(On May 3, 2020, the following Open Letter was sent by Councilmembers Jared Taylor and Aimee Yentes to Gilbert Mayor Daniels, Town Manager Patrick Banger, and Town Attorney Chris Payne regarding six recommendations on how we should respond to the current COVID-19 crisis in Gilbert.)
We have much to celebrate in 2020, a Centennial year in the Town of Gilbert. However, no one could have foreseen the impact COVID-19 would have on our Town and society, and it has presented many challenges. The undersigned have carefully watched how the Federal, State, and Town governments have responded and feel it is important to outline the current problems and recommendations for a different course of action.
Problem #1 Though cities such as New York City and countries such as China and Italy have experienced severe outbreaks of COVID-19, they have implemented measures that they believe appropriate for their jurisdictions. In contrast, Gilbert and Arizona have not experienced the same level of risk to our citizens. The current measures, though well-intended, are not appropriate and violate our citizens’ basic God-given rights. Specifically, the Town Emergency Order was done unilaterally and without consulting the elected Councilmembers.
Recommendation #1 Rescind the current Proclamation Declaring an Emergency and remove all other conditions immediately. Re-open all Town facilities, including the Parks and Recreation facilities. Our hard-working taxpayers either deserve their tax dollars back for services not rendered or we should fully restore all Town services such as over the counter service in Development Services and Parks and Recreation. We should also open our recreation centers, tennis courts, skate parks, basketball courts, and plan to continue our summer aquatics program.
Problem #2 Gilbert business owners are being forced to close for no verified reason. The original argument to close business and social distance was to “flatten the curve” and prevent our hospitals from being over-run. Though it was reasonable to assess the risk level in Gilbert, our hospitals have not been overwhelmed. Gilbert’s level of COVID-19 related illnesses and deaths have not risen to the same levels as other areas. Now, these forced closures are having devastating effects on our economy and causing irreparable harm to countless small businesses and families.
Also, many of the businesses in our community closed or restricted in other ways operate in other states. For example, a food service business may fulfil orders around the country. In Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution, only Congress has authority to regulate inter-state commerce. Neither the Town of Gilbert, the State of Arizona, nor the President of the United States has authority to regulate inter-state commerce, only Congress. Core to our civil society is the principle of separation of powers and anyone other than Congress who forces a business to close is violating the Constitutionally protected right to conduct business.
Recommendation #2 The Town should communicate with the Governor’s office and demand that Gilbert businesses be able to open immediately without restrictions. Any local restrictions outside those of the State or Federal government should be rescinded immediately.
Problem #3 Forcing Gilbert citizens to stay at home violates basic Constitutional rights as an American citizen. Recently, the US Attorney General William Barr stated that some of the responses by the states are “disturbingly close to house arrest” and that some are experiencing “unprecedented burdens on civil liberties.” (AG Barr Threatens DOJ Could Take Action Against States With Strict Coronavirus Rules)
Government’s most basic job is to protect the God-given rights of each American. The Town of Gilbert is not exempt. In fact, it is a tenet every member of a Board, Commission or Council swears to uphold when taking the Oath of Office. Our sworn officers are also bound by oath to uphold these rights.
Problem #4 – Enforcing unconstitutional mandates violates the oath of office for both elected officials and sworn officers. In swearing or affirming our Oath of Office, we promise to uphold the laws of and ordinances of the Town of Gilbert, laws of the State of Arizona as well as defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
Gilbert should know better than any other Town in America why this is problematic from Reid vs Gilbert. In this case, overzealous Code Compliance Officers enforced a Town ordinance that was in direct violation of the First Amendment Rights of Pastor Reid. In a 9-0 decision, the United State Supreme Court ruled that the Gilbert sign code was in direct violation of the First Amendment.
Additionally, in Gilbert in 2009, a cease and desist order was issued to someone holding a Church service and Bible study in their private home. This was a clear violation of the religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment.
The laws and ordinances of the Town of Gilbert are subject to the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land (article 6, clause 2.) This is non-negotiable.
Problem #5 – The Town of Gilbert is at serious risk of costly and lengthy lawsuits for violating the basic Constitutional rights of our business owners and residents.
Recommendations #3, #4, and #5 – Gilbert Police Officers and Code Compliance Officers should not enforce unconstitutional mandates. We should limit, not expand our risk of being sued on grounds of violating the civil liberties of our residents and business owners. Gilbert officials should work with our State Legislators and Governor to preserve the full civil liberties of each and every citizen of Gilbert.
Problem #6 The Town of Gilbert is at serious economic risk. Every day the unconstitutional Stay-at-Home orders are in place and businesses forced to be closed, thousands of jobs are being lost. Furthermore, businesses are in serious distress and many will be forced to close because of these government mandates. Though some businesses will re-open, many will not. Unemployment is estimated to be much higher than the recessions in 2001 and 2009.
With our local and state economies in distress, revenues are already declining precipitously. This will result in a choice to have a major tax increase or drastic cuts within the Town or both. Many Town employees will lose their jobs if we do not act quickly. The Town may not be able to sustain the quality of essential services such as public safety.
As was demonstrated by Prop 406, the majority of Gilbert voters do not prefer tax increases. It is inappropriate to ask taxpayers to bail out the Town for problems the Town has caused with hasty emergency orders and other restrictions.
Recommendation #6 Gilbert should lead the way to re-open our economy in a responsible and expeditious manner. Only by getting people back to work will we be able to stop the severe revenue losses and severe job cuts within the Town.
The data and models (IHME and CovidActNow) used to justify the draconian policies in our State to address unsubstantiated risks of COVID-19, have been wrong. However, the impending economic crash, social harms on high-risk populations, and devastation to our fundamental civil liberties are very real and substantiated. If our leaders on a state and local level fail to respond to these threats immediately, the loss of livelihoods and loss of lives due to increased suicide, domestic violence and child abuse will continue to spiral.
Thank you for your continued service to our community during this unprecedented time. We urge you to seriously consider these recommendations and look forward to working with you to help Gilbert continue to be the greatest place in America to raise a family and grow a business for the next 100 years.
Councilmember Jared L. Taylor
Councilmember Aimee Yentes