A Gilbert resident and critic of the city’s $515 million streets, transportation and infrastructure bond filed a lawsuit Nov. 22, alleging his free speech rights were violated and asking cancellation of election results.
Jim Torgeson, owner of a Mesa sign manufacturing company, filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court, naming the town of Gilbert and each member of the city council as council members.
The suit alleges the city removed in September at least 57 signs Torgeson made asking voters to defeat the tie, and the suit argues the action deprived Torgeson of his free speech rights of a significant way that could have affected the outcome of a close election.
The measure, Gilbert Question 1, passed by 0.4%, or 164 votes, in the November postal vote. Gilbert City Council accepted the solicitation at its Nov. 16 meeting in a 5-2 vote with council members Laurin Hendrix and Aimee Yentes voting dissenting due to election interference concerns.
Because the measure challenges the election results, Torgeson, through his attorney Timothy LaSota, requested an expedited hearing within 10 days of the defendants’ response.
In a statement emailed to Community Impact Journal, City spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison received the complaint, and the city attorney’s office is investigating it.
“The city strongly disagrees with the legal and factual assertions made in the lawsuit and is confident that the election results will be upheld,” Harrison wrote.
Torgeson directed his comments to LaSota, who could not be immediately reached.
According to the lawsuit, Torgeson installed the signs in the city’s rights-of-way on or around September 15. The signs said they had been paid by a private citizen and gave a phone number but did not say who the citizen was.
The city told Torgeson it was removing the signs because they were illegal without the name of who paid for them, according to the lawsuit. LaSota argues that the city is misinterpreting the law, and moreover, it really removed the signs because of the post’s anti-bond content.
A Sept. 23 email from Torgeson to the city challenged the city’s reasoning for the removal and asked that the signs be put back up.
The lawsuit also challenges the city’s statements about the suppression by including a number of city emails that Torgeson received via Freedom of Information Act requests.
An email, dated Sept. 29, from City Attorney Christopher Payne to LaSota said the city strongly disagreed with LaSota’s interpretations of state laws on the legality of signs. , but would no longer delete panels.
Later signs from Torgeson included his name in the disclosure.
The lawsuit also compares the city’s treatment of the Torgeson signs to the signs against mayoral candidate Matt Nielsen from the November 2020 election. The suit alleges that those signs also did not indicate who paid for them but did not hadn’t been removed, and she argues that was because Nielsen wasn’t the town’s preferred candidate. Brigette Peterson beat out Nielsen for the job by a 57% to 43% margin.
The lawsuit further alleges that the city used the informational section of the election pamphlet to campaign for the bond by framing “frequently asked questions” in a manner that argued for the passage of the bond.
The bond package was originally scheduled to be presented to voters in November 2020, but was delayed until 2021 due to COVID-19. City officials said the city was using its last funds from the 2007 bonds for ongoing infrastructure projects and so road projects to address growth, safety and traffic flow would come to a halt. without more bond money.