Town Manager Defends 'Duck' Call To Activist

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by Jim Keyworth

roundup staff reporter

A police report filed yesterday (Thursday) by Payson resident Amy von Somogyi the woman leading the fight to protect the ducks and geese at Green Valley Park accuses Town Manager Rich Underkofler of making a "mildly threatening and very inappropriate" phone call to her Wednesday evening.

During the call, which took place between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., Underkofler told von Somogyi that she "was beat and needs to accept it," an apparent reference to the town council's decision Sept. 27 to thin the flock of some 60-70 geese by nearly half. Von Somogyi had formally requested to be placed on the agenda of the next regular council meeting Oct. 18.

Underkofler admitted making the call, and said the police report is, for the most part, "a correct representation of my call to her.

"She wrote me a letter and said, 'I want to be back on the agenda.' I said, 'I've talked to the council members and none of them want to reconsider.' I said, 'You can talk under public presentation, but this is who I work for and they don't want to reconsider.'"

Von Somogyi said Underkofler also informed her that he lives in the Green Valley Park area, and his neighbors will not tolerate having the speed limit lowered to 15 mph, which von Somogyi proposed to the council during her Sept. 27 presentation.

"She asked my opinion: 'Do you think it should be 15 miles per hour?' I said, 'No I don't. I think my neighborhood would go nuts,'" Underkofler said.

Von Somogyi said the town manager concluded the conversation by saying, "OK, are we communicating? Are we communicating here?"

She told the Roundup Underkofler said "she did not want to put herself in an adversarial position with the town council." He also told her the council's decision to thin the flock has proven to be a public relations nightmare, and that she needed to realize that council members have egos just like everybody else, and "don't like to admit when they're wrong."

Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said he forwarded copies of the report to all of the Town Council members and to Underkofler. He said von Somogyi does not wish to make a criminal complaint at this time, but just wants the call documented in case it happens again.

"This is just an information report," Gartner said.

In defense of her fine-feathered friends' ill-effects on the Green Valley Park area, von Somogyi obtained water sample reports for lakes 1 and 2 prepared by Dan Utz, laboratory director for the Northern Gila County Sanitary District. They indicate nitrate and nitrite levels are within the safe range even in January, when the duck population traditionally peaks in the park.

Utz cautioned, however, that too many ducks can have a negative impact on water quality.

"The nutrient levels in reclaimed waters are higher than, say, rainwater," Utz said. "So we will always have a problem with algae, and if you add all the waste material that washes in there not only from ducks, but also from dogs, and even some horses that are upstream you are just going to add to that situation."

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