Gilbert Leaders Apologize For ‘Enemy List’ Ranking Residents

Gilbert Leaders Apologize For ‘Enemy List’ Ranking Residents

By Corinne Murdock |

Last Wednesday, the town of Gilbert apologized for creating a document ranking residents based on their support or opposition of a road widening project. 

Maricopa County island resident Rich Robertson presented the document to the Gilbert Town Council during last week’s meeting item discussing the project. The document listed the affected homeowners, their parcel, their address, the landowners’ stance on the project, and a “vocal level” of 1-4. A rating of “1” indicated the resident was among the most vocal in opposition, while a rating of “4” indicated that the resident was reasonable.

“The town of Gilbert has created, effectively, an enemies list,” said Robertson. “Why are we as residents — who are trying to exercise our rights — being ranked by your staff on how compliant we are with you? This is, I suspect, not how the council really wants its residents to be treated. I think it’s outrageous.”

The city issued an apology statement last Wednesday from Public Works Director Jessica Marlow. 

Marlow apologized for using the “vocal level” category, and said that the intent wasn’t to label anyone. She explained that the intent was to prepare city leaders for meetings with affected homeowners last October. Marlow admitted that the document should’ve been named differently, in hindsight. 

“It was meant to help staff better understand how to address concerns ahead of the meetings,” wrote Marlow.

Awareness of the issue was made possible due to three freshman council members who placed the item on last week’s agenda: Jim Torgeson, Chuck Bongiovanni, and Bobbi Buchli. The trio and Mayor Brigette Peterson vocalized their dismay over the document. The mayor noted that she wasn’t aware of the document before the meeting, and apologized.

“I don’t know anything about it, and I am just appalled that something like that might be going around,” stated Peterson. “I do believe that you don’t deserve any of that. I apologize for that.”

Robertson, who was rated a “2,” rejected the city’s claim that the classification wasn’t intended as a list of enemies.

“I think that’s what leads to those kinds of characterizations,” said Robertson. “It certainly wasn’t inadvertent. It was clear that it (the document) was intended to identify the people who were problems and to steel themselves against those people.”

Robertson speculated that he received the “2” ranking due to writing letters frequently to the council. 

The project that inspired so much controversy about residents intended to widen Ocotillo Road into a 110-foot right-of-way. The expansion would require several new bridges to span a section of missing roadway. It was included in the FY2023-2032 Capital Improvement Plan, with funds from 2022 General Obligation (Transportation) Bonds.

Watch the discussion of the “vocal level” controversy below:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Gilbert Mayor, Council Hit With Claim For Alleged 1st Amendment Violations

Gilbert Mayor, Council Hit With Claim For Alleged 1st Amendment Violations

By Terri Jo Neff |

An order last month by Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson for town police officers to remove three people from a council meeting has resulted in a notice of claim being served against town officials for First Amendment violations.

A notice of claim is required under Arizona law before a party can initiate a lawsuit against a public entity. On Thursday, such a notice was served on the Gilbert mayor and council members on behalf of Ryan Handelsman, Dr. Brandon Ryff, and Joanne Terry, who contend they were forced out of Sept. 20 town council meeting for engaging in constitutionally protected speech.

According to attorney Tim La Sota, his three clients attended the meeting during which dozens of protest signs were taken into the council chambers. Some of the signs were printed with the phrase “Stop Lying” while others read “Don’t Mesa My Gilbert.”

Peterson interrupted the meeting at one point and ordered a Gilbert police officer to remove a 6-inch by 24-inch “Stop Lying” sign Terry was holding in the back of the room. Terry set the sign down and the officer did not confiscate it.

A short time later, Handelsman addressed the mayor and council during the call to the public to challenge town officials to cite a statute or code being violated by those holding signs. Then Handelsman, Ryff, and Terry each decided to silently hold their signs.

“The Mayor halted the meeting and ordered the police to remove Dr. Ryff, Mr. Handelsman and Ms. Terry from the room. The police escorted them out of the meeting without incident,” according to the notice of claim, which notes the town code does not prohibit signs in the council chambers.

A First Amendment obstruction or retaliation violation could cost the town tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees plus potential damages to each of the three claimants. However, La Sota says his clients will settle for $1, but it will also cost something other than money.

In exchange for a complete release of their claims, the claimants will accept $1 as damages if Peterson and the town of Gilbert issue an official apology, La Sota wrote. In addition, Peterson would have to attend a First Amendment training class.

According to the notice of claim, Handelsman, Ryff, and Terry acknowledge that the government “need not tolerate actual disruptions of government business” and that courts have held that municipalities may enforce “certain free-speech restrictions.”

But those restrictions apply to time, place, and manner of public comment, La Sota noted, and even then courts have ruled such restrictions “must be reasonable, consistently enforced, and fall within constitutional parameters.”

Free speech restrictions by the government are also reviewed to ensure they “are both viewpoint neutral, equally and consistently enforced, as well as narrowly-tailored to meet the needs of the governing body to conduct its business, free of actual disruptions,” La Sota noted.

