Mayoral candidates Jim White and Ken Murphy took different approaches in answering key questions about their honesty and ability to lead at the debate Friday evening in the Payson High School auditorium.
As the debate between the two candidates neared the end, moderator Richard Haddad, Roundup publisher, asked White to respond to a 1988 survey in The Arizona Republic that ranked him 85th in effectiveness out of 90 state legislators, with virtually all of more than 100 survey respondents fellow lawmakers, lobbyists, journalists and state staff members questioning his veracity.
In his answer, White chose to restate his qualifications and experience, rather than address the Republic survey specifically.
"At every stage of my life I've been a leader," White said. "I've proposed things. In fact, the survey was taken because many of the proposals I had were too conservative for the legislature."
The Arizona Republic survey, published on May 1, 1988, was completed by 107 people. In ranking Jim White among the 10 least effective lawmakers, the Republic said:
"Virtually all those who commented on White questioned his veracity. 'Don't trust him at all,' said one lobbyist.
"Other lobbyists called him 'scary,' 'untrustworthy,' and 'smart and political.'
"A legislator said, 'Don't turn your back on him.'
"The nicest comment about White came from a legislative observer who said of White, 'Likes to play games. Not sure what his real concerns are. Very bright but doesn't apply himself too well.'"
On Monday, White defended his legislative career.
"I was a freshman," he said. "I was proposing zero-based budgeting, which they turned down, and a couple other new ideas. I assume some of them didn't like what I was doing. That's all I can tell you."
Murphy was asked about his recent departure from Manzanita Manor, specifically whether he voluntarily resigned or if his resignation was a response to an ultimatum to resign or be fired.
Murphy was emphatic in his response.
"I asked for help from the corporate office for months," Murphy said. "I do not control the checkbook. All payments are made out of the corporate office....
"When I had to go down and tell one of my employees who had breast reconstructive surgery scheduled in June that she had no health insurance, I turned around, went back to my office, picked up the phone and said, 'I quit. I give you my 30-day notice.' And that is the honest-to-God truth."
Murphy's immediate supervisor, Mark Yampole of the Tucson-based management company Community Care LLC, disagreed when told of Murphy's explanation.
"He did not resign," Yampole said. "He was terminated, and then he asked if he could resign. We told him it was too late for that."
The final question of the evening was prepared by the opposing candidates.
Murphy asked White about purchasing his campaign signs not only out of town, but also out of state.
"I am not a person who believes in spending more than I need to," White said.
"The signs I bought cost about 30 percent of what the signs in town would cost.... Instead of paying $5 or $10, I paid $1.36....
"Last year in this town, my wife and I spent over $10,000 at Wal-Mart, and I've got the bills to prove it. We spend locally. We buy locally. So to buy signs outside the town of Payson is, to me, a non-issue," White said.
"It's an issue if you're a sign company or a printer," Murphy responded.
White asked Murphy what significant council requests he had initiated during his years on the council. He said Mayor Ray Schum had told him Murphy had introduced none during the past six years.
In his response, Murphy cited a situation where he was able to change a costly comp time procedure to overtime a move that saved the town a significant amount of money.
"I didn't know the mayor was keeping a report card on me," he said. "The important thing is I've had plenty of ideas, but I go to town staff and say what do you think of this? How can we do this?"
In his closing statement, Murphy charged White with ignoring the issues in favor of personal attacks.
"It's really been an issue of trashing Mr. Murphy's credibility.... I don't know what that's about, but it's over-exaggerated and it's not true and it's unfortunate," Murphy said. "I care about my home and I care about it because of the people in this room. We have a wonderful community of people."
In his closing remarks, White disputed Murphy's charge about personal attacks.
"If you can tell me, or if you can prove to the audience or to anyone that I have ever said anything bad about you, that I have ever said anything negative about you, then I challenge you to say it," White said. "I challenge you to go to the newspaper on Monday and tell them. I have never said anything negative in this campaign. I have tried to take the high road."
White also claimed to have the water issue solved. "I know where the water is," he said. "I know how to bring it here."
The subsequent debate between town council finalists Kenny Knapp and Robert Henley was less emotional, although the two candidates did manage to delineate some differences.
Henley was asked about his relationship with the pro-growth citizens' group People for Payson and how that would influence him if elected.
"I have been invited to two of their meetings as a candidate," he said. "As far as receiving money from people who might be associated with People for Payson, that's absolutely true ... I certainly received money from people associated with the Citizens Awareness Committee as well. So it's across the board. As far as any influence that group might have, they're citizens of this town as well as you."
Knapp was asked about his no-growth reputation.
"There is no such thing as no-growth in this town. The first thing we have to do is honey up to the table and stop this fancy talk and tell us, do we have a water problem or don't we? You talk to the water department one month and they say, 'Oh, it's getting kind of tight. Talk to them the next month, all of a sudden we've got water coming in from the outside of our town limits filling our wells. How can you operate without credibility?"
In their closing remarks, both candidates emphasized the need for teamwork.
"I believe I have the skills to work with everyone in the community," Henley said. "That's what I bring to the table. Everything I've done in my life has been working with diverse groups to try and come up with a solution that makes sense for everybody. That's what I'll do on the town council."
In his closing remarks, Knapp promised to hold regular meetings to listen to citizens' concerns, and to return phone calls.
"Everybody in this room likes to feel they're wanted," he said. "Hopefully we can get this ball rolling in that direction, and then we can start tackling some of the issues together."
The Roundup's candidates' debate will be televised on local access Channel 7, at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday nights.
General Election Tuesday, May 21