Mayor Bob Edwards on Monday spoke to the Citizen's Awareness Committee to address his accomplishments and his re-election defeat. His speech provided an assessment of town officials, muted criticism of his election opponents and a call to continued activism to prevent the "good old boys" from running away with town government.
Edwards offered the first public reaction to his election defeat before a group of mostly retired community activists and leaders who have long been a mainstay of his policies. He acknowledged that he received about 770 votes fewer than two years ago and amassed 45 percent of the vote against winner Kenny Evans' 55 percent, but called the outcome more of a "setback" than a defeat.
Edwards told the sympathetic audience that he felt "the great relief of a burden lifted," but also the "disappointment of a job undone."
Edwards said "voters chose to be governed by the same group of special interests" that controlled the town before he ran for election two years ago. "Our opponents put together an impressive coalition," he said, with one of those opponents -- Realtor Michael Hughes -- sitting in the audience.
Edwards said that the Realtors, who he bested two years ago, came back with a broader coalition that not only won the mayor's race -- but also defeated the council candidates Edwards had endorsed -- David Rutter and Tom Loeffler, both of whom were in the audience on Monday.
"Was this a total defeat?" asked Edwards, "not even close."
He said if 222 people who voted for Evans had instead supported Edwards and the candidates he endorsed, the election results would have been reversed.
Edwards focused much of his concerns about the new council on attitudes toward growth, saying that the new council may support "uncontrolled growth."
Edwards, Loeffler and Rutter all supported the town's current 250 building permit per year limit on new homes. That limit was based on a five-year average of permits, but the housing slump has cut the annual permits issued to about 105. Permits not issued in one year can roll over into the next year, to a limited degree.
Although none of the winning candidates made an issue in ads or campaign literature of the permit limits, Hughes, Richard Croy, Evans and incumbent John Wilson were all critical of inflexible building permit limits in interviews with the Roundup, although they each favored various other approaches to regulating the type and pace of growth.
"I think the real needs of Payson have a chance of being second fiddle to unbridled growth," under the new council, said Edwards. "The staff will rule the day again, I fear. We need to keep the pressure on. The ‘mountain town' image is not in line with uncontrolled growth."
Key points in his assessment included:
• Water: The not yet finalized agreement with Salt River Project to obtain 3,000 acre feet from the Blue Ridge Reservoir has solved the town's water shortages, but only so long as the council leaves in place the limit on annual permits, since the town will otherwise lapse into uncontrolled growth that will exceed even that augmented supply.
- Mud Springs Road extension: The town should cancel the planned $1.1 million extension of Mud Springs to Highway 260 and instead use the money to rebuild and widen Manzanita Drive, which is now in limbo since the development that was supposed to pay for the reconstruction has stalled.
- Budget: The town has much better budget information and control now, but the town council has to restore spending restraint and not turn the "rainy day" contingency fund into a slush fund.
- Economic Development: A team approach by the town and the Tonto Apache Tribe together with the creation of a tourism and economic development department has put the town in position to thrive when the national economy recovers, although he suspects the new council will get the credit when the initiatives of his administration bear fruit.
- Community Development Department: The planning department still has a leadership problem and still needs to shed a "gottcha" attitude toward developers and citizens and replace it with a "how can I help you" attitude.
- Police Department: The new Police Chief Don Engler has done a good job of working with a department that "has been used to getting anything they want" by threatening to politically embarrass the council.
- Water Department: Water Services Director Buzz Walker "tends to leave dead bodies when he goes through a room with his blood approach" but he is knowledgeable and "straightforward" and has done a good job of planning for the town's water future -- although he should rely more on the town hydrologist.
• Newspapers: Edwards said the Payson Roundup demonstrated bias in the race and he urged his listeners to cancel their subscriptions as he has done until the Roundup shows signs that it again wants to be a "community newspaper."
- Mormon Church: He said Kenny Evans' leadership position in the Church of Latter-Day Saints assured him of the support of about 80 percent of Mormon voters, but that "they're no different than you and me and they're going to be very discerning" in deciding whether to continue supporting Evans based on his actions in office.
- Task Forces: Edwards created a network of about 22 task forces with more than 160 members to study specific problems and report findings and recommendations to him. He said Evans had expressed reservations about whether such ad hoc groups were entirely legal in addressing public policy, but Edwards urged Evans to keep the citizen groups even if he calls them something different.
Edwards concluded by urging the group to remain active. They should pay close attention, give the new council the benefit of the doubt, but become fiercely active should the new council shut out citizens or tilt toward development interests.
"I'm going to step back and reassess," said Edwards, noting that he would suspend publication of his political newsletter for a time and quit meeting with his citizen's advisory group until May. "I'm still concerned about where Payson is going, but I need a break here."
The group gave Edwards and his wife, Ginger, a warm, standing ovation.