Mayor Ken Murphy's latest statements about the Payson Police Department on KMOG radio have prompted Police Chief Gordon Gartner to write a memo to Town Manager Fred Carpenter declaring a hostile work environment at town hall.
The memo, distributed Friday, is the first official response from the chief following months of public accusations and criticism leveled by the mayor toward the department.
The memo describes several incidents contributing to what Gartner believes is a vendetta. He says Murphy's encounters with law enforcement have prompted a hostile working environment and "intolerable working conditions" for him and his employees.
"Clearly, the mayor has had many legal problems associated with the Payson Police Department," Gartner stated. "There is no doubt in my mind that the issues directed at the police department, including policy reviews, the proposed audits, his verbal onslaughts directed at me, his false accusations made publicly, both in council meetings and over the radio, are part of a vendetta that he has directed at me personally and at the police department."
Gartner's memo goes on to address specific events that support his claim of a hostile work environment.
- "On May 13, 2003, during a KMOG radio talk show, Mayor Murphy called in ... and made a statement to the effect of ‘our officers have been charged with crimes' ... I mailed you (Carpenter) an e-mail requesting that the mayor identify these specific employees that may have been charged with a crime. (Murphy's) response back to me was ‘that is not what I said.' I do in fact have a tape-recording of this radio program and it is in fact what he did say. The connotations with these comments being made by the town of Payson's mayor, who is the lead public figure for our community, is that officers of the Payson Police Department are facing criminal charges. The mayor's comments were knowingly inaccurate, reprehensible, offensive to both myself and my staff, slanderous and hostile."
The Roundup, which also had a tape of the KMOG talk show, called Murphy for clarification on his comments.
"I never said any of the Payson Police Department was charged with crimes," Murphy said. "I didn't say our officers had been charged with crimes ... some officers have been charged with crimes ... yeah, I was talking about the task force guys. Gordy was trying to get them charged with crimes. That's what I meant, and if it came across differently -- I said officers charged with crimes or some generic statement like that," Murphy responded.
- "On Thursday, April 16 at approximately 3:15 p.m., Fire Marshal Jack Babb reported to Lt. Don Engler that while he was at a Toastmaster's meeting, the mayor walked past him as he was exiting the meeting. The mayor stated to Babb, ‘Watch your back, Jack.' ... This threat was turned over to Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores for investigation and determination of any criminal activity. Fire Marshal Babb has indicated to me that he is very much concerned for his welfare in reference to these threats."
- "On April 17 at approximately 10 a.m., Fire Chief John Ross, along with Interim Fire Chief Marty deMasi and myself, had a meeting with you (Carpenter) to discuss the Public Safety Capital Improvement Program. At this meeting, deMasi indicated while at the April 11 farewell party for Ross at the Mazatzal Casino, Murphy pointed a finger at deMasi, telling him that he needed to get rid of Babb.
... deMasi stated that the comments that Murphy made to him regarding Babb's employment were ‘totally inappropriate' and that he was willing to talk to investigators relative to this matter.
"(Ross) also indicated that in his opinion, Fire Marshal Babb would have an excellent opportunity for a lawsuit against the town for the hostile working conditions he has to operate under."
According to Gartner's memo, Ross told Carpenter that Murphy had repeatedly indicated to him (Ross) a desire to fire the police chief. Gartner stated that Ross has documented these instances and has agreed to return to Payson and testify if necessary.
Murphy described the exchange with deMasi in an interview with the Roundup, "The most recent thing is just joking around with Marty deMasi at John Ross' going away party with Bryan Siverson standing there. I said, ‘Oh, you've got a great fire department. You've just got one problem, you've got to get rid of' ... just joking about the fire marshal," Murphy said. "Now they're threatening another felony charge because (the county attorney) is trying to force me into a plea agreement on intimidating a witness. It doesn't stop."
Gartner also discussed an attempted February executive session of the council, that focused on the police department, but excluded him from participating.
"In this case, I was intentionally left out of the process, and in listening to the tape recording of the meeting, it is clear to me that a personnel discussion regarding myself was going to take place in the executive session. As you (Carpenter) know, I authored a memo to you indicating that in my opinion the meeting was illegal for many reasons.
"During the discussion regarding whether the council would go into executive session or not, a comment was made indicating that the chief, myself, was accused of criminal conduct. The mayor's comments were unlawful, inflammatory, hostile and slanderous," Gartner said in his memo.
