When mayoral candidate Ken Murphy stood on stage during last Friday's debate and swore he was not fired, his boss and other corporate administrators took exception to his vow.
This, and other statements made publicly by Murphy about his management of Manzanita Manor, are drawing questions.
Despite the dispute, Murphy's former employers feel that if elected mayor, Murphy would be an effective leader for the town of Payson.
Since his departure at the beginning of the month, Murphy has emphatically stated that he was not fired as executive director of the care center.
"I quit ... and that is the honest-to-God truth," he said.
"It's a lie and I can prove it," said Mark Yampol, Murphy's former immediate supervisor of the Tucson-based management company, Community Care LLC. "We have a policy that all terminated employees must have a witness present during the termination and an exit interview."
That witness, Yampol said, was John Fioramonti, general counsel and CEO of Community Care LLC.
"He was absolutely terminated," Fioramonti concurred. "No question. He (Murphy) asked us afterward if Mark would allow him to resign, but (Yampol's) response was it was way past that point and too late for that."
"This was not a sudden thing," Yampol said. "This was under consideration for several months."
When told of the conflicting report from Yampol, Murphy replied, "He's a liar. It's obvious that when I called up and quit, he's trying to save his own face."
Murphy provided his own witness Paul Friedlan, owner and administrator at Copper Mountain Inn Care Center in Globe.
"Mark Yampol and I were at a late lunch and (Murphy) did call (Yampol) indicating his intention to resign," Friedlan said. "I overheard the conversation. I took the phone from (Yampol) and advised (Murphy) to think about it overnight."
"Actually, he is somewhat correct," Yampol said. "It was after (Murphy) had been put on notice and was informed that he was going to be terminated. It was the 11th hour. His line was, 'Do you want me to give you my resignation?'" Deanna Browning, business office manager for Manzanita Manor was asked to write Murphy's final check.
"When (Yampol and Fioramonti) first got up here, they came to my office and asked me to make out (Murphy's) final check because they were going to be terminating him that day," Browning said.
A reason to quit, or a reason to be fired
Murphy said his reason for quitting was because of canceled health care coverage for his employees.
"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," Murphy said at the debate..
"The insurance was the primary reason for Mr. Murphy's termination," Yampol said. "His failure to pay the insurance or ask for assistance in a timely manner put at risk every insured employee at the facility."
"When (Yampol) discovered that the employees' health coverage had been jeopardized by Ken failing to pay those premiums, it became urgent in Mark's mind to make an immediate change and protect the staff," Fioramonti said.
"They had known well before that it was going to be canceled if they didn't pay the bill," he said. "They controlled the money."
Yampol emphasized that coverage has been reinstated.
"The company has promised to continue coverage and will absorb any and all additional costs of insurance to resolve this fiasco."
Who controlled the money?
Murphy reassured the public of his reputation and experience.
"I've been involved in Manzanita since 1994 and I know how to operate a nursing facility," he said. "I know the truth."
Murphy expressed his frustration over accusations that he was responsible for payroll problems and other underfunded accounts.
"I do not control the checkbook." Murphy said during the debate.
"Now there's a part of this that was true," Yampol said. "For the last couple weeks, prior to his termination, the checkbook had been taken away."
"Previous to March, (Murphy) was a signer and was responsible for these accounts," Browning said. "In mid-March, the corporate office took over our operating and payroll accounts."
"We did have our own payables department before March," Murphy said. "But for the second time, all the accounts were seized because of judgments against Mr. Yampol. Yampol had a bookkeeper who moved money at the corporate office without our knowledge."
Qualified to be mayor?
The problems at Manzanita Manor don't necessarily preclude Murphy from doing a good job as mayor, Fioramonti said.
"I don't think that he would do anything but the best for the town of Payson," he said. "His roots are there and I believe he'd be dedicated to it. I believe this is a very intelligent, experienced and knowledgeable health care provider, but I believe he was just burned out of the administrative management side of health care."
"If you ask me if (Murphy) is qualified to be the mayor I think he is eminently qualified," Yampol agreed. "I wouldn't have hired him as an administrator if I didn't. However, if you have someone working for you and if they can't or don't devote the time to do that job effectively, things will fall apart.
"I believe an administrator's job is a 24/7 business and a 24/7 responsibility," he said. "It requires a tremendous commitment. (Murphy) has not been able to give that commitment."
When asked then to summarize the reasons for Murphy's dismissal, Fioramonti replied, "In short, (Murphy) was fired for a total lack of management of the facility and leadership of the staff in every area."
"(Murphy) was dismissed for his failure to anticipate and effectually eliminate problems," Yampol said, "which is what a manager does. The care has been there. There's a great staff over there great people but they need help from their manager to get the job done."
"I had excellent employees at Manzanita and the residents were well cared for," Murphy said. "I am proud of that record."
Elaine Yamada, an assistant office manager who left Manzanita prior to Murphy's departure, said Murphy always tried to do his best.
"As far as I know, (Murphy) did everything he could to keep the company running smoothly," Yamada said. "He was all for the local venders and always had an open-door policy always took time to listen to our new ideas."
Yampol said that since Murphy left Manzanita Manor, only one other employee has quit Murphy's fianceJulie Barcom.
"I still stand by everything I've said both publicly and privately," Murphy said. "I have no reason to lie. I've got another job and had several job offers. In addition to that, Mr. Yampol still owes me my vacation and severance pay. Hopefully I'll get it."