10/07/2010 Town Council Meeting Summary

Normally, I don’t include the numerous Proclamations that are read at every Council meeting, but this one is different. Back in late 2009, the Citizens Budget Committee recommended that the Town Council reduce funding to outside agencies. Indeed, for years the Town has taken money from the Gilbert taxpayers and nobly handed it over to the many outside agencies that routinely come to the Council begging for it. The Council decided it must “wean” these agencies away from tapayer funding. Mayor Lewis has taken responsibility to help. Please see the 10/12/2010 article in Gilbert Watch titled “Mayor John Lewis’s Second Annual Faith Group Leader Summit.” Helping those in need is a responsibility that all Americans share. Who of us hasn’t needed help at some time in our lives? The religious community is a natural place to begin.

Les Presmyk read the proclamation declaring October 23, 2010 as Make a Difference Day and October as Make a Difference Month.

Having discussed several items at the 10/04/2010 Town Council Study Session Summary, tonight the Council approved all Consent Items, pulling one item for further discussion: WATER.

Water Resources Administrator Kathy Rall again presented information on the projected water demand in 2025. We will be short by about a thousand-acre-feet. The Council approved the Long Term Storage Credit Transfer Agreement No. 2011-4108-0084 with the Ft, McDowell Yavapai Nation to facilitate transfer of earned Long Term Storage Credits from the Nation to Gilbert. This will be funded in large part by System Development Fees.

Gilbert’s residents use more water than any other entity, according to Ms. Rall.

Questions from Gilbert Watch: Did the Town exhaust all possible sources of water, and was this the most cost effective? Is the water used by residents primarily for drinking, cleaning, or possibly for feeding lawns, trees, and shrubs? Has the Town of Gilbert been a good role model in the area of water conservation, in choice of landscape trees and shrubs? Has the Town contributed to the need for high water use in its requirement for green open spaces? Have developers over planted with plants and trees that are choking from density, and then the HOA’s end up with high maintenance costs? Have we citizens been poor stewards of this precious resource?

In the West, more people have been killed over water than anything else. Thus, an old saying: “Whiskey’s for drinkin’ and Water’s for fightin’ over.”

The contentious issue at the 10/4/2010 Study Session appeared to be the developer’s offer of $500 per unit versus the Higley School District’s 2004 requirement of $1k per unit. In fact, some Council members chastised the developer for not stepping up. At tonight’s meeting, Council Member Linda Abbott had issues with the density, the term Urban Lifestyle, alleys, an anchor, and transportation that would possibly be limited to bus service. Principal Planner Linda Edwards went into a lot of detail explaining the overall design and did her best to address Ms. Abbott’s concerns, including the plans for a commuter train to the site and the nucleus of the project.

Also, Council Member Les Presmyk thanked the staff and especially the developer, Blanchford Homes, for “always stepping up to support the needs of the community, neighborhoods, and school system." What happened? Did the applicant cough up the additional $500 per home, adhering to the 2004 standard? Answer: Yes.

This zoning amendment was approved 6-0.

Development Services Director Greg Tilque reviewed the history of the proposed Unified Permitting Process. (See 10/4/2010 Study Session Summary, Gilbert Watch). There is one clarification that GW needs to make. In my previous post, I indicated that this is the first time that home-based businesses would be required to register. That is not the case. Home-based businesses have always been required to register at an initial cost of $36, then they are required to renew every 3 years at a cost of $36.

Per Greg Tilque and the stakeholders group, currently commercial entities that discharge wastewater into the Town’s sewer system are required to Register, and then renew their registration annually, at a cost of $36 per year. All other businesses, home-based or not, register for $36 and renew in 3 years @ $36.

The proposed policy would require ALL businesses (those discharging wastewater, regular commercial, and home-based) to obtain a License @ $35 and renew @ $15 per year. Thus, the home-based business and other commercial businesses pay more. Businesses that discharge wastewater pay less. Mr. Tilque asked the Council to approve this "first phase" of the program in order to begin to collect fees annually. Those who have already registered will be grandfathered and they won’t have to start the annual renewals until their next scheduled renewal.

Council member Ben Cooper stated that he understood that the impetus of going to an annual renewal was to understand which firms are operating in Gilbert, and to capture those license fees. He asked Greg how much revenue would the Town realize? Greg advised that in new money for this year, it would be $102k. He stated that he was directed by Council to look into this based on the recommendation of the Citizens Budget Committee (CBC).

Council member Daniels asked if home-based businesses would be subject to higher fees, while commercial businesses discharging waste water would pay lower fees. Ms. Daniels stated that she thought that the original intent of registration was to monitor wastewater and possible hazardous materials produced by a business. Greg answered yes, those producing waste water would have lower fees, but he alluded to “fire inspection fees,” and a “supplement” for waste water, down the road. Ms. Daniels was also concerned that the new Ordinance would divert 75% of the collected fees to Development and only 25% to Wastewater. Mr. Tilque stated that this was because Development did most of the work processing registrations. Ms. Daniels was concerned about the undefined phases. What are they exactly? Mr. Tilque advised that part of it had to do with technology. Ms. Daniels stated that she was concerned that the technology isn’t operational yet. She was also concerned about the need for more clarification, especially since multiple departments would be required to be involved in the process.

