Gilbert’s Town Council did not violate the state Open Meetings Law when it reconsidered a vote on a developer agreement more than two hours after an original vote, in an effort to allow a required public hearing, according to a review by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Council members received letters this week alerting them that a complaint had been rejected.
The complaint was filed Sept. 14 by David Molina with the Valley Business Owners (and Concerned Citizens), who pointed to a comment made by Town Attorney Susan Goodwin at the end of the April 3 meeting.
Goodwin said she made a mistake having the council vote early, during the “consent agenda” portion of the meeting on an agreement with Vestar Development to repay the developer about $9.7 million in sales taxes for expanding Higley and Riggs roads for its shopping center. She directed the council to vote again on the agreement during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
Council members said no one at the meeting had filed a request to speak on the agreement, and no one spoke during either vote.
Valley Business members later collected enough signatures to place the agreement on Tuesday’s ballot, arguing that the public did not get a fair chance to debate the proposal. Members Fred Phillis and Jan Hibbard said the agreement itself sounded financially fair, but left questions unanswered with the lack of public comment.
The agreement was approved Tuesday by a vote of 68 percent, according to unofficial election results.
Council members called the rejection of the complaint a victory and suggested that Valley Business was harming its image in town.
“We have never refused a citizen from talking about an issue, whether it’s on the consent agenda or during the public hearing,” Vice Mayor Steve Urie said.
Phillis said in an e-mail that Valley Business disagrees with Assistant Attorney General Casey Cullings’ decision that the complaint did not merit an investigation.
In letters between Cullings and Molina, Cullings argues that the Open Meetings Law allows items to be moved on and off the “consent agenda” portion of the meeting, which typically consists of items that the council has not asked to discuss. Cullings adds that other items were pulled from the consent agenda during that same meeting.
Molina argues in a letter in response that this vote was different, since it was pulled for a required vote, long after an original vote took place, and after the public left — people who may not have realized that the vote was about a tax incentive since it was not noticed as one.
In response, Cullings states in an Oct. 9 letter the Open Meetings Law doesn’t guarantee the right for the public to comment.