GILBERT, AZ — A Gilbert man has filed a lawsuit trying to void the town's November bond election after a political sign dispute.
Jim Torgeson, who owns a sign shop, said he paid for, created, and installed the signs, which asked residents to vote ‘no’ on the $515 million bond issue.
“Within a day or so, all of a sudden I drive down the street, and they're all gone,” he said
Torgeson claimed the town’s removal of his signs infringed on his First Amendment right to free speech, and he said it was an attempt to quell the opposition on a close vote. He filed a lawsuit last month asking a judge to throw out the election that bond supporters won by 164 votes.
“The only real penalty you can ascribe to the to the town is to negate the election because what else are you going to do that will get under their skin?” Torgeson said.
“We cannot get into a situation where a governmental entity feels free to squelch free speech rights on the eve of an election,” said Torgeson’s lawyer, Tim LaSota.
Emails obtained by ABC15 show an employee from the mayor’s office raised concerns that the signs did not abide by the town code on September 20. Gilbert officials then put out an all-call for code compliance workers to examine all the political signs in their areas. Another email asked town workers to ‘volunteer‘ on the weekend to remove Torgeson’s signs. They ripped out 57 signs in all.
According to their court filing asking the judge to dismiss the case, Gilbert officials concluded the signs did not comply with their town code, which prohibits all signs in the public right-of-way. Because the signs did not include the name of a candidate or campaign committee, Gilbert also determined the signs were not protected by a state law exemption for election signs.
Torgeson said he was not a candidate or campaign committee, but he did add small print on the signs saying they were from a “private citizen” and added his phone number.
Torgeson and his lawyer claim the Town of Gilbert specifically targeted his signs while leaving many other signs in the public right-of-way. Without admitting fault, Gilbert returned the confiscated signs for Torgeson to reinstall about a week after removal.
The Town of Gilbert declined an interview for this story and issued the following statement:
“The Town has received the complaint filed by Gilbert resident Jim Torgeson seeking to overturn the results of the bond election. The Town strongly disagrees with the legal and factual assertions made in the lawsuit and has filed a motion to dismiss. The Town is confident that the election results will be upheld."