With a new council and mayor in place, it is the perfect time for Payson residents to educate themselves about the structure of the town's government.
To many, the workings of town government seem like a wasteland of bureaucracy, procedure and formality as dry as the Arizona desert.
But knowing the mechanics of local government is the foundation of a healthy, informed community, said Town Manager Fred Carpenter.
Understanding the nuances of Payson's town government requires a trip back in time to the early 1970s.
As growth changed this remote mountain hamlet, population 3,000, the need for municipal structure grew apparent. In 1971, two years before incorporation, the area's disorganized septic system deteriorated to the point where raw sewage overflowed in the streets, which led to the establishment of the Northern Gila County Sanitary District.
"(The county) got that going, but it was inspected out of Globe and a lot of stuff wasn't put in correctly," said longtime Payson resident, insurance proprietor and the town's first mayor, Ted Pettet. "That's what happens when your inspector is 90 miles away."
The unincorporated town had other problems, too. Lots were patched together with no planning.
"People would build a real nice cabin and next door somebody would buy a lot and put a 1957 travel trailer on it," Pettet said. "Hodgepodge kind of stuff was going on and with growth you can't have that."
Meanwhile, all but three roads -- highways 260 and 87, and Main Street -- were unpaved.
"It was all rock and dirt," said former town manager Jack Monschein who served for 14 years, beginning in 1976. "That was one of the first tasks the council took up. We chip-sealed 30 miles of streets and we set enough money aside to do the whole town in three years."
Ready to determine their own future, community members gathered enough signatures -- two-thirds of the area's residents -- to incorporate, and in December 1973, the county board of supervisors seated Payson's first town council.
Those first few years, Pettet, Vice Mayor Alan Slaughter and five other councilors governed out of a single-wide trailer on the south end of town near the county complex.
"I think really back then it was a simpler time because you didn't have all the rules and regulations passed by the state and county," Pettet said. "We decided whoever got the most votes would be mayor." But things have changed since the early 1970s.
Town code, based on Arizona State statutes, dictates the powers and scope of the town council, headed by the mayor.
In a municipality with a population of 1,500 and more, the council is required to have seven members.
The mayor serves for two years, and councilors sit on the dais with four-year staggered terms.
Popular vote determines the winners. The primary election filters out the first round of candidates. Those who fall behind in votes are eliminated, and if the winning candidates fail to receive a majority of the votes, a general election follows, and whoever garners the most votes wins. After the council is seated, the seven-member panel chooses the vice mayor.
Eligibility to run for office is based on three requirements: A candidate must be 18 years old, a qualified elector, living within the city or town at the time of the election and a resident in the municipality at the city or town for one year preceding the election.
In theory, power trickles down from the citizenry to the council, which in turn sets policy and directs the town staff to execute its authority. The mayor acts as the chief executive officer of the town, presiding over council meetings, enforcing town code and serving on behalf of the town -- anything from signing checks to imposing curfews.
Acting in conjunction with the mayor, the council shares corporate powers to set policy, adopts town code, and appoints the 13 standing commissions and boards, which make recommendations to the council, and the magistrate who oversees criminal matters committed within town limits. Directly beneath the council sit Town Attorney Sam Streichman and Carpenter.
Streichman advises and represents the council on legal issues while Carpenter acts on its behalf as chief administrator and adviser, supervising everything from the hiring and firing of personnel to setting the $39 million budget and negotiating contracts. Eight direct subordinates answer to Carpenter, and, in turn, these department heads direct their own staffs.
Town business culminates during council meetings held, by code, the second and fourth Thursday of the month. The mayor or Town Clerk Silvia Smith can also call special meetings upon the written request of at least three council members.
The town council conducts its meetings according to parliamentary procedure and Arizona's open meeting laws.
State statute requires a quorum of elected officials to discuss business in public. The council can, however, meet in executive session with the town attorney to consider personnel and legal matters.
Town code dictates the order of the agenda. The mayor and town staff add items to the agenda. Public input provides the core of town council meetings: Residents can address the audience and the council, but state law prohibits the council from responding or taking action. Agenda items, sometimes taking up a dozen pages, navigate town business.
Most motions are passed with a majority vote -- five to two -- but, rezoning requests, protested by more than 20 percent of the neighbors, require a supermajority or at least six-to-one passing.
Regular business or consent agenda items -- for instance the adoption of minutes -- are routine.
Residents interested in gaining an in-depth knowledge of local government can attend the Town of Payson Leadership Academy free of charge. The workshop meets one night a week during eight sessions over a 16-week period. For more information, call (928) 474-5242 or visit www.ci.payson.az.us.