It is also not allowable to engage in retaliation against someone for asserting their First Amendment rights, which is what the notice of claim alleges Peterson did when she ordered Ryff removed. La Sota points to Ryff’s critical comments about the mayor during his call to the public comments at the prior council meeting.

“Then, at the very next meeting, 50 ‘Stop Lying’ signs show up with essentially the same message,” the notice of claim states, adding that Ryff contends Peterson believed Ryff was responsible for the signs.

“Dr. Ryff’s rights were violated by a vindictive Mayor who seized the opportunity to retaliate against him for years of political opposition and for having filed ethics complaints against her in the past,” the notice of claim states.

The notice of claim further alleges Handelsman, Ryff, and Terry were not being disruptive in how they displayed their signs at the Sept. 20 meeting. It also contends Peterson did not treat all sign-holders the same during that meeting, including an attendee with a visible “Don’t Mesa My Gilbert” sign who was not forced to leave the meeting.

“Certain persons silently holding signs in the back of the room may have been a distraction to the Mayor, but not every distraction is necessarily a disruption and not every disruption is an actual disruption which impedes the ability of the Council to do its business,” La Sota notes, citing a major First Amendment ruling from the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals (Norse v. City of Santa Cruz, 2010).

Peterson later commented on her actions, arguing she could not read what was written on the signs. Yet that does not explain why his clients were ordered out of the council chambers while others with signs were allowed to remain, La Sota wrote in the notice of claim.

Town officials have 60 days to reject or accept the settlement demand included in the notice of claim.

The Scheme to Bring a Commuter Rail to the East Valley Shows the Lengths Government Will Go to Waste Your Dollars

The Scheme to Bring a Commuter Rail to the East Valley Shows the Lengths Government Will Go to Waste Your Dollars

By the Arizona Free Enterprise Club |

If there’s one entity that specializes in giving people something they don’t need—or aren’t even asking for—it’s the government. So, naturally, while the country faces sky-high inflation and Arizonans make sacrifices in their family budgets, the Town of Gilbert saw fit to discuss a potential…commuter rail.

That’s right. At the end of April, the Gilbert Town Council announced that it’s considering a $289,000 consulting contract for a feasibility study on establishing a commuter rail. What this would accomplish—and why anyone thinks this would be good for Gilbert—remains a mystery.

Even before COVID, public transit usage has been on the decline. And that’s only worsened since…


Gilbert Considering $289k Study For Establishing Controversial Commuter Rail

Gilbert Considering $289k Study For Establishing Controversial Commuter Rail

By Corinne Murdock |

On Tuesday, the Gilbert Town Council announced a $289,000 consulting contract for a feasibility study on establishing a commuter rail. The commuter rail, a mode of public transportation at the core of major metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York City, would likely be located somewhere within the Heritage district. The council moved to consider the contract during a later study session.

The proposal comes at a time when transit crime rates have reached an all-time high in areas where they have the most use such as New York City, San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Multiple studies link the presence of public transit such as light rail and commuter rail to an increase in crime and decrease in surrounding property values. 

Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes asserted that the goal of the study wasn’t to establish feasibility, but rather to whip up something with “pretty pictures” that would distract from the facts behind commuter rail and inspire public support. Yentes accused Washington, D.C. lobbyists of pushing an agenda for financial gain at the loss of taxpayers and locals, mocking President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” campaign slogan as well.

“I think quite frankly we’re taking crazy pills if we think people are going to be excited about commuter rail,” said Yentes. “The complete boondoggle that this will be not just for this community, but for this state. We are literally observing California living this nightmare. I can’t point to a state that Amtrak is not being heavily and deeply subsidized by taxpayers despite 75 percent decline in their ridership. I can’t point to a state where we have a good model that makes any amount of sense for this. We’re going to put the foot on the pedal because we’ve got ‘Build Back Bankruptcy’ dollars that are going to be flooding the jurisdictions?”

Yentes also pointed out that all commuter rails require a local sales tax in addition to all the state subsidies and federal monies they receive. She predicted widespread community backlash. 

“I think this is insane,” said Yentes. “I don’t think it’s a matter of timing. There is no good timing for broken 19th-century technology. I think this is a broken model and I think there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse in other states that have gone down this track.”

In addition to commuter rail, the transportation expansion would eventually become transit centers accommodating other types of transit: bus, bicycle, micromobility, and rideshare. Town research explained that such an initiative had been in the works since 1993. 

Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes said she has “a lot of problems” with the proposed transit center, specifically the commuter rail, calling it “premature.” Yentes said that the scope of the project for stakeholder involvement wasn’t clear, and that the stakeholders’ work were oriented toward designing and planning rather than community outreach to assess desire and need.

Councilwoman Yung Koprowski insisted that the community at large was aware of the city’s intention to establish a commuter rail based on published documents made available to the community. 

Yentes disagreed. She said it was one thing for these initiatives to be laid out in planning documents, but that the reality was the community weren’t involved in them. She said that only an “inner bubble” of the community kept an eye on planning documents.

