That’s one suggestion that has emerged that could unsnarl the legal tangle caused by a petition drive intended to block a deal between the YMCA and Payson.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said Thursday that if the town loses a not-yet-filed legal appeal, it might hire a professional polling firm to find out whether Payson voters support the proposed lease of five acres in Rumsey Park for a $5.6 million YMCA fitness center complex.
The council could then take the results of that poll into consideration before approving the proposed lease.
That sounds like a great idea, said Vickie Lucas, the head of Friends of Payson, which gathered 1,300, now-disputed signatures seeking a vote on the proposed lease.
The intriguing suggestion might offer both sides an escape from getting snarled in rolls of political barbed wire strewn in the path of the proposed recreational center by a convoluted series of events. It might also save the cost of an appeal and perhaps a $40,000 special election.
Back in July, the town council approved the tentative terms of a lease arrangement with the YMCA.
Last Friday, Gila County Superior Court Judge Robert Duber ruled that the petitions were invalid because the group violated the state law governing political committees. Duber ruled that the law requires such committees to include in their name whether they supported or opposed the ballot measure in question. The organizers also checked the wrong box on the form itself.
The judge ruled that the mistakes setting up the committee violated state law intended to make sure voters knew who was supporting and opposing ballot measures and decided the only way to enforce those provisions was to throw out the signatures.
Evans said the town will appeal that ruling, even though the council majority strongly supports the deal with the YMCA. The town will argue that the judge should have fined the group for the mistakes rather than throwing out 1,300 valid signatures.
Evans said the town’s attorneys told the council Payson can’t put the issue to a vote itself if the citizen’s group loses its appeal. A high court ruling in a similar case involving Scottsdale ruled a referendum put on the ballot by the council was illegal.
“We’re running out of options” in the event of an unsuccessful appeal, said Evans.
However, he said the town might hire a polling firm to find out what Payson voters thought.
Lucas was intrigued by that idea.
She noted that her group had managed to raise $3,000 to hire an attorney to argue its case last week, but probably can’t raise the additional money it would need to join with Payson in appealing the ruling.
“I wish that we had access to enough funding to just go ahead and join the appeal,” said Lucas.
But she said that an opinion poll would satisfy her, if it was done by a legitimate polling firm and included a large enough sample of registered voters.
“As long as it’s a truly random sample, I think it’s a great idea,” she said.”
Lucas noted she had been told that if the group lost the appeal, it would have no other way to force a vote on the proposed lease. If the town follows through on the tentative terms and actually signs a lease with the YMCA now, the group could not go get new signatures for an appeal because signing the lease would be an “administrative” rather than a “legislative” action. The law allows referendums to overturn legislative actions, but not administrative ones.
Ironically, that same technicality came into play several years ago when a Payson citizen’s group tried to block Payson’s purchase of the Tower Well in Star Valley. That well triggered a political controversy that ultimately led to the incorporation of Star Valley and years of disputes between the neighboring towns.