Jan Schmalzer, a recent transplant from the Valley, said she'd never experienced a public forum -- in terms of attendance and scope -- quite like Tuesday's citizen input sessions.
The community showed up, the people talked and the politicians listened.
"I think the turnout has been fantastic," Schmalzer said. "A lot of people made a lot of good points."
More than 150 local residents attended "Defining Payson's Future," the two-session workshop devoted to public feedback and dialogue.
With 1 percent of the town's population at the forum, organizers tuned into a changing public perception of local politics.
"I am optimistic," said Kathy Baas, chairwoman of the Citizens Generated Goal Plan Task Force, the group responsible for the input sessions. "It's one thing to gripe, it's another to come and participate."
"I love this turnout," added Councilor Ed Blair.
Since taking office in early June, Payson Mayor Bob Edwards is undertaking an ideological overhaul of town leadership for the coming two years of his term.
During his campaign he said that the populace, not the staff, should dictate policy.
To begin the process, the mayor created unofficial task forces to explore various aspects of town government, everything from beautification to affordable housing to ethics.
What started out as a handful of advisory panels now totals, at last count, 18 task forces comprised of more than 175 local and out-of-town volunteers.
On Tuesday, representatives from a dozen of the task forces were on hand to answer questions.
After a brief overview, participants roamed a honeycomb of classrooms, tending to their pet concerns.
Docents affixed large, white sheets of paper to the walls where voters addressed their concerns.
Streets, affordable housing, water, the truck bypass and the "everything else" task force topics ranked among the most popular.
Volunteer Patty Urch manned the catchall room. There she learned of community obscurities, including the fate of 100 homes in town limits still on septic systems -- vulnerable to frequent malfunction.
"That was a huge surprise," Urch said. "They want the city to provide service. There was also lots of emphasis on recycling and bike trails."
The other side shows up
When Edwards first announced the formation of a number of task forces, community ire surfaced over their legal legitimacy, some of which are closed to the public.
Don Crowley of Citizens for Better Payson Government (CBPG) has said these groups are operating illegally, and according to state statute, are bound by open meeting laws.
"The notion of having advisory committees is a good thing, but they have to be done legally," Crowley has said.
Gordon Metcalf, also of CBPG vocalized his concerns. He supported past mayor, Barbara Brewer, during her re-election campaign and reiterated Crowley's comment that meetings that occur in private violate state open meeting law statutes.
But on Tuesday, the former Edwards detractor put aside his objections and shook the mayor's hand.
"I'm interested in Payson," Metcalf said. "I wouldn't have missed this for anything. It's good if it stays open and not used as a hammer to beat down town staff."
In spite of the day's success, organizers had their own concerns. The bulk of people, mostly senior citizens, showed up during the 2 to 4 p.m. session. Attendance at the 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. session waned.
Edwards said the disparity in attendance speaks to a larger problem: Retirees with more time on their hands vote. Younger couples, busy raising families and working, don't have the time.
"We're trying to find younger people to get involved," Edwards said. "In today's world, it's tough to do, especially to survive in this town."
To sweeten the event, Gary Wayne of Payson took home an American flag that flew over the nation's capital, donated by Rep. Rick Renzi.
Baas encouraged community members who couldn't attend to leave comments on a Web site dedicated to the citizens input forum: www.inpayson.com/Mayors_Task_Force_OnLine_Form_2006.htm
-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.