On July 25, 2023, Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH) filed a request with the Coconino County Superior Court to disqualify a referendum from the City of Flagstaff special election ballot. While NAH supports the public’s right to vote on a referendum about certain community issues, such as the zoning of NAH-owned land for a new regional hospital, it is concerned that voters were not given accurate information about NAH’s new hospital project before signing the petition to refer it to the ballot.
NAH took the case to court because the City Council decision to rezone land near I-17 and I-40 included restrictions that stipulate the land can only be used to build a hospital, ambulatory care center, associated parking and public open space. The Development Agreement and the Specific Plan for the site clearly spell out those are the only developments allowed on the site.
Despite that precise language in the agreement, the referendum petition voters signed says the site will be used to construct retail and commercial space, with no mention of health care facilities. In fact, under the terms of the zoning ordinance, NAH is not allowed to construct retail and commercial space on the hospital site.
NAH has asked the court to follow well-established Arizona case law that demands strict compliance with elections regulations. State statutes require referendums to include a description “of the principal provisions of the measure sought to be referred.” The purpose of the description is to ensure a voter who reads the petition has the opportunity to understand what the ballot question would do if passed. Arizona case law requires a court to disqualify any referendum from the ballot if the description fails to include a principal provision or “communicates objectively false or misleading information” about the measure being referred.
NAH believes it was misleading to tell voters on the referendum petitions that NAH will build retail and commercial structures on the site when the City Council’s zoning decision holds NAH to build only a regional hospital, ambulatory care center, associated parking and public open space and does not allow commercial and retail businesses.
NAH supports the public’s right to refer ordinances to the ballot, but is asking for the disqualification of the referendum because voters were not given accurate information upon which to make their decision to sign the referendum petition. Voters deserve accurate information when deciding whether to refer a City Council decision to the ballot.