Jim Torgeson, who owns a Mesa sign-making business, filed the suit in Maricopa County Superior Court, naming the Town of Gilbert and each member of the town council in their capacity as a council member.
The suit alleges the town removed in September at least 57 signs Torgeson made asking voters to defeat the bond, and the suit argues the action denied Torgeson his free speech rights in a significant manner that could have affected the outcome of a tight election.
The measure, Gilbert Question 1, passed by 0.4%, or 164 votes, on the November mail-in ballot. Gilbert Town Council accepted the canvass at its Nov. 16 meeting on a 5-2 vote with council members Laurin Hendrix and Aimee Yentes voting in dissent because of election interference concerns.
Because the measure challenges the election results, Torgeson, through his attorney Timothy LaSota, requested a prompt hearing within 10 days of the defendants’ response.
In a statement emailed to Community Impact Newspaper, town spokesperson Jennifer Harrison has received the complaint and the town attorney’s office is reviewing it.
“The town strongly disagrees with the legal and factual assertions made in the lawsuit and is confident that the election results will be upheld,” Harrison wrote.
Torgeson referred comment to LaSota, who could not be immediately reached.
According to the lawsuit, Torgeson put the signs up in town rights of way on or about Sept. 15. The signs indicated they were paid for by a private citizen and gave a phone number but did not indicate who the citizen was.
The town told Torgeson it was removing the signs because they were illegal without the name of who paid for them, according to the lawsuit. LaSota argues that the town is incorrectly interpreting the law and, furthermore, it really removed the signs because of the message’s anti-bond measure content.
A Sept. 23 email from Torgeson to the town challenged the town’s reasoning for removal and asked the signs be put back up.
The lawsuit also challenges town statements about the removal by including a number of town emails Torgeson received through Freedom of Information Act requests.
One email, dated Sept. 29 from Town Attorney Christopher Payne to LaSota, said the town strongly disagrees with LaSota’s interpretations of state statutes on the legality of the signs but would not remove any more signs.
Later signs from Torgeson included his name in the disclosure.
The lawsuit also compares the town’s treatment of Torgeson's signs to signs against mayoral candidate Matt Nielsen from the November 2020 election. The suit alleges those signs also did not say who paid for them but were not removed, and it argues that it was because Nielsen was not the town’s favored candidate. Brigette Peterson defeated Nielsen for the office by a 57%-43% margin.
The lawsuit further alleges the town used the election publicity pamphlet’s informational section to campaign for the bond by framing the "Frequently Asked Questions" in a way that argued for the bond’s passage.
The bond package was originally set to go before voters in November 2020 but was delayed until 2021 because of COVID-19. Town officials have said the town is using its last monies from 2007 bonds on current infrastructure projects and that road projects to address growth, safety and traffic flow will thus come to a halt without more bond money.