Attorney General’s Office finds Gilbert mayor, council member violated open meeting law

Gilbert Public Safety Training Facility exterior with town of Gilbert logo
The logo on the Gilbert Public Safety Training Facility was at the subject of emails that the Arizona Attorney General's Office says violated the state's opening meeting law. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

The logo on the Gilbert Public Safety Training Facility was at the subject of emails that the Arizona Attorney General's Office says violated the state's opening meeting law. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson and Council Member Scott Anderson were found to have violated Arizona’s open meeting law in an email discussion about the town logo’s placement on the Public Safety Training Facility.

The finding comes from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in a letter from Assistant Attorney General Katherine Jessen to the Gilbert Town Council and Town Attorney Christopher Payne.

As a remedy, Jessen directed that the contents of the violation letter be shared with the public at an upcoming council meeting and that any statement read to the public then must be approved by the Attorney General’s Office.

Arizona’s open meeting law requires that meetings of public bodies be conducted openly and that notices and agendas be provided for such meetings that inform the public of the matters to be discussed, according to the Arizona Ombudsman’s Office.

Jessen’s letter notes that meetings include any one-way communication from a member of a public body to a quorum of members of the body that involves a discussion, deliberation or taking of legal action by the body in a matter that is likely to come before the body for action. However, just asking for an item to be put on an agenda is not a violation.

In the Gilbert case, Peterson emailed the council May 17, 2021, asking for their thoughts on the spending of funds for putting the logo on the PSTF exterior and whether that was an appropriate use of town funds.

Peterson has frequently publicly expressed a disdain for the new logo, which was unveiled in 2020 for the town’s centennial.

“I know I was told to ‘move on’ and ‘get over it’ but there are things happening with this logo that are not appropriate and I’m appalled,” Peterson wrote in the email.

Anderson replied to all on the email the next morning, stating his understanding of what council agreed to for logo use and that he was not surprised by the usage.

“I hope we can just move on,” Anderson concluded.

Anderson acknowledged the violation in a text message to Community Impact Newspaper.

"I pushed 'reply all,' which sent it to the entire council," Anderson wrote. "I know better than to do that, but I did and take responsibility for doing it."

Two other council members replied but not to a quorum of the council.

Council Member Laurin Hendrix opened in a reply only to Peterson that “we need to be careful about open meeting laws” then wrote that it appeared council’s past direction had not been followed.

Peterson replied to Hendrix, “Thank you, I assumed people would write back individually.”

Council Member Scott September did not reply to Peterson, but forwarded the email to Town Manager Patrick Banger, without copying anyone, that he was “deeply concerned” about the logo’s placement on the facility.

Independently of that, Banger, who was included on the original email, forwarded it to Payne and suggested that council members be advised not to reply all on the email because of open meeting law. However, Anderson had already done so moments before Banger sent his email.

In an email to Jessen dated Oct. 27, Payne sent copies of all the emails to the Attorney General’s Office and noted he and Town Clerk Chaveli Herrera had scheduled training on open meeting law for the town council retreat in November.

Payne wrote that in his capacity as town attorney, his “advice is construed in favor of open and public access to records and meetings.”

Jessen’s letter April 14 stated that she considered the training, as well as the readily available documentation of any other violations and council’s response, in determining the remedy.

In an email to Community Impact Newspaper, town spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison wrote that the Town Attorney’s Office has advised that this will be put on a future town council agenda as required by the letter. Peterson said she would withhold any comment until then.

Jessen concluded her letter noting that it related only to the disposition of the complaint and is not a formal opinion of the Attorney General’s Office and should not be cited as authority in other matters.

Calls to the Attorney General’s Office were not immediately returned.
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.