There are angry Payson residents calling the town council about Mayor Ken Murphy’s recent run-in with the law. There is also talk from residents about organizing a recall drive against him, according to several of the councilors contacted by the Roundup.
But there are other residents urging the mayor to get help for what they perceive as a serious problem with alcohol.
Murphy pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct/domestic violence and threatening and intimidating/domestic violence Monday.
He spent Sunday night in the Gila County jail and was released on his own recognizance following his court appearance. Monday morning, Murphy returned to his residence with his fiancee, Julie Barcom.
According to a court spokesperson, the pre-trial hearing on the case is set for Dec. 18, with the trial scheduled for Feb. 10. It is possible those dates may change because the case will be handled by both an outside prosecutor and visiting judge, the court spokesperson said.
Barcom made a 911 call to the Payson Police Department Sunday, Nov. 10, which led to the charges against Murphy. She has since said the call, made in the heat of an ordinary family squabble, was a mistake.
Murphy had no additional comments for the paper when called Thursday.
Vice Mayor Barbara Brewer was the councilor first contacted by the police about Murphy’s arrest. She said Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner called her on her cell phone in Phoenix Sunday.
As a courtesy, she said she called the rest of the council. Brewer said she felt it would be better for the councilors to hear it from her rather than to hear it on the street or from the media.
Brewer said Murphy also called her to apologize, telling her it wasn’t his fault.
The vice mayor said she contacted the county attorney, Daisy Flores, asking her how the situation would be handled in the courts. She said Flores told her the Arizona Department of Public Safety would have to investigate the charges and make a recommendation to the county attorney about prosecution.
Brewer said she did not know what would happen next, emphasizing the mayor is innocent until proven guilty.
“I’d hope we could heal our town. Let him make his apologies and let’s move forward. I’m very proud of our town, that we could have open dialog about this,” Brewer said.
Gartner said the case will be handled locally, not turned over to the DPS.
“We’re capable of doing an objective investigation. The bulk of it was done that day,” the chief said.
He said the primary reason to keep the case local is because it is very important, especially in domestic violence cases, to have a continuity in services for the victims. Gartner said it is not fair to victims to be passed around from one agency to another, making them repeat their stories over and over.
The council can take no action against the mayor, according to Councilor Judy Buettner.
“It’s our understanding it’s up to the people. We as a body can’t ask for a resignation,” she said. However, individual councilors can request a resignation. “I hope the people of Payson will think hard. It is a tragic thing for everyone.”
She said she has had a lot of calls from residents.
“There is a real concern among the citizens throughout the community. It impacts the town and staff. He has to think about it and decide what to do. I hope it gets resolved quite quickly for everyone. We have a job to do and we don’t need the distraction,” Buettner said.
Councilor Dick Wolfe said he is not going to ask for Murphy’s resignation.
“He’s not convicted of anything yet, so that would be premature. But perhaps it’s what he should do to work on his problems. I’m very dismayed about what this has done to our town. The negative publicity troubles me greatly,” Wolfe said.
Like Buettner, he said he has received a lot of calls from citizens.
“People are very angry and talking recall. I tell them I won’t get involved in that. I just direct them to the clerk,” he said.
One of Wolfe’s major concerns is for the police department.
“I am really troubled by the remarks to (Police Officer Alan) Dyer. They were incredibly insensitive remarks and impacts the morale of our whole police department,” Wolfe said.
When Councilor Richard Reese was contacted and told the Roundup was getting in touch with all the council members for comments on the Murphy situation, Reese responded, “I’ll be at the meeting tonight. See you later,” and hung up the phone.
Councilor Robert Henley said a comment from him would be inappropriate at this time. The mayor needed to make his statement to the public, and then they would go from there.
Councilor Bryan Sieverson had not returned the newspaper’s call at press time.
Readers’ comments on the Roundup’s Internet bulletin board ranged from those saying Murphy was a victim of manipulation to others encouraging the mayor to get treatment for alcohol abuse and other problems.
About a recall
Information about conducting a recall has been released to residents by the town clerk’s office. No action can be taken until Dec. 9, the six-month anniversary of the swearing-in ceremonies for the mayor and new council members. A total of 772 verified signatures will be needed to force a recall.
Every recall petition must contain a general statement, of no more than 200 words, giving the grounds for the demand for recall.
Each signature must include the date of signing and place of residence. The petition must also be signed by the circulator, before a notary public, verifying the signatures are genuine.
The signatures must then be verified by elections officials.
The subject of the recall has five days from the time the recall petitions are formally filed with the council to resign. If there is no resignation, a recall election is called, generally scheduled with the next regular general election.
On the recall ballot, the reason for the recall is included, along with the subject’s justification for remaining in office.
Challengers, formally nominated with petitions and proper filings, can be placed on the ballot, or in the event of a resignation, the council can appoint a successor to fill the seat.