Kelly Udall, Payson's personnel services director, earned the right to pucker up for Special Olympics Friday after winning the town's kiss-the-donkey contest in a down-to-the-wire fund-raising runoff with Payson Fire Chief John Ross.
Six weeks ago, Udall, Ross and 11 other town and Gila County officials agreed to participate in an offbeat competition that allowed residents to "vote" for the official they would most like to see kiss a donkey by dropping donations for Special Olympics into the competitors' ballot jars at Town Hall.
By Thursday night, Udall and Ross were neck in neck, with Ross leading by just $11, event organizer John Heflin said. A runoff was scheduled for the following day, and the voting continued at a furious pace until the noon deadline, he said.
Udall, who collected $193, was the lucky winner, and Ross, who brought in $178, was a close and overjoyed second, Heflin said.
The two town employees collected 67.5 percent of the $550 raised during the contest and beat out such notables as Mayor Vern Stiffler, Town Council member Ken Murphy, Payson Town Manager Rich Underkofler and Gila County Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel.
Udall fulfilled his honorary duties Friday with a well-placed kiss on the donkey's nose. The donkey, which was initially reluctant, was persuaded to participate with carrot chunks, Heflin said.
The Payson Police Department, which organized the campaign, collected a total of $5,000 for Special Olympics through the "Special Kiss for Special Olympics" contest, shirt sales, donations and pledges for the state's Special Olympics Torch Run, which is held every year to raise money and awareness. The department raised $2,400.
"Hopefully this year, we'll be one of the top 5 departments in the state per capita for fund raising," Heflin said.
The Torch Run, which will involve 650 officers from 100 law enforcement agencies around the state, will pass through the Rim country Thursday. It will end in Phoenix, where the Special Olympics Summer Games will be held May 21.
The run will begin locally at 9 a.m. Thursday at Chapman Chevrolet in Payson and will end at the Roosevelt Lake turnoff on the Beeline Highway 17 miles south of town.
Law enforcement employees and local Special Olympians will walk the torch from Chapman to the Payson Feed and Pet Supply on the south edge of town. Payson Police officers John Heflin and Don Garvin will complete the entire length of the 17-mile route, while other supporters will walk, run and bike selected sections of the route. Anyone is welcome to participate in the event.
Payson has 60 Special Olympians, including David Frohm, who will be competing in the Special Olympics World Games in North Carolina later this year.