Citizens Ask Mayor To Quit, Christian School Ok'd

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Public comment requests and a last-minute addition to the agenda made for an overflowing council chambers at Thursday night's meeting of the town council.

Resignation requests

Mayor Ken Murphy acknowledged requests by two members of the public to address the council in the public comment portion of the meeting, referring to them as "members of his fan club."

Co-chair of the group Citizens for Better Payson Government, Gordon Metcalf and Sharon Jackson, both of whom were involved in December's recall efforts, admonished the mayor to make good on his pledge to step down if he further embarrassed the town.

"Events of the past few months, partially with the police department and those of a week ago when you made threatening phone calls to two female council members," Metcalf said. "It seems to me you've hit strike number three and four. I'm wondering if you intend to keep your pledge."

"I and other concerned citizens find your out-of-control verbal assaults embarrassing and unacceptable," Jackson said. "Now we have the police chief having to protect our vice mayor and another council member from our mayor ... then we are reminded that our mayor has two scheduled court appearances on previous charges."

"Step down as you pledged in December 2002," Jackson said. "You may be thinking that only a hallway full of people are here and that's not an overwhelming majority, but I believe for every one person willing to stand up and be counted, it is representative of another 50 to 100 people who feel the same but for fear of their jobs, for fear of repercussions ... cannot be here."

The mayor sat expressionless. Rather than acknowledging the speakers, Murphy instead congratulated the coaches and players who recently returned from the All-Star Little League Championship in Winslow.

"These kids played their hearts out," he said.

Christian School Controversy

The public plea for the mayor to step down appeared to be overshadowed by a large contingency of residents with an interest in the proposed site of the Payson Community Christian School on Mud Springs Road.

An appeal of the Planning and Zoning Commission decision to approve a conditional use permit for the school, was added to the meeting agenda at the last minute.

A group made up of residents with property next to the proposed site, calling themselves Right School, Wrong Place, filed the appeal. They, however, were told that the appeal would not come before the council until mid-August and immediately requested the issue be tabled.

"We wanted to provide you with a more documentation, but we need more time to put together a competent presentation," group member Trey Ryder said. "We request that you delay this until Aug. 14 so we can provide you with something you can rely on."

The group's appeal was based on traffic concerns, water issues, increased noise levels, incompatibility with surrounding land use and safety issues.

Councilor Bryan Siverson, in absentia, requested the issue be tabled and Councilor Robert Henley agreed, saying he wanted more information before making a decision. Since no motion was made, the public hearing continued.

Several members of the public in support of the school, urged the council not to delay the decision as the school year was fast approaching.

Pastor Mark Chamberlin of the First Southern Baptist Church urged the council to proceed with their decision.

"As I understand it, the issue is not the school, it's the location of the school -- the issue really is ‘not in my back yard' (NIMBY)," Chamberlin said. "We need to move on with this. Planning and Zoning has signed off on this ... I strongly urge the council to approve this."

Chamberlin then confronted Vice Mayor Barbara Brewer about an alleged petition against the school that was being circulated at her business.

"Some gossip I've heard that deeply troubles me -- I've heard that you are circulating a petition against this in your establishment. If this is so, I respectfully request that you recuse yourself from this issue due to conflict of interest."

Brewer denied the accusation and explained her position.

"I believe in fair and equitable information to be received from both sides at all times," Brewer said, "and therefore I move to table."

The motion was defeated.

Officials involved with the school answered questions from the council about issues of traffic, the school's appearance, and noise. They offered to erect an eight-foot cement wall to appease neighboring residents and stagger their hours to reduce traffic.

Councilor Judy Buettner, who had walked the area and talked to residents, raised the idea of scheduling a special session to discuss the issue at the end of July.

Brewer agreed and made a second motion to schedule a special session on July 31.

The motion was not seconded and discussion, again, continued.

The cement block wall around the campus was suggested as a possible condition that could be added if the appeal was defeated.

"(The school) will do whatever to be good neighbors," Chamberlin said. "Schools make good neighbors."

Former mayor Craig Swartwood urged the council to vote against the appeal and allow the school construction to go forward.

"What have we come to when a school becomes a NIMBY?" Swartwood asked. "I know the pressure (the council) is under. ... Sometimes you have to look at the greater good of the community. There's not a school in Payson that is not in a residential neighborhood. Do something that's right for the greater good -- don't postpone your decision."

Councilor Dick Wolfe made a motion to disapprove the appeal and institute the condition of an eight foot cement wall around three sides of the building. Councilor Dick Reese seconded the motion.

The motion passed 5-0, with Henley abstaining.

Other news

The council unanimously approved the fiscal year 2003-2004 budget and voted to allow Main Street to be closed off for a portion of Rodeo Weekend.

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