July 22, 2004
Gilbert leaders feigned a sense of shock and outrage over Maricopa County negotiations to sell a portion of San Tan Mountains Regional Park to the Gila River Indian Community, say park activists and a top Pinal County official.
Contrary to Gilbert’s assertions that the town was not told about meetings to negotiate the sale of about 1,200 acres of park land, Pinal County Supervisor Sandie Smith, D-District 2 of Gold Canyon, and Queen Creek-area residents said a Gilbert lobbyist set up a meeting in mid-May and tried to dissuade them from supporting the sale.
Gilbert lobbyist Brian Townsend did not tell her about the meeting, held in her district, although she attended, Smith said.
"I said, ‘How would you like it if I held a public meeting in Gilbert and didn’t tell you?’ " Smith said she asked Townsend. "He just shrugged his shoulders."
Park activist Ron Luttenegger said Townsend approached him in April and asked him to set up a public meeting May 18 in northern Pinal County.
Townsend said he did "caution" residents about the consequences of the $8 million sale, which would give the Gila River community control of the land.
However, Townsend said residents invited him to the meeting, and that he wasn’t aware of the sale negotiations until Smith told him.
Since Maricopa County officials announced plans in late June to sell the park’s "south finger," Gilbert officials have criticized the county for not telling municipalities or the public about the sale negotiations.
In early June, Gilbert passed a resolution urging Maricopa County to seek more public input before voting on the sale. Mesa passed a similar resolution last week. Queen Creek passed one Wednesday night.