09/09/2010 Gilbert Town Council Meeting Summary

The $43 Million Land Deal and Other Missteps

1) Mayor John Lewis, who founded Constitution Week nine years ago, proclaimed the week of 9/17/2010 – 9/23/2010 Constitution Week. Gilbert is home to the largest celebration of the signing of the Constitution in the United States. See “Constitution Week USA” and “Proclamation – Constitution Week” on Gilbert Watch.

2) This next item was Council Member Linda Abbott’s attempt at damage control necessitated by an astonishing revelation made public in the September 9, 2010 Arizona Republic article titled “Experts Blast $42.7 million Price Gilbert Paid for Future Parkland.” It seems that, back in January 2009, the Town Council at that time (which included Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier, and Les Presmyk) approved the $42.7 million purchase of undeveloped land, without a certified appraisal, at a price that was considered by local real estate experts to be “10 times the price paid per acre in several private sales of nearby land about the same time.”

Yet, Council Member Abbott was quoted in the article as saying, “I feel that due diligence was made…”

At the 9/9/2010 Council meeting, Council Member Linda Abbott stated that she would like a future agenda item for the Council to consider the requirement that all future land acquisitions be subject to an appraisal prior to the purchase of land. She stated that she was “not aware that this requirement was not in place.”

These statements beg some questions. Wouldn’t you expect Council Members to have asked basic questions, upon being told that a parcel of land was going to cost the taxpayers $43 million? Real estate prices were plummeting back in 2009. Wouldn’t you have asked to see the appraisal? The Council routinely receives “Council Communications” providing them with documents relating to expenditures. In this particular Council Communication, there was no appraisal. There was nothing relating to a Competitive Market Analysis.

It doesn’t take a professional realtor to ask these questions. We ordinary citizens know enough to ask for the appraisal of a $250k home we’re buying, let alone a $43 million piece of property.

How long do you think the Council spent “debating” this $43 million decision? Minutes. George Pettit provided the rationale, and the Rubber Stamp Council voted 6-0.

Here is what Goldwater Institute Communications Director Le Templar had to say about it: “The town didn’t have the facts at hand because they didn’t follow traditional business practices. Every homeowner does it. Private-sector companies do it. So, why shouldn’t the government follow the same standard?”

Stacy Brimhall, owner of Langley Properties in Gilbert, who has been buying and selling land in the southeast Valley for years stated that the Town’s purchase, “made no sense whatsoever to anybody, anywhere that was in tune with valuations.”

Other real estate experts made similar comments.

Even Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said (in a followup Az Republic article dated 9/11/2010): “We don’t do anything on a land purchase without an appraisal being involved. It tells you a professional’s opinion of where the market is.”

And yet, Linda Abbott stands by her decision. George Pettit stands by his recommendation. In fact, George Pettit stated in the article that discussions with the owner were “contentious.” In the same article he states that the only other alternative would have been “to take the land through imminent domain.” I’d be “contentious,” about the "taking" of my land through a lawsuit, too!

Whatever happened to private property rights?

These same Council members spent meeting after meeting during March, April, and May, “turning over every rock” in its struggle to find budget cuts, only to decide they needed to impose a “public safety” tax on Gilbert’s citizens.

3) Tim Berger, Gilbert resident, spoke out regarding the Town’s $43 million land purchase calling for a formal investigation of the deal. He stated that Linda Abbott’s suggestion that appraisals be done in the future is fine, but this decision to purchase the land only required common sense. “Spending this money is just outrageous during these times,” he said. “And for the Council to have any credibility, there needs to be an investigation into why this happened.”

4) “The Wall.” Also appearing in the Arizona Republic was an article dated 9/14/2010 titled “Gilbert Taxpayers to Help Pay $112k for Community Wall Repair.” Back in 1985, the Town approved the construction of a 1030 foot wall near Elliott and Greenfield Roads (Circle G Ranches). Twenty-two years later, the wall started leaning and crumbling. Town Staff realized they had approved the wrong type of construction. Residents insisted that the Town should pay to have the wall removed and rebuilt.

Initially, Gilbert Staff stated to the residents, “the wall was included in the PKID; if the wall was to be rebuilt, the residents would be responsible for the cost.” But the residents complained, a collective guilty conscience set in, and so Gilbert Staff formed (you guessed it) a COMMITTEE to study the issue.

After 3 years of committee work, the Staff came to the Council to approve the “Town’s responsibility of 75% of the cost,” with the residents picking up 25%. When Jenn Daniels and Linda Abbott argued against the Town taking all or even a portion of the responsibility, Collin DeWitt argued in favor of the Town’s 75% share of the cost.

Jenn Daniels doggedly argued against the Town/taxpayers footing 75% of the cost, because Inspector II Kerby advised that the life of the wall is usually 40 years. Jenn suggested going back to renegotiate with the residents to prorate and take into account the number of years the wall served.

Linda Abbott agreed with this point, and also brought up the issue of responsibility. Shouldn’t the developer/builder be responsible? Also, what about the precedent that might be set? Linda also insisted on a Wall Policy that would alleviate that problem. Attorney Goodwin indicated that the Town is not an “insurer” of work completed simply because plans have been approved by Town staff.

I appreciated the fight these two Council members put up. They were voted down.

What is interesting is this. The Council Communication that was provided to the Council Members by Staff states, “Finally, Gilbert Staff and the resident committee settled on the construction cost sharing for the wall. Gilbert will pay for the demolition of the existing wall and contribute to the construction of the new wall per the Gilbert Block Wall Policy in the amount of $83k. The residents of Circle G VII will be responsible for the remaining $28,820 in construction costs.”

Rather presumptuous, isn’t it? These statements made by the Staff don’t give the Town Council much leeway other than to give a "rubber stamp" approval to that which the Staff has already promised. I would think the wording would have been more like, "Subject to the approval of the Gilbert Town Council, the Staff’s recommendation is….."

5) I felt sorry for the entrepreneur who sought approval to obtain a liquor license for his Pocket Jacks establishment. He had jumped through hoops, and removed the gaming activity that had been bothering the Council. Susan Goodwin advised that if at any time Pocket Jacks began any illegal activities, the Town could enforce the code against them.

Yet, the Council still denied his request for a liquor license, citing “unreliability” because his various business registrations cited various business activities. Well yes. Pocket Jacks wants to operate a successful business, and if they need to contort into whatever makes the Council happy, ok. Another small business struggles to stay alive while coping with zoning, codes, rules, barriers, you name it, imposed by the Town of Gilbert.

Let’s look at that word: Unreliability. How “reliable” has the Council been? How “reliable” has the Town Attorney been? How “reliable” have the Staff been? Physician, Heal Thyself.

6) Jenn Daniels requested and received Council approval that the Council reconsider the decision of 8/19/2010 that specified nomination packets be made available 120 days prior to the Council election. She then made a motion that the Clerk have nomination packets available 150 days prior to the Election. This will allow candidates for Gilbert Town Council 60 days to obtain petition signatures. This passed 7-0.