutton is acquitted he can submit requests for payment at which point the town can make a determination whether his actions were in his scope as mayor.
Council members each made their own statement in support of Sutton before they voted in favor of the town paying his legal bill.
Vice Mayor Herb Kai said these have been trying times for Sutton and his family and he hoped to donate his own money to Sutton's legal defense.
"I would like just to tell him that we are all behind you," he said. "We know Bobby as a man who cares deeply for this community and has good character. I would like to personally help out and ask Bobby's supporters to do the same."
Councilman Tim Escobedo read a written statement saying he also would support Sutton's legal defense with his own money and hoped the public would do the same. "Mayor Sutton has helped the town of Marana become what it is today," he said.
Councilwoman Carol McGorray noted Sutton's volunteerism for the town and described him as a community-minded leader.
"He has always been supportive and helpful and, to my knowledge, he's always looked out for the best interests of the town of Marana," said Councilman Jim Blake, who was elected to council the same year Sutton was elected mayor.
"Everything that he has done that I have seen in 10 years working with him has been decent and honorable," said Councilman Ed Honea, who said Sutton helped him on many projects, including a senior center, the Heritage Park, and bringing services to the town's older communities.
"I've gotten to know him pretty well. I know him to be a very decent, loving man, a loving father (and) a Little League coach," Honea said.
Councilwoman Patti Comerford said she's known Sutton for a long time, even before he was mayor.
"I thinks it's just important that we remember everything that's been given to this community by this man and move forward from that."
Several members of the public attended the meeting to speak on the subject.
Former councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler said she disagreed with town officials that charges against Sutton won't affect the business of the town. She asked Sutton, who was absent from the meeting, to tender his resignation.
"Mr. Mayor, your reputation has been irreversibly damaged and has cast a very negative and long lasting reflection on our town," Ziegler said, reading a statement she wrote in advance of the meeting. "To that end, it is my feeling that you can no longer lead this town effectively, confidently and with integrity."
Ziegler read a quote from St. Augustine, stating, "When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful."
"Any future actions by you as Mayor of our town from this moment on will remain doubtful," Ziegler said. "I respectfully request for myself and the citizens of Marana your resignation as Mayor, effective immediately."
Jim Shiner, owner of the Lazy K Bar Ranch, said he came to support the agreement, which he said was a "simple" decision because the mayor has served the town for a long time.
"On the way over, I was talking to a friend of mine who's out there rooting against the mayor tonight because he's coaching a Little League baseball game over in Continental Ranch and I think that says a lot," he said. "I think he's had a significant impact on this community."
Marana resident Dan Sullivan said Americans live in "the greatest country in the world" and have a judicial system in which people are innocent until proven guilty. He urged the council to recognize Sutton's initiatives that have allowed the town to prosper.
"We know that Marana didn't always shine in the sun but it does now," he said. "Let's make no bones about it, it all happened under the guidance and leadership of Mayor Bob Sutton."
Hurvie Davis, who served as Marana's town manager from 1992 to 1998, said he spent 40 years as a public servant and couldn't have done it without knowing the government he served would hold him harmless from liabilities arising out of his public duties.
The authorized agreement echoes Davis' words, stating that not picking up Sutton's legal tab could dissuade qualified individuals from seeking or retaining political office.
Cassidy cited the town's ability to pay Sutton's attorney fees in Town Code Section 2-10-2, which reads, "Any town officer and all town officials shall be exonerated, indemnified and held harmless by the town from and against any liability or loss in any manner" arising from his or her service as a town official provided that person acted in good faith and in the best interests of the town.
The resolution was passed as an emergency measure, so it will go into effect immediately and cannot be challenged by voters. Cassidy said Arizona case law says there doesn't have to be an actual emergency to declare an "emergency" except in cases involving rezoning or annexation.
"It's probably over the top in terms of being careful, but without a declaration of emergency, theoretically, somebody could at least argue it could be subject to referendum," Cassidy said, adding that he didn't think anyone would challenge the action anyway. "It's just carrying out a policy in the code provision."