The memo goes on to address statements made regarding Gartner's religious affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known also as the Mormon Church.
According to Gartner, one of his officers was told by Deputy County Attorney Brian Chambers that Murphy's attorney, Harlan Green, in the presence of Murphy, stated that they believed that Murphy's legal problems were part of a ‘Mormon conspiracy.'
Gartner also believes a memo from Carpenter regarding issues of concern from some council members about police policy, implied that his religious affiliation was influencing the department's conduct in the field.
"In a memorandum I received (May 9) ... regarding concerns from the council that I need to address, one of them talks about departmental values. What is unsaid in this particular paragraph is, does my religious affiliation interfere with my ability to do my job as police chief, or do I attempt to hold the community to my religious standards, or do we purely enforce the laws?" Gartner wrote.
Gartner's response to Carpenter's memo in his own memo was abrupt.
"Let me state my opinion on this matter. Neither you (Carpenter), nor the mayor, the council, or others, have a right to discuss my religion in the context of my employment. It is wrong and it is unconstitutional. Nothing more needs to be said on this matter."
Murphy told the Roundup, "You talk to the police department, they'll consistently talk to you about values and morality and that bothers me. I don't want a law enforcement agency enforcing morality -- Whose morality? Baptist morality? Mormon morality? Catholic morality? What is their duty in regards to their values and their morality in enforcing the laws of this town? Because they don't like domestic violence, everybody goes to jail contrary to what the law says?
"That's not their policy. They have a zero-tolerance policy, so people are going to jail, ruining their lives because of his (Gartner's) personal values and morality about it."
Gartner, in the memo, also addresses an accusation by Murphy that he lied to the council during a February policy review session at which he and his staff fielded questions about various issues from the council.
"I was finally given a list of areas where I was identified as lying in this meeting on May 13 -- three months after the meeting. ... The mayor should have been prepared to support his position with documents and/or statements that I would have an opportunity to challenge," Gartner wrote.
Murphy said he asked for a verbatim transcript of the meeting because some of Gartner's statements "were disputed by many people."
"Gordy didn't tell us the truth two months ago when we had our departmental review meeting," Murphy said.
One of the issues that Murphy stated Gartner lied about was that his officers had never thrown a diversionary device, called a flash bang grenade, into a methamphetamine lab.
According to Murphy, members of the Gila County Narcotics Task Force told him this was not true.
Gartner has since launched an internal investigation into the allegation.
Gartner's memo concludes by requesting immediate action be taken by town officials.
"The mayor has engaged in a deliberate and malicious attack on the officers in the Payson Police Department. I am asking that the town manager and the town council take steps to remedy this working environment as soon as possible."
Carpenter, Murphy, as well as Councilors Bryan Siverson and Robert Henley had "no comment" on Gartner's memo.
Councilor Judy Buettner did comment.
"There is no question," Buettner said of the alleged hostile work environment. "In addition," Buettner said, "it creates a hostile environment for the whole town. I think we have a good police department. It's unfortunate for everybody."
"I believe it is unfortunate that this is going on," Councilor Barbara Brewer said. "We are all elected and are accountable to the citizens in the community and should support our police department and town staff."
Councilor Dick Reese decided to talk to Carpenter after seeing Gartner's memo.
"This is very serious," Reese said. "Fred said to me that he is thinking of having a meeting of everyone involved and getting the issues and concerns and attitudes out on the table."
"It certainly appears to be a very serious situation," Councilor Dick Wolfe said, "and I am very concerned about the morale of our officers and our whole police department. I hope that we can have a speedy resolution to this. I'm sure our town manager will step up and initiate an investigation into this and take the proper steps to see that it's taken care of. We need to get on with the business of our town. This is becoming way too disruptive, not just for the police, but for the council and our whole community," he said.
The organization, Citizens for Better Payson Government issued a press release stating that Gartner's charges "would appear to create a basis for a variety of legal claims against the town of Payson which could dwarf any existing litigation."
"While we don't know whether the appropriate investigative effort should involve the federal EEOC, the Arizona Attorney General's office, the Gila County Attorney or more than one jurisdiction, we know town officials are too conflicted and divided to handle this thoroughly and credibly. This situation has been allowed to fester, and the infection requires much more aggressive treatment."