A 4-3 vote put town attorney Sam Streichman in charge of writing a new "Town Officials" ordinance.
The current town code provides that a super majority vote (6-1) of the council is needed to hire or fire one of the eight employees designated as town officials. Payson's designated town officials are: town manager, town clerk, public works director/town engineer, town attorney, town magistrate, chief fiscal officer, police chief and fire chief. The state mandates town officers should be the manager, attorney, clerk and a town marshal.
The motion, made by Councilor Robert Henley, asked that the new ordinance reduce the number of town officials to only those required by the state; make all department heads answerable to the town manager, who will have the hiring-firing authority, with the council serving as a board of appeal. The council will only need a simple majority to act on an employment appeal.
Approving the action to begin work on a new ordinance were Mayor Ken Murphy and Councilors Henley, Dick Reese and Bryan Siverson. Opposing the action were Vice Mayor Barbara Brewer and Councilors Judy Buettner and Dick Wolfe.
"The list of the ‘super protected' is lengthy. (Restructuring is just) the desire to address organizational efficiency. It has nothing to do with removing someone. It has to do with accountability," Henley said.
Murphy concurred with Henley. "We set policy, the town manager implements," he said. "All the department heads should report to the town manager."
Reese said he had given a great deal of thought and prayed over the question.
"There is so much emotion. Why? I come back to one word -- fear. Fear that one of us can manipulate the rest (to carry out their personal agenda) ... Moving away from the super majority complements the reliance on the town manager. The policy for termination is extensive, with an appeal process to a three-citizen committee."
Wolfe said the town's current system is working extremely well.
"We have a very well-run town, we have career employees. Our department heads are very professional. We have very little turnover," he said. "All this tells me we have a system that is working quite well. And I don't see us requiring any changes at all and I will oppose any changes."
"I had many calls opposed to this, and only one supporting it," Buettner said. "People want to be sure (our department heads) are protected and that's a real compliment."
Murphy said the council should not be hiring and firing the town officers -- that should be the responsibility of the town manager.
Former mayor Ray Schum said, "If it's not broke, don't fix it. ... That doesn't mean down the road we shouldn't perhaps change it ... but I think our timing is all wrong, and I'm going to base it only on that because of some personal issues involved by some of you there on the council, your timing is just terrible. Bring it up sometime later, but not right now."
Councilor Siverson said he had been discussing the need of a change with other council members for 10 months or so. He said he was on the council for a year and assumed the department heads reported to the town manager.
"Right now, the town manager is doing reviews for people who do not report to him, they only report to the council ... This witch hunt idea, this speculation of vendetta and all this stuff is just garbage and is perpetrated by the newspaper and its editorials," he said. "I'm really disappointed with the people that write that. That the idea behind this is that -- when all we're trying to do is make the town government work better."
Bill Michaelis, co-chairman of the Citizens Awareness Committee, said his group recommends the change because it creates a clear chain of command.
Andy Kaiser said the council has a real problem with how they are perceived by the community; there was too much division in both the community and council to take action; he recommended stepping back and building a consensus of support.
"This community suffers from divisiveness. And action taken to make changes where there doesn't appear to be a driving need to make a change should be very carefully approached," Kaiser said.
Murphy said, "I'd like to say the divisiveness on the part of the publisher of the newspaper and my critics has created this divisiveness."
"The perception has been created by a small group of people using the op-ed page to express feelings based on incorrect information or outright ...
"This will depoliticize the situation," Henley said. "... There is no way one individual up here, whether they had a vendetta or not, could accomplish anything."