The Duck Stops Here

How to get your issues on the council's agenda

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Taking on town hall is an imposing challenge for most of us, but those who have dared to do so, say it shouldn't be.

In fact, Amy von Somogyi, Ruby Finney and Robert Carr all make the same point. As a citizen, you have a responsibility to let your elected leaders know how you feel in a manner that makes your point as forcefully and effectively as you can.

The three Payson residents followed very different paths in seeking redress for three very different causes, and have achieved very different results. If you don't follow town government on a regular basis, here's what they were fighting for:

RUBY FINNEY: WATCHING THE BUCKS

Finney, a retired accountant who moved to Payson from Visalia, Calif., in 1993, is a regular at town council meetings. She speaks out on a wide range of issues, most of which are tied in one way or another to fiscal responsibility.

"Our reserves are getting down very low, and our capital projects are just sky high," she said.

But Finney does more than speak up at council meetings. She also calls the Rim Country Forum on KMOG on a regular basis to debate the mayor or town manager, or just to voice her opinion.

She has also run for town council herself and is an active and vociferous member of the Citizens Awareness Committee, a registered political action group whose mission is to keep the council honest.

ROBERT CARR: A SUBDIVISION AMOK

When Payson Mayor Ray Schum led an attempt to impose a local improvement district to re-pave the streets in Alpine Heights, fellow resident Robert Carr took exception. He addressed the town council on the issue, and then led a door-to-door campaign to obtain the signatures of a majority of the subdivision's 250-plus homeowners.

In the end, a special ballot was mailed to Alpine Heights residents and the results were counted at Town Hall as both sides kept separate tallies. When the results were official and the improvement district had been defeated, Town Manager Rich Underkofler turned to Carr and said good-naturedly, "Well, I guess you can beat Town Hall."

AMY VON SOMOGYI: SAVING THE DUCKS

Von Somogyi's cause is ducks and geese. An avid walker, she was dismayed to see more and more wildfowl getting hit by cars while crossing Country Club Drive.

Von Somogyi gathered some 300 signatures and then sent Underkofler a letter requesting to be placed on the agenda of an upcoming council meeting.

After arguing her case and presenting her petitions, the council gave her half a loaf agreeing to lower the speed limit to 15 (although it won't actually be enforced), but also opting to thin the flock of ducks to levels recommended by the Arizona Department of Game and Fish.

After the meeting, a devastated von Somogyi said, "I started out trying to save the ducks and ended up getting them killed." But, she vowed, the fight isn't over.

While von Somogyi doesn't want to tip her hand, she has requested to be placed on the next agenda and promises to come armed to the teeth with information and support.

"I thought this was a done deal a feel-good issue that would make everyone look good. Now they're saying they want to kill half the ducks in Green Valley Park," she said.

While von Somogyi is perhaps the most frustrated with the political process, both Finney and Carr have experienced moments when they were tempted to stay home and give up their causes. Finney, in fact, has just returned to the firing line after a self-imposed exile of several months during which she didn't attend a council meeting.

"(The council) sometimes forgets they were elected to represent the people. If a lot of people come to them and say, 'I don't want that,' they need to pay heed," Finney said.

"I'm personally offended that this council paid no attention to the 300 people who signed my petition," von Somogyi said. "Those are the people who use the park, and they didn't even look at the petitions."

Clearly the veteran of the council wars, Finney feels for von Somogyi.

"When the people who wanted a dog park came before the council, they only had something like 100 signatures but they brought a lot of people," she said. "The council seems to pay more attention to bodies than to signatures."

But, she said, there is not always strength in numbers.

"If you go the group route, you need to be willing to compromise because everybody needs to agree."

Despite their frustrations, all three crusaders urge others with causes not to be intimidated by government.

"That's why they have a public comment section at the beginning of each meeting," Finney said. "It's for people who have a problem."

Carr said what he went through was well worth it.

"If you don't do anything, you better not complain," he said.

"Always stand up for what you believe in," von Somogyi said, "even if it's a tiny issue like ducks."

Even if you're not the type of person to go before the town council with a grievance, you can make a difference by writing, e-mailing or calling your elected representative and, most important, by voting.

"The local level is the one place where everyone should be able to make a difference," Finney said "The voices of the people need to be heard, and if they're not we need to get rid of the people in office."While there were moments during his struggle when Carr was so mad he could barely speak, he said he has learned something very important about becoming involved in a political issue a sense of perspective.

"You have to laugh at it," he said, "because sometimes that's all you can do."

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