The Gilbert Town Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to rescind a 4-month-old policy that bound it to commission oil portraits of all future mayors unless one was donated to the town.
Since the policy was adopted the same night the council adopted a sales tax increase thatalso was later rescinded, members have been intermittently struggling with where to display the portraits donated by local artist Leslie Golden Cooper of the town's first two directly elected mayors, Wilburn Brown and Cynthia Dunham.
The artist's husband, former Town Manager Kent Cooper, said Wednesday the paintings were donated with the stipulation that if the town decided they didn't want them, they could simply go to the mayors' families, "no harm, no foul."
"I never thought it would become political, which I think it is right now," said Kent Cooper. His wife is traveling out of state this week, he said.
After the Gilbert Human Relations, Arts and Culture Commission recommended they be displayed in the town's Development Services Building, Councilman Steve Urie said he would rather have them in the Municipal Center, 50 E. Civic Center Drive, where the council chambers and other high-proflie offices are located.
Beyond that, he was worried about running out of display space. Participating in the meeting via telephone, Urie asked current Mayor John Lewis, "If someone wanted to do a full-body portrait of you, from head to toe, with your hand on the Bible like George Washington, would we be obligated to accept and display it?"
Vice Mayor Linda Abbott said any donations would fall under town policy giving the council the option to accept or decline any donated art.
Urie said mandating oil paintings of future mayors would slight those who have served in the past, currently memorialized by an 8-inch-by-11-inch photograph in the lobby of the council chambers. Brown, who took office in 1992, was Gilbert's first directly elected mayor; before that the seven Town Council members chose someone from within their ranks to take that role for a two-year term.
The cost of mounting the existing portraits has been estimated at less than $2,500. Leslie Golden Cooper has begun a third painting of former Mayor Steve Berman, but it likely won't be completed for months because she goes in for surgery Monday to relieve arthritis in her hands, Kent Cooper said.
Berman said Monday he hadn't expected Cooper to offer to do a portrait of him. But since the tradition was being continued, he said he would like to see it carried on with future mayors, in a town and nation perceived by many as not having much of a past.
"I just got back from China, and they have this amazing history there, and we just have to build the same thing here," he said.