By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
A $65.3 million public safety bond campaign is turning contentious in Gilbert with the opposition lobbing accusations of quid pro quo deals against the mayor, who is backing the measure.
Mayor Jenn Daniels called the allegations unfounded and misleading.
Town voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to tax themselves in order to pay for a 50-acre training facility proposed near Pecos and Power roads for police and fire.
“I’m not completely against a training facility,” said Mike Webb, a self-employed business consultant who formed the Rally Arizona PAC. “However, it looks as if it’s the only option we are given by Town Council and is the most expensive. We understand there are alternatives.”
Webb, an 18-year Gilbert resident, formed the political action committee in April 2017. The standing committee aims to support those in all levels of government who uphold conservative values such as limited government and free markets. It also supports conservative causes.
The group has gone after Republican Jimmy Lindblom, who lost to Eddie Farnsworth in the August primary for state Senate in Legislative District 12, and Jordan Ray, who won re-election in the Gilbert Town Council primary.
The PAC is now working to defeat Question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot with political signs planted throughout town and via social media. Webb said he has put out 80 signs asking voters to reject the measure.
“I think we have a chance of stopping it,” Webb said.
Webb last week on the group’s Facebook page went on the attack against Daniels, who formed and chairs the political action committee Gilbert Citizens for Public Safety, which is pushing the bond’s passage.
Webb says the mayor’s committee is getting donations from companies that received hefty incentives from Gilbert – alleging town is using taxpayers’ money to give big incentives to private companies that in turn are influencing how people vote.
According to the latest campaign finance report, Gilbert Citizens for Public Safety has raised $20,100, including $10,000 from Silent-Aire USA, $5,000 from Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. and $1,500 from CBDG Gilbert LLC. The Jen for Mayor Committee also kicked in $2,500.
Nationwide Realty Investors, a subsidiary of the donor Nationwide Mutual, is developing the 250-acre mixed-used Rivulon, which is being built in phases near Gilbert Road and Loop 202.
Webb posted town documents that showed Gilbert agreed to give Nationwide Realty $3.3 million in reimbursements. He pointed out that the company’s PAC gave $1,000 to Daniels for her mayoral campaign in 2016.
“In other words, Daniels gets a donation fro her campaign for mayor,” Webb wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “Mayor Daniels authorizes over $3 million in taxpayer funds to donor. Mayor creates committee to fight in favor of a bond that will increase taxes for Gilbert citizens. Mayor Daniels’ new committee gets a $5,000 donation from the company for that committee to convince voters to vote ‘yes’ on the bond. So essentially the taxpayers are paying for a campaign to increase taxes.”
Silent-Aire, which opened a 150,000-square-foot HVAC equipment and modular data center factory in Gilbert last year, received $812,000 in reimbursements, according to town documents.
Daniels said Rally Arizona is nothing more than Webb’s “personal lunch fund” used to sponsor the group’s Facebook page and negative social media ads.
The ads are without facts and attempt to call her integrity and that of some reputable companies into question, Daniels said.
She in turn questioned why Webb’s PAC didn’t disclose the donors behind the $2,000 it has raised. The donations are lumped together under “contributions from Corps and LLCs,” according to the latest filing.
“That’s called dark money,” Daniels said. “Why isn’t anyone asking him those questions? Who is paying for the ‘No’ campaign?”
She said the companies and people who gave to her committee are named and “have invested themselves in Gilbert and work hard to build a better community.”
Everything the town does with tax dollars is done in the open and is public record, she said.
“The only thing nefarious going on here is that Mike Webb uses dark money to fund his website and signs,” she said.
Daniels said the town has held a number of public open houses and meetings to discuss the facility with the public, and Webb has not attended any of the meetings or met with town staff to gather additional details.
“I don’t believe that Mike Webb should be referred to with any authority on this topic as to what is or isn’t needed and what the cost should or shouldn’t be – does anyone know where he is getting his ‘facts?’” she said. “What has Mike Webb done for Gilbert? He finds more pleasure in tearing apart the town and is using dark money to do it.”
Daniels said the first development agreement between Nationwide and the town was voted on in 2012, when she was a councilwoman and long before she decided to run for mayor.
Since then, she said, there have been five amendments to the agreement, in which three were approved on a 7-0 vote.
“I am just one member of a seven-member board, which means I don’t do anything alone,” she said. “It takes four votes to make these agreements happen. The majority of the votes regarding Nationwide have been unanimous.”
She said she organized the political action committee because of the importance of a training facility.
The growing town is facing a large turnover of police officers and firefighters in the coming years and finding it increasingly challenging to share training facilities owned by other municipalities that are also looking to fill their public safety ranks.
“The businesses that Mike Webb has referenced have made investments in Gilbert in the hundreds of millions of dollars and have provided thousands of jobs in Gilbert,” she said. “They also know how important a safe community is to their employees and their companies.”
The facility, which includes a driving track, drill grounds and classrooms, is estimated to cost $84.6 million. The town will pick up the remaining $19.6 million. Voters in the August primary approved allowing the town to sell off 33.66 acres to help pay for the facility.