“I think if I asked 100 of my neighbors if they know a commuter rail is coming to Gilbert, I think approximately zero of those people would be aware,” said Yentes.

Koprowski then clarified that this council decision would be the “first step” to get background and decide whether to move forward with the transit center. 

Koprowski owns a transportation planning and civil engineering firm, Y2K Engineering. 

Councilman Scott Anderson expressed doubts that the transit center would happen, citing Amtrak’s exclusion of Gilbert as a station location in previous reports and agreeing with Yentes that it was premature. Development Services Director Kyle Mieras revealed that Amtrak recently expressed support for a station location. He added that federal funds would be available to back the project. 

“We wanted to show support for this and get ahead so if and when Amtrak or commuter rail does come forward, we’ve at least studied this and in a position where we’re going to come out ahead of it, so we’re skating to where the puck is going not where it’s been,” said Mieras.

Mayor Brigette Peterson added that the Amtrak southwest representative was shocked at Gilbert’s exclusion from viable locations. Peterson divulged that Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said that Gilbert was “way ahead” of their city when it came to establishing commuter rail, noting that the town had two areas open for stations, citing Cooley Station as an example.

“If Amtrak comes knocking with those federal dollars, is Gilbert on board to do that?” asked Peterson. 

Koprowski noted that the feasibility study would offer some conclusion as to whether commuter rail was feasible and, if not, how the two potential areas could be repurposed. Yentes challenged the council to define its standard of feasibility. 

Watch discussion of the transit center below:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to

Gilbert Mayor Wants Taxpayers To Fund Insurance For Employee Sex Changes

Gilbert Mayor Wants Taxpayers To Fund Insurance For Employee Sex Changes

By Corinne Murdock |

According to Mayor Brigette Peterson, the Gilbert Town Council should reconsider offering $75,000 of taxpayer money annually for employee sex changes. The motion failed in a council meeting last week. After the vote, Peterson indicated that the sex change surgery – referred to as ‘gender-affirming surgery’ – would return to committee for review in the future.

Currently, the town benefits cover therapy and hormone treatments.

Councilmember Aimee Yentes spoke up first on the issue. She said she supported the 3 percent premium increases, but not the sex change surgery.

“I think those are policies that deviate from other positions we’ve taken as a community that delve more into social policy rather than strictly providing medical[ly] necessary benefits to our employees,” said Yentes.

Vice Mayor Yung Koprowski only spoke up to mention she’d vote for adding sex change surgery coverage only to align with Affordable Care Act (ACA) industry standard.

Councilmember Scott September said he concurred with Yentes’ assessment.

The question of necessity for such coverage came into play. Councilmember Laurin Hendrix asked the human resources representative, Deputy Chief People Officer Kristen Drew, if any applicants within the past 5 years had refused to apply for or accept employment because the town didn’t offer sex change surgery coverage.

Drew said there hadn’t been any such applicants.

Despite this history, the mayor claimed that not offering this surgery would be a deal breaker for employees in the future. She also urged the council to be more open-minded, to set aside their own values.

“At some point, it might become an issue and we’ll show that this community is forward-thinking, and there are times that we need to make the tough decisions that may not always align with our own thought process when it comes to our personal choices or our political choices or our religious choices, even but we put Gilbert in a position that provides for whatever the future may hold[,]” said Peterson. “I’m going to encourage our council members to be open-minded in this benefit and look to this community moving forward where we can be strong and handle situations like this that come forward and we’re faced with.”

In an interview with AZ Free News, Hendrix raised several points of contention about the added coverage and the mayor’s perspective. He stated that a sex change surgery is cosmetic – not a true health need.

“I see health insurance for health needs. And I don’t see this as a health need. It’s a cosmetic surgery by choice. I don’t see any reason that taxpayers should have to pay for that,” said Hendrix. “They were comparing it to autism syndrome at the meeting. You don’t wake up in the morning and think [you have autism]. That’s not something where you have a choice. The two are not similar.”

Hendrix said he doesn’t have an issue with people having the surgery. Rather, Hendrix said he doesn’t want taxpayers to have to foot the bill for it.

Further, Hendrix assessed that this benefit could be an incentive for people to take an underemployed job just for the surgery – and then leave after they got it.

It was Peterson’s request to council before the vote that stuck out to Hendrix the most.

“The mayor’s comments at the end were shocking. We have to ‘get past’ our moral values, our standards? But what else would I base my vote on, if I’m going to put aside my family values, my moral values, religious values, or personal standards? What’s my vote based on? What’s left? I gotta base my vote on something,” said Hendrix. “I hope she bases her vote on something other than who paid into her campaign.”

Councilmembers voted unanimously for the 3 percent premium increases, but the motion to add sex change surgery coverage failed 4-3. Yentes, September, Hendrix, and Scott Anderson voted against the measure. The Vice Mayor, Mayor, and Councilmember Kathy Tilque voted for it.