Scott September

City Councilman Scott September, seen here addressing citizens during a discussion of commuter rail Aug. 23, took some heat later in the same meeting over allegations he stole election opponents’ political signs. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

The Town Attorney is recommending no action on an ethics violation complaint against Councilman Scott September over allegations he tampered with opponents’ campaign signs during the August Primary election.

Town Attorney Chris Payne explained that an independent probe was not needed because the police case is making its way through the courts and that now it’s up for Council to decide whether it should take any separate action.

“I believe the police report contains sufficient information for Town Council to be able to adequately consider whether a Code of Ethics violation occurred,” Payne said.

According to the report, September’s attorney stated his client would not speak with  police until Payne determined “the validity of the sign as a political sign.”

The signs in question were negative ads against September, Bill Spence and Koprowski, who were among the nine candidates running for four seats in the Primary.

Koprowski won her seat in August while Spence is headed for a run-off in November with Bobbi Buchli. September didn’t make the cut, coming in at 7th place.

Police has forwarded a recommendation for a class 2 misdemeanor charge of tempering with political signs to the Gilbert Prosecutor Office, which declined to take the case on grounds of a conflict of interest.

Instead, the prosecutor referred the case to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for review. 

“It is likely that the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office will first determine whether or not to accept review of the case,” Payne told Council. “If the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declines review, the case may be sent back to the Gilbert Prosecutor’s Office, which would then refer the case to a different prosecuting agency.”

Payne noted that the role of a prosecutor’s office is to independently determine whether there is sufficient evidence to indicate that a crime has been committed and if so, whether there would be a reasonable likelihood of a conviction.

“If such a finding is made, the prosecuting agency could file charges,” Payne said. “If not, the prosecuting agency could decline to charge.”

Council has until Sept. 1  to decide if there’s enough evidence to place the complaint on an agenda. It would take the mayor or at least three council members to do so.

If Council hears the complaint and decides there was a violation, penalties can be imposed.

Councilman Laurin Hendrix said he would support putting the issue on the agenda for discussion.

“I believe that the complaint involves a spur-of-the-moment action that is uncharacteristic of Councilmember September but the complaint warrants discussion at a public meeting,” Hendrix said in an email. “Such a discussion would give Councilmember September the opportunity to defend himself and explain his actions.”

September has declined to talk about the allegation.

Hendrix said he would need to find two liked-minded council members to move on this as it’s highly unlikely Mayor Bridgette Peterson would do so.

“Given the mayor’s close connection to the challenge that occurred, I can’t imagine her wanting this matter on an agenda for public discussion,” Hendrix said.

Councilwoman Yung Koprowski said she has no comments on the topic and Vice Mayor Aimee Yentes and Councilman Scott Anderson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.  

Peterson declined to discuss the complaint.

“With open meeting laws in mind, plus the fact that we are still within the 10-day window for action by Council, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to provide any insight on the allegations, the complaint or how I plan to proceed,” Peterson said in a released statement.

Councilwoman Kathy Tilque said the active investigation “needs to play itself out prior to the Council addressing the ethics complaint filed.”

“Every citizen, even elected officials, have a right to have their day in court to tell their side of the story and be judged on the legality of charges brought against them,” Tilque said 

Councilman-elect Jim Torgeson in an email to Council, Payne and City Manager Patrick Banger also urged public airing of the complaint.

“Optics is everything,” Torgeson said. “If you don’t allow the conversation, you will create more distrust of you. You can even decide it’s of no merit as long as you do it in public.  

“When issues of public interest are done in executive session, there’s no public input or even a true explanation available to the public.”

Torgeson said closed-door discussions make all Council members look complicit.

“Scott September is an intelligent, well-spoken and articulate man,” Torgeson said. “Like all of us, he may have made a mistake but keeping this from the public makes him look bad and makes you look like you are sweeping it under the rug.”

He added that a public discussion would allow September to have some vindication “rather than look like the beneficiary of cronyism, which is what people will assume.”

“Without the public discussion, he can’t even ask for forgiveness or at least understanding,” Torgeson said.

According to a police report, September was observed by three witnesses at about 7 a.m., Aug. 2 pulling out political signs that did not belong to him at the Southeast Regional Library.  

“After being confronted, Scott released the signs and left,” the report said.

Residents have already called on September to resign and at the Aug. 23 meeting, Brandon Ryff,  Andrew Adams and Tyler Farnsworth did the same. 

Adams, who put up the signs, told police September took the signs and “stated, ‘You can’t put these up, they’re lies,’” according to a police report.

“He demonstrated a lack of decorum and violated his oath of office,” Farnsworth said during public comments. “I’m calling on Councilman Scott (September) to resign. Do the right thing.”

“I commend the Town Attorney for not wasting more taxpayer money to investigate the crime Councilman September obviously committed against another Gilbert resident,” said Ryff, who filed his complaint Aug. 9. “Instead, the proper course should be for the matter to be brought before the Council. 

“Councilmember September was appointed, never elected, and came in almost last place in the Primary,” Ryff said. “The voters have spoken and with this latest scandal, he has no business being on the council.”

Ryff also sent an email last week to the Council members demanding that they put the item on an agenda, telling them that they have an obligation to ensure the people’s business is being conducted by elected officials who can be trusted as ethical.

If Council decides not to take any action in the matter,  Ryff’s complaint is deemed dismissed with prejudice.