Jerry McBee, Gilbert resident, spoke out concerned that this process has not been thought out thoroughly. It appears to be a ploy to get more money out of businesses. It also will generate miniscule dollars.

Dow Rigler of the GSBA (Gilbert Small Business Alliance) stated that 70% of the GSBA members who responded to a questionnaire had concerns, which he noted in a letter that he provided to the Council. He stated that the Alliance asked that this item be postponed until the final form is clarified.

Ms. Daniels asked that, in the future, when there is an assertion of "support” that we get that in writing in our Council Communication. (The reason that Ms. Daniels asked for this is because the Council Communication provided to the Council by Staff stated, “The Free Enterprise Committee of the Gilbert Small Business Alliance has also endorsed the changes.” This was not true.)

GW questions: 1) Can we assume that one of the purposes of streamlining this process and going to an annual renewal was to improve cost recovery? If yes, what are the numbers on this? Both new money and added staff costs. 2) How much will it cost to implement the technology that Mr. Tilque states is available? Aside from the convenience of online licensing and the ability to accept credit cards to pay the fees, what additional services will technology provide? 3) What are the specific reasons for changing the name of this process from “Registration” to “License” since the term “License” implies the need for the Town to more closely monitor the activities of a business? 4) What are the Staff costs right now that are incurred? What will the Staff costs be when additional Phases are implemented? 5) Will home-based business be required to have fire inspections? 6) Why divert fees to Development solely on the basis of work involved, when Water is going to be an issue down the road? The Town is facing a water shortage in 2025, and the need for cash will be crucial.

To follow up on the 10/4/2010 Study Session, Marc Skocypec noted about $573 million in Capital Improvement Projects scheduled over the next several years are funded from SDF’s (System Development Fees). Those Fees may be at risk if the Arizona State Legislature decides to cancel or reduce them. It would seem that the Council needs to be extremely careful before committing the Town to more debt. Questions to ask might include: 1) Can we afford this now? 2) Can this project wait? 3) Can this project be done more cheaply than planned, without sacrificing quality? It should be noted that the biggest chunk of money goes toward parks projects, followed by waste water and water projects.

This is a continuation of previous Council discussions that began after a press release appeared in the Arizona Republic 9/9/2010 “Experts Blast $42.7 million Price Gilbert Paid for Future Parkland.” More press releases followed.

Town Manager Collin Dewitt gave an overview of the internal procedure that is adhered to whenever the Town purchases land. See “Property Acquisition Procedures for Entire Parcels.” He noted that the Town had followed this procedure to purchase property since 2002, with one exception: the 1/20/2009 Zinke property. He stated that he thought it was a good procedure and explained that what is now a staff procedure could be adopted as a Council Policy. As a procedure, staff can make adjustments; as a Council Policy, there is a mandate with no deviation.

Council member Jenn Daniels stated that the Zinke purchase had placed on the Consent Calendar. Shouldn’t it be placed as a Public Hearing item? Mr. Dewitt agreed.

Council Member Ben Cooper asked if the Council Policy should be for properties of major size or all properties? Mr. Dewitt stated that this should be the Policy no matter what the size. We should always get an appraisal. In Chandler Heights, we spent more on the appraisal than on the property, but we got an appraisal.

Mr. Cooper wondered if we are overreacting by putting smaller parcels in a Public Hearing, such as a roadway. Mr. Dewitt responded saying that if we are taking a strip and enlarging it on something we already agreed to buy, we would not go through this.

Ms. Abbott asked what is the benefit of adopting this as a Policy. Mr. Dewitt advised again that as a Council policy, Staff cannot deviate. With a procedure Staff can deviate. A Council Policy is a mandate.

Ms. Daniels stated that, because we are expending taxpayer dollars, the public should be notified, and this is an important part of the process. Even if it is a strip of land, she could see no disadvantage in putting it in Public Hearing. Les Presmyk agreed using as an example requests for a liquor license, which are always Public Hearing items. Most times, the public doesn’t speak, but the opportunity is there.

Mr. Cooper stated that the public purpose must be communicated, and be easily found.

Mayor John Lewis asked if the Property Acquisition Procedure presented by Mr. Dewitt related specifically to the Zinke land? Mr. Dewitt answered no. (No? See the GW note below.) Mayor Lewis then asked to see the overhead relating to the Zinke properties that have been discussed.

