Payson's all-out effort to let citizens set budget and planning priorities drew the entire council and top city staffers Wednesday, Jan. 9 -- but only half a dozen written comments and one member of the public.
Nonetheless, the council spent an hour talking about the six suggestions submitted in writing, including a suggestion that the city cut more weeds, require business owners to maintain the right-of-way in front of their businesses, install more bike paths, make the police department lobby look less like a fortress and approve a sign ordinance that has riled businesses after more than a year of limbo.
Councilman John Wilson noted the close attention paid to the comments of the handful of citizens who bothered to comment. "The silent majority is still being driven by the vociferous minority," he said.
Councilman Andy Romance said, "As Thomas Jefferson said, this country is not being run by the majority -- but by the majority of those who show up."
Still, the town council staged an animated discussion of the mid-year update of the Payson Goal Plan, adopted after extensive surveys and public hearings last year as a way to increase citizen input.
The most spirited discussion centered on the town's long delay in adopting a new sign ordinance and a debate about whether the police department lobby should be redesigned to look more citizen-friendly.
The sole audience member immediately flummoxed the council by asking when the council will let hard-pressed businesses put up signs to help lure customers off the highway.
Roger Kreimeyer, owner of the Swiss Village, noted that he presented drawings to the council a year ago, seeking permission to put a marquee sign out front to list the businesses in the development. At that time, the council put off a decision until it could get a consultant's report on a new sign and landscaping plan for key commercial areas in the city.
"I've been working two years trying to get a sign," said Kreimeyer, genial, but frustrated.
"We have 150,000 square feet of vacant commercial space in this town and the economy is looking like hard times ahead. The lifeblood of business is advertising and that includes signs."
Mayor Bob Edwards made no attempt to defend the long delay in acting on stalled sign requests.
"The council and staff have egg on their faces for holding this up so long. This has been crazy."
He noted that a revision of the sign ordinance got caught up in an attempt to develop new landscaping standards, particularly for businesses along the highway.
"We do have landscaping," said Kreimeyer.
"If there's additional landscaping needed, let us know what it is. But if there could be an interim step, it would really help."
In fact, many tenants have taken to parking large delivery trucks out in front of their shops with the name of the business prominently displayed on the sides of the trucks, said Kreimeyer. "It's a form of advertising -- they're sign-hungry."
Interim Town Manager Debra Galbraith promised to make it her "No. 1 priority" to work with the consultant to update the sign ordinance and perhaps approve something for the Swiss Village that would fit into the larger plan quickly.
The ambiance of the police lobby also prompted some lively discussion.
One citizen complaint complained about the foreboding lobby that puts a transparent security wall between visitors and the clerk in the lobby.
"It looks like the department is protecting itself from the public, while it's the police that are supposed to protect the public," said Kathy Patrick-Bass, who filed the written comment and is also the volunteer coordinator for the effort to gather citizen input.
But Councilman Mike Vogel immediately objected to any redesign that might affect officer safety. "I don't think they should ever have face-to-face contact," said Vogel.
"If (the public) feels intimidated, perhaps they feel guilty. Officer safety is the priority. They face irritated people -- and irritated people sometimes get out of hand."
Currently, the police department is proposing a partial remodeling of the lobby that wouldn't remove the imposing transparent wall between citizens and officers, but would add rooms for meeting space to deflect people out of the lobby.
"I think getting rid of some of that harsh feeling would be good," said Mayor Edwards.
"Citizens are nice. I'll listen to them, but on this issue I'll listen to the pro," said Vogel, gesturing towards the police chief. "Citizens may want it, but they can't have it."
In the end, the council voted to add a remodeling of the police station to the list of possible priorities in the revised plan, with Vogel casting his dissenting vote.