The Gilbert Town Council appointed a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander March 17 to be its next council member.

Bill Spence, a resident of the town for the past 10 years, will fill Eddie Cook’s former seat for the remainder of 2020. Cook resigned Feb. 18 after his appointment as Maricopa County assessor.

Spence already is collecting nominating signatures for a run at filling the remainder of Cook’s term when the seat comes open for election in August.

“I’m a believer that you don’t seek politics; politics finds you, and you happen to be there and you go forward,” Spence said March 18 after his appointment. “I have never turned down a call to serve.”

In his application for the appointment, Spence expressed a desire for Gilbert to maintain its small-town identity while it enjoys big-city prosperity.

Spence said during his interview at the March 17 special council meeting that he saw the role of state government as to efficiently execute the will of the people. He said basic services, management of infrastructure, public safety, upholding the law and administering justice, revenue management and zoning were all parts of that role.

Spence also emphasized communication with and education of residents as it works on issues. He said communication would be vital as the town emerges from the coronavirus crisis.

“I am going to jump in with everything I’ve got,” Spence said. “I am the kind of person who takes ownership of things quickly. I feel the concern of the town now and have seen it while campaigning, with town issues certainly but also now the coronavirus issues, like childcare and the businesses. It’s imperative to be a calming presence.”

One way he is already doing it is on social media, where Spence has started what he calls a “Tip 25” campaign to urge people to tip 25% to service industry workers now, instead of the normal 15 or 20%, to help them during this tight time.

At his council interview, Spence told the story of a meeting he had with a Deloitte executive about the firm’s decision to put a location in Gilbert. He said the factors the executive listed as attracting the company to Gilbert are the ones that could help the town bring in another such employer and must be maintained.

In his military career, Spence said he served on seven submarines and two aircraft carriers and spent 85 percent of his time at sea. Included in his service is time spent in charge of all maintenance on the USS Nimitz, the oldest carrier in the fleet. He compared that job to being a town manager on a smaller scale.

When he retired in 2010, he said, he never wanted to commit to anything that would prevent him from taking his children to school. He has a 24-year-old daughter working as an industrial engineer in North Carolina and a 16-year-old son in Gilbert Public Schools. He has been involved in PTAs, his homeowners association and in tutoring, among other activities.

Spence said he recently got to hear from former U.S. Secretary of Defense and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, and one thing Mattis said sticks with him as he starts on council.

“He said, ‘Listen with the prospect of being persuaded,’” Spence said. “I think that’s what we ought to be doing right now.”

Spence was one of 105 applicants for the position, which the council quickly narrowed to eight for the interviews. The interviews were closed to the public for people to see in person because of coronavirus concerns but were carried live on local cable access Channel 11 or on webex audio for people to call in and listen.

Spence said he met some of the other applicants as they awaited their interviews and was impressed as a resident with the quality of people who were ready to serve the town.

Two-year seat

By state law, the town must hold an election to fill Cook’s seat for when new terms start in January.

Along with Spence, former Arizona legislator Laurin Hendrix; Robert Ferron, vice chair of the Gilbert Parks and Recreation Board; and attorney Jen Ward have filed Statements of Interest in running for the two-year seat.

They must collect and file 1,000 valid signatures on nominating positions by 5 p.m. April 6 to qualify for the ballot. The primary election is Aug. 4.

More appointments possible

For the other seven candidates interviewed March 17, there may be a second chance. Council Members Jordan Ray and Brigette Peterson are collecting signatures to run for justice of the peace for the Highland Justice Court and mayor, respectively, and would have to resign to run if they collect the necessary signatures.

Because of the timing of those two resignations, their vacancies would be filled by appointments that would last through 2022. Mayor Jenn Daniels has said she prefers the council use this pool of applicants to fill those potential vacancies because of the time crunch in replacing the members leaving the council.

Other positions

Seven people are collecting signatures to run for two seats that are open for four-year terms. They are incumbent Scott Anderson; Tyler Hudgins, Heritage District Redevelopment Commission chair; political newcomers Charles Jackson, Monique Keberlein and Busola Obayomi; Gilbert Citizens Transportation Task Force member Yung Koprowski; and Kathy Tilque, Gilbert Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

Koprowski was one of the eight finalists interviewed March 17 for the 2020 appointment to Cook’s seat.

Five people are collecting signatures to run for mayor. Along with Peterson are businesswoman Lynne King Smith; commercial banker Gary Livacari; Matthew Nielsen, who works in charter school support; and Sandra Reynolds, an archery coach and former school teacher.

Mayor Jenn Daniels announced Feb. 3 she would not seek re-election.