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Debate Over Sun City Recreation Centers Turns Dramatic

Arizona Sen. David Farnsworth, R- Mesa, did not support a measure that would exclude some recreation centers in Sun City and Green Valley from certain public records and financial rules.

Farnsworth said he sides with some homeowners who won a lawsuit determining that those rec centers must be legally operated.

But as the debate was to begin, Farnsworth told other senators of a conversation he with Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray.

"He reminded me I was running for Corporation Commission and that if I continued to fight this bill there would be consequences,'' he said.

Gray, for his part, did not dispute the conversation.

"As an elected official, if anybody wants to tell my constituents how I vote on something, I've got no problem with that,'' he responded. "So my comment to him was everybody in Sun City will know you voted.''

Farnsworth would likely need Republican support in politically-active Sun City to win a seat on the utility-regulating commission.

Despite Farnsworth's ultimate “no” vote, Senate Bill 1094 passed the chamber and now heads to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.

Last year Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Roger Brodman ruled that Recreation Centers of Sun City is subject to the Arizona Planned Communities Act.

The law has certain requirements about public records and open meetings. There also are specific limits on assessments as well as the ability to foreclose on residents who do not pay those assessments.

While Brodman's ruling affects only Sun City, the same decision, if upheld on appeal, could undermine a similar arrangement in Green Valley.

SB 1094 would effectively overturn the judge's ruling by amending the law to exclude certain organizations that were incorporated before 1974.

Another provision, retroactive to July 16, 1994, creates an exemption for any real estate development that is not managed or maintained by an association.

During Wednesday’s debate, Gray urged other senators to ignore the court ruling.

"If everybody believes that judges are absolutely right in every one of their decisions, man, I'm just not there,'' he said. "Judges make mistakes.''

Gray said the two rec centers at the heart of this debate were started before there was a planned community act. And he said that law deals not with rec centers but homeowners' associations.

And he justified the pressure he applied to get the votes.

"You're making a decision that's going to impact the lives of people that I know, people that want this bill to go through, people that want their community protected,'' Gray said.

"People's lives are at stake,'' he continued. Gray said there would be sharp increases in annual fees because the organization would lose the authority to levy the one-time $3,500 "preservation and improvement'' fee imposed each time someone buys into the community, a fee that raises about $500,000 a month.

"To me, it's a matter of property rights,'' Farnsworth countered, saying that there are issues about who within the Sun City community can use the facilities.

Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer at KJZZ from 2015 to 2019.