Gilbert Town Council is considering forming a community relations committee that could address racial and other issues in town.

No action was taken at council’s Sept. 15 meeting, but Mayor Scott Anderson summarized council comments as being in favor of creating the committee.

“What I'm hearing is there is a consensus and to go forward and take a look at this, but what I'm also hearing is the scope of it needs to be very well-defined,” Anderson said. “I just want to make sure we're going into this with eyes wide open.”

The committee would be a successor to the Gilbert Human Relations Commission, which the town dissolved in 2017.

Council Member Jared Taylor, in reviewing the HRC’s history, said he believed it failed for lack of direction but saw an opportunity for a committee to do some good in town in the current climate.

The discussion took place on a night when a racial justice protest was held outside Municipal Building I, where council chambers are. Several protestors also condemned the council during public comment for failing to act or make an anti-racism statement in the wake of competing Thursday night protests at the corner of Gilbert and Warner roads near town hall.

Black Lives Matter and a group that started as a Blue Lives Matter gathering have been protesting from opposite corners at the intersection, police said, but the protests boiled over into confrontations in late August.

Black Lives Matter members said their group endured racist taunts, threats and even had some members assaulted on a night when two people were arrested. The size of the Thursday protests has been dwindling since then, officials said.

Vice Mayor Yung Koprowski and Mayor Scott Anderson told those speakers asking during the public comment period for an immediate statement condemning racism that the state law prevented council members for making any response to public comment if an item was not on the agenda.

Since the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose death in Minneapolis police custody sparked nationwide protests, former Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels on June 2 called on officials and town members to listen to what was being said about racial justice.

Daniels then created “Listen. Learn. Act. Amplify.” initiative. The plan started with the creation of Gilbert’s Listening Spaces, a series of forums that asked the community to share their stories, experiences and feedback with police officers, town leadership and Gilbert school districts.

However, public commenters at the Sept. 15 meeting said the forums have been ineffective in bringing about change and keeping local people of color safe.

On Aug. 11, the same day that Daniels resigned as mayor, Bus Obayomi, who had lost an election bid to Town Council the previous week, spoke during public comment and asked council to bring back the HRC.

Each council member spoke positively about forming a committee, and some suggested purposes beyond just racial justice.

I believe this committee, if stood up, could also support community events, neighborhood services, and also weigh in on any public engagement on various projects from multiple departments,” Koprowski said. “I think there's a lot of places that this could go, but I agree with the other statements about making sure that there's specific direction, but then maybe enough flexibility that it can ebb and flow as needed.”

Town Manager Patrick Banger told council he would have staff work up something for council to review at a future council meeting.

CARES Act subcommittee

Economic Development Director Dan Henderson presented to council an update on work a town subcommittee has been doing on distributing the town’s money granted from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known commonly as the CARES Act.

Henderson said the town is looking at a three-phased program focused on “relief, recovery and resiliency.”

The relief phase would include $11 million for business grants to help Gilbert businesses experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic remain viable.

Recovery is focused on distributing $5 million businesses loans to enhance business recovery by “bridging the gap” between other loan programs and the revenue losses local businesses have experienced during the pandemic and shutdowns.

Resiliency is $2 million for technical assistance to provide businesses with access to experts and proven programs that will improve business operations.

Council Member Aimee Yentes, who chairs the subcommittee, asked council for feedback on the direction the subcommittee was taking, based on Henderson’s presentation. The feedback was positive with Anderson saying that if there was any red tape involved in getting the funding to businesses, they need to cut it so the money could get out quickly.

Micromobility pilot program update

Gilbert continues to have scooters from one company operating in town under its micromobility pilot program, Transportation Planner Nichole McCarty told council.

Bird, which dropped scooters in town Nov. 18, 2018, without consulting the town, continues to operate within the town’s pilot program. Council gave approval to the program, which established operating fees, updated town code and placed limits on where the scooters could be operated and parked, on March 7, 2019, the same day scooter company Lime also dropped in its vehicles in town without consulting the town.

McCarty said Bird continues to operate some scooters in town, though it redeployed where they are in town in July. Lime ceased operations in town as it moved away from serving suburban communities.

Neither company has had any program violations, and McCarty said Bird has been responsive to the town and paid its fees on time.

Banger said the program needs to continue so the town can gather more data, as the coronavirus environment has slowed the use of the scooters and given the town little data with which to work.

In other business

  • Council removed from town code Gilbert Road between Guadalupe and Elliot roads as a designated truck route through town. The area encompasses the Heritage District, and the town cited traffic congestion and safety concerns for the action.

  • Council approved revisions to code regarding indemnification of town officers and employees when they are sued from acts relating to town business. Council will no longer have to act upon each case separately, but there are conditions to be met. The revisions came in the wake of Council Member-elect Laurin Hendrix’s lawsuit against the town, Town Clerk Lisa Maxwell and Council Member Bill Spence.

  • Council approved cost-of-living increases of 2.5% for its municipal court associate judges.