Gilbert is once again getting ready to host a celebration of the U.S. Constitution's birthday, with the Town Council once again getting ready to debateits proper role in an event that draws up to 10,000 people.
The committee behind Constitution Week USA will appear at tonight's council meeting to ask for the public safety personnel and street barricade signs that will be needed for next month's festivities.
The event's founder, Bill Norton, said he's been trying over the last seven years to reduce Gilbert's role in Constitution Week.
"This is my passion, and they shouldn't use taxpayer money to pay for something that's my passion, just as I wouldn't want my money to pay for something that I'm not passionate about," he said.
The centerpiece Constitution Fair will be Sept. 20 at Highland High School, 4301 E. Guadalupe Road, featuring a "town hall" section for public information booths, a fireworks display and musical entertainment from the Lowe family of Branson, Mo.
An Eagle Scout clinic and a World War II-themed musical play are also scheduled.
According to a Gilbert staff report, resources donated by the town to last year's event amounted to $20,520, almost all of it for on-duty police officers and street signs.
In its formative years, Gilbert Constitution Week made more use of town facilities, showing movies in the council chambers and holding Eagle Scout clinics in McQueen Recreational Center.
Town Councilman Steve Urie said it's a different matter for the town to staff games and other functions for the Gilbert Unified School District, which allows the town to use its facilities in return, than to do the same for a private, nonprofit organization.
"OK, if we provide that protection for that assemblage, the question becomes: Do they have to pay for it?" Urie said.
"That's probably going to be the discussion (tonight)."
Dave Petersen, a former town councilman who serves on the Constitution Week USA committee with Norton, said the question shouldn't be that difficult to answer.
"The only things we're asking for are those specifically required things, such as when you have 10,000 people in one place," he said.
"It's safe to assume they're all paying taxes for police protection, so we would expect the town to fulfill their required duties and send a couple policemen."
Norton agrees with Petersen's position on the police protection, but says the committee will be footing the bill for everything else, even though sponsorships are harder to come by this year.
Besides police protection, the other key public issue involving Constitution Week has been the exercise of free speech.
Democrats have complained in past years of being excluded from the fair's lineup of public information booths and a policy of only allowing "positive" speech.
Glenn Ray, a Democratic state Legislature candidate this year and in 2006 for Gilbert's District 22, said that partisan tensions over Constitution Week have been smoothed over and that his campaign treasurer is sitting on the committee this year.
"All the hurdles we had to jump in '06 are not an issue in 2008," he said.
Norton said "Gilbert" has been dropped from the event's official name in favor of "Constitution Week USA," in order to reflect the group's role over the last three years in distributing Constitution-related items to some 120,000 public schools nationwide - although no nationwide distribution is planned for this year, due to a drop in the number of sponsorships.