Town hall was packed for what was predicted to be a contentious session as the issue of an external audit of the police department was embedded in the meeting's agenda.
Language that Mayor Ken Murphy and Councilor Robert Henley lobbied hard to get in the town's corporate strategic plan had other councilors infuriated. Making the issue more volatile was the release of a detailed memorandum by Police Chief Gordon Gartner last week, accusing Murphy of creating a hostile work environment at town hall.
However, Henley, who had aligned himself with Murphy, read a prepared statement reversing his stance on an external audit of the police department.
"At this time, I am withdrawing my request for an external audit of the Payson Police Department," Henley said. "I believe we have a well respected, professional police department and I support and appreciate their efforts within the department and in the community."
One of Henley's reasons for initially supporting the audit was an October incident involving the police, the Gila County Sheriff's Office (GCSO) and the Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Narcotics Task Force, which is made up of officers from both the GCSO and DPS.
While attempting to serve a search warrant in a drug manufacturing case, the alleged suspects were tipped off by an informant, either inadvertently or deliberately, by members of the task force.
Gartner requested an external investigation on the incident, which inflamed the sheriff's department, which responded by saying that if any criminal wrongdoing occurred, it was on the part of Gartner and his staff.
The two task force officers then made a claim against the town and the police department for $100,000 each for, among other things, defamation of character.
Public statements Murphy made regarding "lawsuits" the town was getting and "officers charged with crimes" appeared to be the last straw for Gartner who, in his memo about a hostile work environment, referred to Murphy's "slanderous" insinuations.
Late last week, the findings of DPS' own internal investigation were released. Henley addressed this in his statement.
"I am concerned that task force officers did not tell our officers that the informant had been made aware of the pending search warrant," Henley said. "In fact, the letter of reprimand included in DPS internal affairs case #2002-257 indicates that the task force officer failed to explicitly advise his supervisor that he knew the informant was aware of the pending search warrant. I am hopeful that this review will resolve any outstanding questions and concerns about the conduct of those involved."
Murphy made no comment about Henley's statement.
Throughout the rest of the meeting, the general atmosphere seemed almost warm and fuzzy.
When the corporate strategic plan came up for a vote. Councilor Dick Wolfe made a motion to take out the language referring to the police department audit. Without any debate on the issue, the amendment was made and the plan passed by unanimous vote.
"This council works well together," Henley added at the conclusion of the meeting.
Although the issue of the hostile working environment never came up at the meeting, Gartner told the Roundup he does not intend to let the issue fade away or be ignored by town officials.