GSN News Staff
When Gilbert voters went to the polls for the Aug. 28 primary, a familiar name was not on the ballot.
Councilman Victor Petersen chose not to run for re-election. He was the only incumbent not running for reelection as Vice Mayor Brigette Peterson and Councilmen Eddie Cook and Jordan Ray all appeared on the ballot.
The 2011 council election, which saw Petersen elected for the first time alongside then newcomers Ray and Cook, was widely viewed as shifting the council to the right as the new council members were seen as more conservative than the incumbents they replaced.
During his tenure, Petersen lived up to the billing as he regularly voted against public-spending measures and economic development incentives that he saw as unfair to other Gilbert businesses.
He would even regularly pull otherwise mundane motions off the council’s regular consent agenda to avoid voting for policies that conflicted with his ideology.
He pointed to the town’s current financial standing – Gilbert has AAA credit ratings from two of the major agencies – as proof that the council’s approach in recent years is working.
Still, he acknowledged there is room for improvement and often clashed with other members of the council over what he viewed as excessive spending by the town.
“I think we’ve improved in a lot of ways,” he said. “I wish I could say it’s a slam dunk, but I hesitate because of the issue of, and it’s a very specific metric, but I think it’s an important one and it is the ongoing expenditures per citizen metric.”
Petersen became known on the council for diving deep into fiscal issues and preparing his “bread chart” prior to budget debates that looked at the town’s projected expenditures and revenues over time.
“I would be the first to say that Victor is a great researcher and has a desire to understand issues from the inside out,” Mayor Jenn Daniels said. “He has been relentless about digging in and trying to understand one issue or another.”
Petersen typically argued, using his bread chart as back up, against the town’s budgets on the ground’s that Gilbert was relying on rosy revenue and growth projections to justify increasingly large expenditures that could put it in a risky position in the event of a recession.
Though the current Gilbert Town Council is relatively fiscally conservative overall, many council votes on spending resulted in a 5-2 split, with Petersen and Councilman Jared Taylor in the minority.
Most recently, Petersen and Taylor were the only dissenting votes when the council voted to put a bond funding proposal in front of voters for Gilbert’s planned public safety training facility.
At a Town Council meeting, Petersen argued the proposed $84.6-million price tag for the facility was excessive.
He maintained that the town could reduce the bond amount from $65 million to $47 million by, in part, utilizing existing classroom space owned by the town rather than building new space.
Unsurprisingly, Petersen cited another contentious vote when asked what accomplishment he is most proud of from his time on the Council.
“One of my greatest satisfactions has been in protecting the right to bear arms,” he said, citing a 6-1 council vote in 2014 that amended a local ordinance to give some citizens the ability to carry firearms in town-owned public buildings.
Petersen introduced the amendment, which allowed people with an Arizona concealed-carry permit to bring firearms into public buildings instead of storing them in a gun locker, arguing that the previous rules made public facilities vulnerable to mass shooters.
“I know politically a lot of people disagree with this, but I think the practice of having what I call honor system gun-free zones is a terrible, terrible policy” Petersen said. “Most of the massacres, if not all of the massacres I can think of in our country, have occurred in what I call those honor system gun free zones.”
The amendment did not apply to certain public buildings like police departments that are already well guarded, he said.
Though the amendment passed on a 6-1 vote, even those who voted in favor of the measure expressed trepidation at the time due to public safety issues and safety concerns from town staff.
“In making sure we are meeting the needs of the citizens and keeping their rights, there are rights of the town employees, and some said they’d be fearful and they would be fearful and it would cause a tremendous amount of stress for them if someone walked in with a weapon,” then-Mayor John Lewis said.
While he did put his name on some controversial measures like the gun amendment, Petersen’s legacy may be more defined by what he voted against – namely budgets, capital improvement plans and other forms of government spending.
However, he pointed out that he voted for one budget during his time on council.
Still, Petersen’s decision not to seek another term had more to do with practical concerns than politics.
“A big pressure that’s increased recently is with the economy picking up our business has picked up quite a bit, and the demands at the office have increased a lot,” said Petersen, who runs his family’s home building business, VIP Homes.
“So that’s a big reason why my time is more pinched than it’s been in the past,” he said.
Petersen said he is still able to perform most Council responsibilities, but his professional obligations have cut into his ability to perform what he refers to as the “show horse” part of the job – activities like ribbon cuttings and speaking at community events.
He is not writing off public service completely, though.
“I actually would like to go to law school if I can find the time and the means to do so,” Petersen said.
“I have a lot of passion for municipal law and actually someday I think with my personality type that I could make a really good judge. I’m not saying I have any political aspirations at this point to run for Justice of the Peace or anything like that, but I think I would be a good judge.”
Despite his frequent differences with others on the council, Petersen said he is proud that, for the most part, he and other councilpersons remained civil in their discourse.
“I would say one of the greatest satisfactions of my time in office is that I think, and I didn’t do this alone, that we’ve kept it very civil dialogue going on the council,” he said. “If you look at any corporation or organization that’s successful, what you want is passionate but civil discourse. That’s how you get your best decisions.”
Mayor Jenn Daniels echoed that sentiment.
“I think it has been good for us to have that healthy debate on the dais and multiple viewpoints presented,” she said. “Overall, (Petersen) is a very good man, and I have appreciated his leadership.”