Town Council looks to end ongoing ethics complaints

Patrick Banger, Chris Payne, Chaveli Herrera
Town Attorney Chris Payne (center) addresses Gilbert Town Council on Nov. 2 about gray areas in code in the handling of ethics complaints while Town Manager Patrick Banger (left) takes notes and Town Clerk Chaveli Herrera looks on. (Screen capture from YouTube)

Town Attorney Chris Payne (center) addresses Gilbert Town Council on Nov. 2 about gray areas in code in the handling of ethics complaints while Town Manager Patrick Banger (left) takes notes and Town Clerk Chaveli Herrera looks on. (Screen capture from YouTube)

Gilbert Town Council moved to squash an ongoing litany of complaints it now considers “frivolous" after a sixth complaint was filed against Mayor Brigette Peterson.

Council voted unanimously to add a provision to town code to allow such ethics complaints to be dismissed administratively in 10 calendar days and without further investigation unless the mayor or at least three council members wanted to hear the complaint. Council did, however, give direction to staff that it wanted a full review of the town’s code of ethics for council and boards, committees and commissions, which will be brought back for council study.

The new complaint comes on the heels of five complaints made against the mayor. An independent investigation found Peterson had not committed any ethics violations but had exercised poor judgment in some instances, and the council voted unanimously, with Peterson recused, on Oct. 19 to accept the report.

The previous ethics 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.

The latest complaint, filed Oct. 29, sprang from the investigation.

Council Member Scott Anderson expressed frustration that, coming soon after a drawn-out investigation and hearing, another complaint was filed on “essentially the same thing.”

“It would be a waste of our time and a waste of taxpayer time and money to just rehash the same things,” he said. “When we know we are seeing some frivolous complaints like that we can dismiss them without having to spend the time and money having them researched, a report written and having them debated in public.”

Anderson said he was concerned that without moving to make a change quickly, similar complaints would continue to be filed that would waste money.

Town Attorney Chris Payne said there was no way in current code to administratively dismiss a complaint, which gave rise to the idea of adding a 10-day “shot clock” for council to decide if it wanted to hear a complaint or allow it to be dismissed administratively.

Payne noted that code says the clerk may put the complaint on the agenda but does not require the clerk or anyone to do so. But the code also calls for council to discuss the complaint, creating a gray area to be addressed, he said.

Council Member Laurin Hendrix called for change in how the complaints come to be considered.

“[Under current code] essentially anyone, not even a Gilbert citizen, is able to agendize some topic, no matter how far-fetched it is,” he said. “A single elected council member cannot put an item on the agenda. But absolutely anyone on the planet could call something an ethics complaint, and it would require us to discuss it at a public meeting. If not a single council member wants to discuss it, it shouldn’t be on our agenda. This isn’t a meeting of the public. It’s a meeting of the council held in public.”

The latest complaint can be formally dismissed by council if it is put on the agenda or could be allowed to die if three council members do not ask for it to be placed on an agenda, Payne said.

Other items

Council approved on 5-2 votes contracts for Americans with Disabilities Act improvements in the Heritage District and for work plus a change order on the Municipal Building I renovations. Council Members Hendrix and Aimee Yentes voted in dissent with Yentes saying the high costs were her reason for voting against the contracts.

In study session, council reviewed guidelines for uses of the town logo adopted last year. The guidelines mostly allow for the logo to be used on items deemed temporary in nature while avoiding use on permanent exterior and interior fixtures.
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.


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