Potter's House says<BR>Events manager wants it off plaza

PRESCOTT – The Potter's House Christian Fellowship Church is threatening to sue Yavapai County and its plaza events manager, the Prescott Downtown Partnership.

The Prescott Downtown Partnership (PDP) is bent on getting rid of the Potter's House God and Country patriotic music festival on the courthouse plaza during Independence Day festivities, Pastor Wayman Mitchell said.

PDP officials say that's just not true.

"We're not trying to get rid of them," said PDP's president, John Regan.

The PDP simply is trying to work out issues it had with the God and Country performance this year, Regan said.

The Potter's House has been putting on the performance for at least eight years, and this year the Prescott Downtown Partnership took over sponsorship of the Independence holiday plaza events.

The PDP and Potter's House contract said the Frontier Days entertainment must be "strictly limited to the Old West/rodeo theme and suitable for audiences of diverse cultures and ethnicity."

The contract's wording proves the PDP is trying to get the Potter's House off the plaza, Mitchell contended.

"They designed that (contract) especially for us this year," Mitchell said.

But the Potter's House show violated that contract with its patriotic vein and religious program, Regan wrote to the Potter's House Sept. 26. And it ran much longer than the contracted arrangement, he added.

"Even more unsettling are the various complaints we have received from both vendors and observers who, to put it mildly, were upset and annoyed by your members' efforts of conversion.

"The proverbial straw was one of our vendors who was advised by one of your members that, because she was Jewish, she was going to burn in hell."

Mitchell said he'd be "very dubious" about that latter accusation, saying that's not the first time someone has circulated false rumors about the Potter's House. He referred to one rumor that the church locked people into its Christian-oriented 'haunted house' at the corner of Gurley and Montezuma streets near the courthouse plaza.

Regan's letter concluded by saying the PDP "will review any future application of the Potter's House with these past actions in mind."

Potter's House attorney David Palmer responded to Regan's letter Oct. 17, saying the PDP has never explained what the church is required to do to conform to the Western theme.

"While the church is always willing to work together to try to resolve these matters, they are also fully prepared to bring a federal civil rights suit" against the county, PDP and individuals involved, Palmer wrote.

Regan said the Potter's House response was "inappropriate," and Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Counsel Dave Hunt called it a "legal bombardment" that is "disturbing." Both wrote letters in response.

They said the PDP and county have a right to put requirements on organized plaza events, while understanding that individuals have First Amendment rights, too.

Mitchell said he doesn't foresee working out the issues with the PDP. And Regan's Oct. 26 letter in response to Palmer's letter seems to agree.

"Your Oct. 17 letter has been analyzed by numerous attorneys," Regan wrote. "The litigation threatened by the Potter's House was, without exception, viewed as meritless. Also, without exception, the likelihood that such litigation would be commenced was considered, by these attorneys, probable."

The Potter's House has been successful in past court cases in this area. It won a case against the county when the county tried to stop it from putting up a revival tent on its property north of Prescott; it won a case against the Prescott Unified School District when the district tried to stop students from "witnessing" on school grounds; and it won a case against the City of Prescott after officers arrested a Potter's House member for preaching on the plaza, Mitchell said.

Contact Joanna Dodder at jdodder@prescottaz.com