Gilbert Town Council accepts USS Arizona municipal sponsorship, bans retail marijuana stores

Bill Spence
Council Member Bill Spence condemned racism, discrimination and white supremacy in his remarks at his final Gilbert Town Council meeting Oct. 13. (Screenshot courtesy town of Gilbert)

Council Member Bill Spence condemned racism, discrimination and white supremacy in his remarks at his final Gilbert Town Council meeting Oct. 13. (Screenshot courtesy town of Gilbert)

Gilbert Town Council voted unanimously Oct. 13 to accept an invitation to become the USS Arizona submarine’s sponsor city.

Ship sponsor Nikki Stratton previously had extended the invitation to the town by letter on the occasion of the town’s July 6 centennial and again in person at a council meeting Sept. 15. But this was the first time the council could act on the invitation because it required being on the agenda.

The submarine, which has yet to be built, is being named after the battleship that sank at Pearl Harbor. Nikki Stratton’s grandfather, Donald Stratton, was among the last living survivors of the ship before he died in February.

Sponsorship of the submarine requires no funds from the town, and fundraising for any activities will be done through the Navy League of the United States-Phoenix chapter. As the sponsor city, Gilbert will act as a ceremonial hometown for the submarine crew.

Council Member Bill Spence, a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, urged acceptance of the invitation, noting Stratton already had shone a positive light on Gilbert with her comments about the town.

Marijuana store ordinance passes

Council also unanimously adopted a ordinance that will prohibit retail marijuana establishments in town stores that sell recreational marijuana if Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, passes on the November ballot, legalizing recreational use of marijuana in the state for those over age 21.

The ordinance would also prohibit the use of marijuana at public facilities. The use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in the state, and Gilbert has two medical marijuana dispensaries in town. Those would not be affected by the ordinance.

The ordinance would further prohibit testing facilities in town and the use, sale, cultivation, manufacturing, production, storage and distribution of marijuana on property the town occupies, owns, controls or operates.

Some council members expressed hope Proposition 207 will fail but felt this ordinance was important to protect the town if the proposition passes.

Staff noted the town had received 81 comment cards on the item, with 78 opposing the proposed ordinance. Three comment cards and one speaker at the meeting supported it.

Sales tax revenue

Budget Director Kelly Pfost presented the latest sales tax collection numbers showing the town continues to show growth from the previous year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest monthly collections from August sales were up 5% from August 2019, Pfost said. She recommended the town open its full budget, one that projects no sales tax growth for the year, but continue to monitor revenues coming in.

Council Member Jared Taylor urged a more conservative approach and wondered if some of the numbers were inflated by government stimulus programs.

Town Manager Patrick Banger said the town will continue to send monthly updates to council and is monitoring some funds, such as for development, even more frequently than a monthly basis.

Spence leaves parting comments

Spence gave some parting comments on the occasion of his last council meeting, urging residents to “elect those that have proven themselves to be a servant leader through action not words.”

Spence, appointed in March to succeed Eddie Cook, will be replaced by Laurin Hendrix, who defeated Spence in August to fill the final two years of Cook’s term. A judge has ruled Hendrix can take the seat Nov. 3.

In his comments, Spence bemoaned political division that he said has made people afraid to serve or to even express an opinion or post a yard sign. He opposed defunding the police and flag burning but strongly condemned racism, discrimination and white supremacy.

“I am a gun owner, and I carry often,” Spence said. “However, I believe that armed individuals dressed in camouflage and carrying a Confederate flag are promoting a message of hatred and intolerance. These tactics are intended to intimidate and invoke fear and only serve as a disgusting reminder of one of the darkest times in American history.”

Spence said it has been a blessing to serve on council and thanked council, staff and residents.

“Some know that I pray for the same thing before every meeting,” Spence said. “I pray for wisdom, courage and strength: wisdom to make the best possible decision, courage to communicate my decisions and even change my mind when appropriate, and strength to stand by and defend the decisions that I know in my heart are in the best interest of our town, even when challenged. To my friends and colleagues on the dais, I will continue to say this prayer for you.”

Other business

  • Finance and Management Services Director Hakon Johanson told council that Gilbert’s utility delinquencies are lower than other Valley cities with Avondale being an exception. The town stopped disconnections after March 10 but made an effort in August to contact people behind on their accounts. Staff is recommending a return to regular services by Jan. 1.

  • Council upheld a Gilbert Planning Commission vote that approved design plans for a ballfield for Gilbert Christian School at Greenfield and Ryan roads. The approval had been appealed by a nearby homeowner because of how the plans affected a water line and easement to her and neighbors’ homes.

  • Deputy Town Clerk Chaveli Herrera was appointed town clerk to begin after Lisa Maxwell’s retirement in November.

By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.