PAYSON -- A recall effort against Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey and three other council members involves a former mayor, councilors and business and education leaders. The recall group faces a self-imposed deadline of Aug. 30 to collect signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.
“We hope to have an early election,” said Stan Garner, the chair of the recall effort.
If Garner and his group can’t collect the 770 signatures needed to recall the mayor’s position and 1,653 signatures for each council seat from registered Payson voters, they’ll shoot for the March 2020 ballot.
The group has an office in the Swiss Village Shopping Center for drop-in petition signers between a frozen yogurt shop and dry cleaners.
If they’re to make the November ballot, they have only until the end of the month to gather thousands of signatures to recall Morrissey and council members Suzy Tubbs-Avakian, Janell Sterner and Jim Ferris.
Kenny Evans, former Payson mayor, has agreed to serve as the unofficial adviser to the recall group, which also involves former councilor and town manager Fred Carpenter.
Evans, head of the MHA Foundation, said, “I did agree to share whatever institutional information or political background information I might have. I shared that from my experience; a recall would be difficult ... I affirmed that a vote of the people was the only sure way to know what the taxpayers really wanted. A recall does not overturn the will of the voters. It reaffirms that they, the taxpayers, are the ultimate bosses — not the temporarily elected officials.”
State statute grants recall organizers 120 days from the date they file petitions to collect signatures, but recall organizers say they will try to qualify for the November ballot — which gives them an Aug. 30 deadline.
State statute gives the group up to four months to get the needed signatures, which if they are successful would mean a March election, according to Gila County and Town of Payson staff. Both the city and county play a role in a town recall election.
The recall battle played out last week in back-to-back appearances on the KMOG radio station. First Morrissey, then recall supporters, each spent half an hour on the air talking about the recall.
Morrissey expressed frustration that, “I’m trying to give them (the people) a voice, but they (recall organizers) are not happy with it.”
Morrissey said he has a transparent administration open to the public. He said he hosts a bi-monthly Coffee with the Mayor and has upcoming open mic nights at Messinger’s Mortuary.
“If you want to talk to me, come out and talk,” he said. “Come on and meet with me at the office.”
Morrissey told host Randy Roberson the recall effort is about “power. They want the power back,” he said. However, he said regular elections — not recall elections — should determine who has the power.
Former Payson councilor Fred Carpenter and longtime local business owner Jennifer Smith represented the recall effort on the air. Carpenter also served as Payson town manager before the town council fired him after a luncheon meeting at a conference. The Arizona Attorney general’s office later determined that luncheon meeting violated the state’s open meeting law. The town had a period of open meeting law probation as a result.
Carpenter was “set off” by the termination of LaRon Garrett, the former town manager.
“I think it was settling scores,” said Carpenter. “If you are at one place for 25 years, if people don’t get permits, they blame you. They blame the employee, not the code.”
Roberson made a point of introducing Smith through her family’s history.
“Your company is Precision Intricast,” he said. “I know your family was courted by Payson years ago (and) you’ve been around Payson a long time.”
Smith confirmed that her family came to Rim Country in 1992. She’s a Payson High School graduate and also went to college locally.
She started tuning in to town politics during the budget hearings in May.
“Something that was disconcerting is the lack of ability of the public to weigh in at public meetings,” she said.
Carpenter agreed with Smith.
“Many of the people, who ran under ‘transparent Payson,’ are up there,” he said. “When you have a public meeting as to the firing of a longtime employee ... and you allow three or four people to comment and you come up with very few reasons — pretty lame reasons — to let someone go ... I have been the victim of such chicanery.”
He also said that the newly formed council subcommittee to review contracts and capital projects would cause problems.
“It is a very dangerous road to go down,” he said about council members telling staff “what backhoe to buy.”
Smith finds the council’s “lack of civility” very “concerning.”
“I see a lot of power plays up there,” she said. “There is almost always a 4-3 split ... my personal concerns are that I believe it is an overreach of the power that is given to the council.”
The winner-take-all attitude alarms Smith, who predicts long-term consequences. She spoke of the $271,000 splash pad approved for Rumsey Park as a “pet-project” of the mayor that jumped ahead of other projects waiting in line for years.
“More important to me is the long-range planning,” she said. “A great deal of resources and high-level expertise went into these plans — like the Economic Development Plan. It was developed by an economic development specialist.”
Smith and Carpenter said they represent just a portion of the people who have “come together for a unified objective,” said Smith.
“In our first meeting, I actually ... just acknowledged the elephant in the room — there were dozens of those who had sat on one side of the fence or the other in the past in that room — not on the fence,” she said.
Smith then listed retirees, parents, educators, business owners, Democrats, Republicans, independents, Libertarians and “others who don’t want to be identified politically.”
“We have old guard and we have newcomers,” said Smith. “If you could cut a cross section of town, this would be it. It is growing exponentially every day.”