Council voted 6-0, with Peterson abstaining, to accept Tucson attorney Frank Cassidy’s findings, which found some incidents of what he characterized as poor judgment that did not rise to the level of an ethics violation. He dismissed other complaints.
Peterson apologized to Gilbert residents and her fellow council members for the moment of poor judgment and said she has been working to grow and learn.
“There was never any malice in any of the choices I made,” an emotional Peterson said. “My heart and soul go into this community every single day. I am committed to always doing what is best for Gilbert.”
Peterson said she has been devastated by the angry vitriol in the community and challenged the way some people have disrespected others through this period and across the nation.
“I intend to build bridges and continue to run this town with Gilbert kindness,” she said.
The complaints were about her handling of resident complaints about a Morrison Ranch-area apartment development proposal, a town employee’s complaints about her creating a toxic work environment, a proposal to change the way public comment is handled at council meetings and her not allowing public comment on a consent agenda item at a council meeting.
Cassidy by phone reviewed his findings for council outlining why he dismissed some complaints and where he believed Peterson exercised poor judgment.
Council Member Laurin Hendrix said he regretted the whole situation and the position it has put the town in, but he critically reviewed the complaints for nearly 40 minutes, taking some exception with Cassidy’s findings.
“I am comfortable I did everything I could to help prevent the problem and to help with the problem once it started, and I continue to feel the same way” Hendrix said. “But to turn your head and say there isn’t a problem, and this doesn’t stink—if that’s what we choose to do tonight, good luck.”
Nonetheless, Hendrix voted to accept the findings.
Other council members were less critical and expressed misgivings about the way the case played out in the community.
“I agree with Council Member Hendrix—this stinks,” Council Member Scott Anderson said. “But the reason it stinks is because no matter what we do tonight, this community is going to suffer for it, and I’m ashamed of that. No matter what we do, one side is going to be upset, and the other side is going to be satisfied, so we’re just going to continue to go after each other. That upsets me deeply.”
Council Member Kathy Tilque said she was concerned about the community and what brought forth an investigation but accepted her apology and said she believed Peterson will learn to do better.
“In some respects, those who submitted their complaints were looking for a pound of flesh, and I think they should feel they got that tonight publicly,” Tilque said.
Tilque read a statement calling for the community to do better and included herself in that assessment.
After she read it, Tilque said she wrote her comments prior to signs appearing in town that condemned her vote to approve a town benefits package that included coverage for gender reassignment surgery. Similar signs have been posted about Peterson and tie the issue to the town’s $515 million streets, transportation and infrastructure bond proposal that is on the November ballot.
Tilque said she believes the will of the people was upheld that night when the motion on the benefits package failed, and she honored her colleagues’ decision.
“But it’s such a sad day today as one individual attempts to erase the work of a community advocate for the pure pleasure of misleading the public during a crucial election, and this person would not care that those I love would be hurt by this, including my innocent grandchildren,” she said. “Shame on you.”
Hendrix also condemned the signs against Tilque, noting her work for the community, that she was not running for election and that the signs were illegal.
Council Member Aimee Yentes, attending by phone, said she accepted the investigation findings as fair and made the motion to accept them.
During public comment, two of the complainants, sign company owner Jim Torgeson and marketing consultant Ryan Handelsman, blistered Peterson for her lack of leadership. Torgeson also spoke at the review of the ethics complaints to challenge some of the findings.
Council unanimously approved a minor general plan amendment to allow for slightly higher density at a planned development called Cottage Lane located south of the southwest corner of Greenfield and Elliot roads. Neighbors to the development expressed concerns about the added density and traffic as well as some privacy concerns. However, council members agreed with the developer that it was a good infill project that was not high density, and the traffic concerns were independent of the development. Council members did call on staff to see what could be done to address traffic in the area. Anderson used the situation to illustrate why the town was asking for the bond.
Peterson passed on making comments at the end of the meeting, noting that council still had an executive session with a number of items on it while the regular meeting had stretched past 10 p.m. Earlier in the day, Peterson had released a statement calling for an independent investigation into questions about whether some staff members had used town resources to promote their personal political agenda and had condemned others with differing political viewpoints. She had indicated she would address the item in her comments at the meeting.