For eight months, the voters, council members, town staff and council candidates were told the newly elected council would be sworn into office June 8. And for years, the incoming council has been sworn in the first week of June. This tradition, however, does not comply with town code.
Section 30.03 of the town code states that newly elected council members "assume the duties of office at the regularly scheduled Council meeting next following the date of the general election at which, or effective as of the date of which, the Council members were elected."
While reading through the town code, someone discovered this clause, and that someone, who was not identified by town staff, approached town attorney Sam Streichman with this information.
Streichman released a memo dated Monday, May 22 saying, "It appears that the newly elected Mayor and Council members should take office at the (next) regularly scheduled Council meeting. ..."
Action was taken. Changes were made and most of the newly elected council members were apprised of the situation that evening, which is less than 24 hours warning. That is barely enough warning to get a shirt dry-cleaned in time for the swearing-in ceremony, let alone time to prepare for the long road of leadership ahead.
We find it disturbing to think of people taking the reins of this town so jarringly. Mike Vogel, for example, is just returning from a bear hunting trip. And Su Connell has out-of-town guests arriving this week.
It may seem a small thing to take office more than two weeks before one expected, but a lot can happen in the whirlwind of two council meetings. Uninformed decisions can be made. Damage can be done.
Taking office is a time-consuming and serious responsibility. To be thrust into it, unprepared, is dangerous.
The decision to follow a town code that has been ignored for years is legal, and, by law, it is the correct thing to do. But as residents of Payson, with the fate of our town in the hands of council members still recuperating from the election, we believe this was a poor decision.
To decide whether we are right on this point, you must ask yourself why this decision was made and what will the consequences be.
First, the newly elected council members are scheduled for training on June 9 and 10. At that training, they will learn about Open Meeting Law and the basic procedures for council meetings. They will learn town code and Arizona State Statutes. They will learn what decisions they can legally make and they will learn the boundaries of their new-found power.
This training is important. It allows us to put faith in elected citizens with little or no governmental background to make the right choices for us in a legal way.