Mr. Dewitt showed a map indicating the rights of way that were given to the Town in return for the Town’s purchasing “assets.” He stated that, based on the Town’s internal audit of the Zinke purchase, he believes that the findings will show that the assertion that the Town paid ten times its value will be proved wrong. He advised that the services of an outside attorney, Gary Birnbaum, have been secured for the purpose of auditing the Zinke purchase. Also, an outside appraisal is being obtained, based on the date the deal was put together. (UPDATE: It was reported in the Arizona Republic that Marc Barlow’s services have been contracted by the Town. Mr. Barlow is the Chairman of Gilbert’s Redevelopment Commission. He has been on that Commission for over a year. He is the consummate "insider." Wouldn’t you think that the Town would want to avoid even the hint of impropriety?) Mr. Dewitt stated that much of this was communicated in Executive Sessions.

GW observation: Executive Sessions are "confidential" and, by their nature, hidden from the public. Is this the vehicle that will be used to hide the details of the Zinke land purchase from the Public? That’s how the Council hid the Perkins Coie opinion regarding shortening versus lengthening Council members terms of office. Jenn Daniels was the ONLY Council Member who voted to reveal that information to the Public. What did Perkins Coie state? “There is opportunity in shortening terms.” But you never heard that did you.

Consider this: On 09/20/2010, Mayor Lewis had to nudge Town Manager Dewitt to explain to the public why the 9/20/2010 meeting was called, because Mr. Dewitt launched into a presentation on a proposed Ordinance. Then, on 10/4/2010, Mayor Lewis advised Mr. Dewitt that the “scope” of his presentation at tonight’s meeting should focus on “just the recent land purchases.” Mayor Lewis was referring to the Zinke land purchases. Is this what Mr. Dewitt provided? No. Why?

Mr. Cooper asked Mr. Dewitt to obtain answers to the following questions:

1. Why were the Zinke lands required as opposed to other parcels that might have been made available?
2. How and why was the acquisition price determined?
3. Why were the lands acquired at that date?
4. What exactly was purchased?
5. How was the public and Council involved in the decision?
6. What Town processes need improvement in the future?

He further stated that some of these things can be communicated in a parks master plan. It should be well understood long before it happens, so when they do happen it’s not a surprise.

Ms. Abbott advised Mr. Dewitt to note, as he goes through the history, that there were some public meetings showing potential parklands, organized by Tammy Rall’s office.

Jerry McBee, Gilbert resident, spoke out advising that he will hold off asking the Attorney General to investigate the purchase for wrongdoing He stated that there was a lot of money spent without letting the public know about it . $42 million is lot to sweep under the rug. It’s our money. We empower you to manage our money carefully and spend it wisely. He asked why the Town would buy all those right of way? Don’t we, when we allow a developer to develop land, ask the developer to dedicate those rights of way? He asked about the issue of hazardous waste cleanup.

John Sentz asked Marc Skocypec to set the timer. (John always displays obvious displeasure whenever "certain" members of the public are allowed to speak, in case you haven’t noticed.)

Tim Berger, Gilbert resident, stated that he was glad the Council is moving forward on the appraisal process. And he is glad that these purchases will no longer appear on the Consent Calendar. However he stated that he has no confidence in the manager getting the job done. The procedure will not make a good policy. He cautioned regarding Council authorizing the purchase in Step #2, advising that the Council should be involved in steps 3-10, and at the end to reaffirm. He also was critical that the Town Manager should not be stating that the purchase was not overpriced, based on his own opinion without benefit of an appraisal.

Ms. Daniels stated that she thought Tim’s suggestion relating to the steps and Council’s participation need to be looked at, and perhaps add step #11, allowing for a review process.

Please see Gilbert Watch’s questions titled “Questions Related to the Zinke Land Purchase of 1/20/2009.” Those have been forwarded to Mayor Lewis, Council Members, and Town Manager Dewitt.

I wonder if the public ever be informed about the details of this infamous land acquisition? Will the outside attorney’s opinion be provided in an “Executive Session”? Will members of the Town Council vote to hide all or part the results of this opinion by invoking “client-attorney privilege”? Can we trust the appraisal of an obvious insider and friend of the Town Council and Staff?

There are 3 members of this Council who want this issue to fade into the sunset: Linda Abbott, Dave Crozier, and Les Presmyk. They are the Council members who voted in favor of the Zinke land purchases, never requesting to see an appraisal for one of the most expensive land purchases made in the Town’s history. They prefer to deflect the blame to former Town Manager, George Pettit, who reported to them! This is just one example of their lack of stewardship of the public purse. Please recall that the Board of Directors of Enron stood by silently and allowed its Chairman, Ken Lay, to spend the company into oblivion.

Ms. Abbott is concerned about the possibility that if this Proposition passes November 2 2010, it will present multiple challenges to the community. Gilbert Watch is also concerned about the challenges it will present to employers. Their exposure to lawsuits will be increased by employees who allege that an employer has discriminated against them. Their exposure to lawsuits will increase by plaintiffs who assert that they have been injured by employees “while under the influence.”

For reference, you can read the Proposition by going to the Arizona Tea Party website http://arizonateaparty.com/2010propositions.html. Please vote NO on Prop 203.