Developer Threatens Legal Action Against Town

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Payson's new mayor, Bob Edwards, and councilors Mike Vogel, Su Connell and Ed Blair took the oath of office Tuesday evening during a private swearing-in ceremony at Town Hall.

As the new council members were sworn into office, the current Town Council convened for a special meeting.

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New mayor, Bob Edwards, front, Ed Blair, Su Connell and Mike Vogel were sworn into office in a private ceremony, Tuesday, May 23.

Councilors were met with the news from Town Attorney Sam Streichman that 10 minutes before Tuesday night's meeting, he received an e-mail that threatened legal action against the Town in protest of the rescheduling of the swearing in and seating of the mayor and new council members. The decision was made after Leon Keddington, Edwards' campaign manager, approached Streichman with a section of Town Code that stated newly elected council members should be seated at the next regular council meeting following the election -- in this case, May 24. The new mayor and council members were originally scheduled to take office June 8.

Steve Hirsch of the Phoenix-based law firm Bryan Cave, representing Terra Capital Group, sent the e-mail to Streichman. Michael Horton, a principal of the development firm, said he couldn't comment on the details of the case, but would only say, "We believe what they did was totally illegal."

In the past, the council-elect deviated from Town Code by taking office the first week of June.

"(The code) has consistently been ignored by custom and practices for the past several councils," Streichman read from Hirsch's letter. "The existing council should consider several important matters on the agenda to be voted upon at Wednesday night's meeting."

Hersch's letter said yesterday's action to swear in the council early is illegal and against past practices.

"Frankly, the maneuver of prematurely swearing in and purporting to seat newly elected council members some weeks before they may legally take office, and before required disclosures and bonds have been submitted appears to be politically motivated," he wrote.

More specifically, the letter cites two legal procedures the new council failed to comply with: Submitting financial disclosure statements and securing a bond.

Town Manager Fred Carpenter said candidates provide disclosure statements when they submit intent-to-run documentation, and aren't obligated to file again until Jan. 31, 2006.

Meanwhile, a townwide bond automatically covers elected officials when they take office.

Two of Terra Capital's residential projects -- Mogollon Ridge and Forest Edge -- on tonight's agenda would have been voted on by the existing council.

The current council approved the first reading, or introductory, rezoning request of the neighbor-contested Mogollon Ridge, an 8.2-acre residential housing project on North McLane Road April 27.

Town code requires two readings on a rezoning request -- the second of which is slated for tonight's agenda. Mogollon Ridge could die on second reading if a supermajority or three-fourths majority of the seven-member council votes against it.

State statute compels a council to pass a rezoning request by supermajority when 20 percent of the neighboring residents object to a proposed development.

Terra Capital said it will take legal action if Mogollon Ridge and Forest Edge fail to make the cut.

"Terra Capital will strictly hold the town and its new council liable for any damages caused to its projects by such unlawful activity," Hersch wrote.

Streichman said he will defend the town against litigation arising from these proceedings.

The other rezoning, also required to pass by supermajority, involves the 64-acre Forest Edge subdivision located at the end of Phoenix Street adjacent to Bob Edwards' Rimview Heights neighborhood.

Two council members -- Andy Romance and Dick Reese -- broke the supermajority and turned down the rezoning petition May 11. (Reese is no longer on the council.)

But Forest Edge made its way back on this evening's agenda after Mayor Barbara Brewer asked for a reconsideration of the proposal May 18.

The new council will consider whether or not to proceed with the first reading, and if more than one councilmember objects to the project, it dies.

Other developments on tonight's agenda include a second reading of Boulder Ridge, Kevin Sokol's Tyler Parkway subdivision, and two preliminary plat approvals.

Wednesday's regular town council meeting commences at 6 p.m. in the town council chambers, followed by farewell of the existing council and the public swearing in of the new.

Because of Payson High School graduation, the council moved the regularly scheduled Thursday night meeting to tonight, Wednesday, May 24.

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