02/20/2010 Town Council Meeting Summary (Special Meeting)

Dear Gilbert Concerned Citizens,

Today there was a Special Meeting of the Gilbert Town Council, prompted by the outcry of Gilbert citizens and others who had revolted against the Council’s denial of their free speech rights at the previous 2/9/2010 Council meeting. Jerry McBee was present at today’s meeting and stated, “The council members seemed to project a whole new attitude about communications from citizens. With the exception of two council members, the rest could not fall over their feet fast enough to state they were not against citizens speaking on the upcoming election or the tax issue. In the end the council voted to have not one, but two open communication segments.

The first segment would be called Citizens Communication about issues not on the agenda and limited to 3 minutes per speaker on issues not on the agenda, same as always. The second segment would be called the Citizens Communication on the Tax issues, Budget, or May Election. It, too, would limit the speaker to 3 minutes and, should there be a large number of citizens, perhaps a longer time would be given to one or two individuals who would be given longer times to make the groups’ point or express their concern.”‘

Jerry added, “A few on the council grumbled about the agenda times being taken listening to the complaints of the citizens. The two most vocal stated it was not fair because it made the council members stay late into the night.”

Some Council members saw this issue pretty clearly. They included Mayor John Lewis, Jenn Daniels, John Sentz, and Steve Urie. Les Presmyk still felt that it wasn’t a First Amendment issue, but voted with the majority. The two who grumbled about the citizens making them stay late into the night were Linda Abbott and Dave Crozier.

When Jerry was asked by Blake Herzog, reporter with the Gilbert Tribune, “What would have happened had the Council voted to uphold Town Attorney Susan Goodwin’s using ARS 9-500.14 to deny citizens the right to speak about the tax issue?” Jerry McBee responded, “Our individual freedoms are too important to just stand by and do nothing. We would have turned this over to the consitutional lawyers who have been waiting in the background. They had stated they would fight it pro bono.”

This is a wonderful victory for Gilbert citizens, and we must thank those who took the time to email and speak with the Council members and who contacted the Goldwater Institute to help them. Never forget: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America do not enforce themselves. It takes citizens to stand up for their God granted rights.

Jerry related other items of discussion including a request that Council spend $183, 098 for Higley Road improvements, with Les Presmyk stating concerns about the cost. This issue did not pass and will be discussed again at a future meeting.

The Council gained more information on the proposed building of Fire Station #10, moving Fire Station #7, and work on Rodeo Park. Now before the federal government will provide grant money to build Station #10, they want an environmental impact statement. However, there is a problem with high levels of nitrogen on the building site. Jerry stated that this might be the result of this area being used “for years as a feed lot to hold large numbers of cattle.” No vote on this by the Council until more information is gathered.

Collin Dewitt, the Interim Town Manager, spoke about several budget cutting items that still need to be vetted by the Council. These included more items as the result of the work done by the Citizens Budget Committees last Fall, plus employee recommendations, department head recommendations, etc. Mr. Dewitt identified about $15 million that could be cut. In Jerry’s opinion, it seemed that some of the Council members might wonder if the election would be necessary. Jerry hastened to add that this was his impression. No one on the Council made a direct statement to this effect.

Jerry said that the Council also discussed the current Secondary Property tax rate that is currently at $1.15, and its impact on the Capital Improvement Program schedule.

The last thing that Jerry said was, "The Council is starting to listen. They are starting to be more careful about spending money. But Gilbert citizens must stay involved and keep up the pressure. They cannot let up on this."

There are forces who want the tax increase. They want the Council to spend everybody’s tax dollars on their special projects and programs. Those forces don’t stop, ever. It is important to understand that this isn’t just a “crash exercise in citizenship.” This is about a much larger, lifelong commitment to citizen involvement, and we the people must be vigilant in holding our elected officials accountable and responsible. To ignore our own responsibility is to lose our rights, property, and our freedoms.