Surprise city council election canvassers may have broken rules

[file photo]

What do you think?

Did firefighters come to your home in District 2 or 3 in March or April seeking signatures for candidate petitions?

Is it appropriate for city fireman to work on behalf of candidates in the community, whether in uniform or not?

Are you concerned about the influence of statewide fire and police associations or other special interest groups on local races?

Share your recollections and opinions in the comments below or email

By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

While some Surprise City Council candidates have complained about opponents’ apparently misleading claims of public safety endorsements, practices of signature gatherers earlier this year may raise new concerns.

Though not actually endorsed by the city’s police and fire departments council candidates Patrick Duffy, Todd Tande and Nancy Hayden have garnered the backing from the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, a statewide association representing firefighters (“Council candidates cry foul: Opponents allege campaign signs mislead public,” Surprise Today, July 18, 2018).

In addition to an endorsement, the fire association also provided material support the candidates, canvassing door-to-door in March and April to gather the necessary petition signatures to put candidates Patrick Duffy and Nancy Hayden on the ballot, according to public records.

The fire union’s executive vice president, Joe Hester, confirmed association members helped with canvassing and putting up campaign signs, but insisted fire department employees volunteered to support candidates only on their own time and out of uniform (see the accompanying news story on page one).

“Members of the PFFA have volunteered – on their own personal time and not in uniform – to support the endorsed candidates by collecting petition signatures and by installing campaign signs,” stated Mr. Hester. “This activity is perfectly legal and has been standard procedure for the PFFA in a number of Valley cities, including Surprise, for many years.”

Surprise Fire-Medical Department spokeswoman Battalion Chief Julie Moore said political activities are not permitted at work or under the auspices of the department, according to city policy.

“Surprise Fire-Medical Department members are not allowed to engage in political activities at work or in uniform. The city of Surprise has a policy regarding political activity in the Employee Policy Manual, policy 9.4,” Ms. Moore stated.

In total, 18 Surprise firefighters helped gather signatures for various candidates, including 10 individuals who worked on the campaigns of both Mr. Duffy and Ms. Hayden, knocking on doors at hundreds of homes in Districts 2 and 3.

Those Surprise firefighters included: Firefighter Daniel Anderson, Firefighter Bradley Busher, EMT Ryan Cameron, Fire Captain Scott Collins, Fire Engineer Christopher Culligan, Firefighter Elliott Espinoza, Firefighter Thomas Flores, Firefighter Jose Gutierrez, Firefighter Nicholas Johnson, Paramedic Aaron Kent, Fire Captain Forrest Koontz, Firefighter Steven Kruzel, Firefighter Philip Martell, Firefighter Matthew Mazza, Firefighter Michael Messner, Fire Captain Gary Parker, Firefighter Jeremy Sbordoni and Firefighter Hans Uhl.

Though the volunteers worked on their own time, some residents in those neighborhoods say they believed the firefighters who came to their homes in the spring were, indeed, city employees representing the Surprise Fire-Medical Department.

District 3 resident Carissa Flores signed up to support Mr. Duffy’s candidacy on April 13 after signature circulators came to her door.

She said she assumed they were from the Surprise Fire-Medical Department, since they wore navy blue cargo pants and matching T-shirts bearing fire department logos, although she did not get a close look at the logo on the shirts.

If the canvassers said anything to clarify who they were specifically working for, Ms. Flores said she could not recall.

Eric VomFell lives a few doors down from Ms. Flores and also signed a petition on April 13 when circulators knocked on his door. He said the signature gatherers identified themselves as Surprise firemen when they asked him to sign the petition.

Tom Roatch confirmed door-knockers had solicited his support for Mr. Duffy when they came to his home on April 16 wearing blue T-shirts and identifying themselves as fireman.

If the signature gatherers said anything to dispel his impression they were city firefighters, Mr. Roatch said he could not recall.

On April 18, Reginald Horn Sr. was also approached at his home by signature gatherers, who he believed were representing the city because of how they dressed and how they represented themselves.

“I got the impression they were legit,” Mr. Horn said.

Asked if the people who visited his home mentioned anything about the fire association or otherwise made clear they were not canvassing on behalf of the city, Mr. Horn said he could not recall.

Asked to respond to the allegation city firefighters had represented themselves as such while canvassing during the spring, the department’s spokeswoman denied any wrongdoing.

“Our firefighters were not on duty and not wearing city of Surprise Fire-Medical Department uniforms while gathering signatures,” stated Battalion Chief Julie Moore, the department’s public information officer.

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