Mayor's Proposals Result In Combative Meeting

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Bitter arguments about road extensions continued to roil the Payson council last night with a new vote concerning the Mud Springs Road extension and a combative exchange about fresh appointments to town commissions proposed by outgoing Mayor Bob Edwards.

Two issues spurred sharp exchanges. One stemmed from Edwards' adamant refusal to sign a contract to design a roundabout connecting Highway 260 and a proposed extension of Mud Springs Road. The second involved a vigorous debate about whether the town should take the power to recommend appointments to town commissions away from the mayor and give it to the vice mayor -- a proposal that immediately complicated three proposed appointments.

Both issues were connected to the festering plan to extend Mud Springs Road to the highway. That plan that is moving forward despite the objections of Edwards and a core of people living along Phoenix Street.

Edwards objected to the roundabout design contract, changing the system of making appointments and the resistance to his three latest appointments.

"This is playing politics again. This is nuts," said an indignant Edwards. "We need to quit playing these kinds of games," he said, suggesting that the other council members had orchestrated their opposition to the appointments.

"I resent tremendously that it was stated this was predetermined," said Councilor Su Connell.

The renewed debate about the roundabout started with Town Manager Debra Galbraith's request to allow Vice Mayor Tim Fruth to sign the project's $47,000 design contract after Edwards refused.

"This is a very bad contract for the town," said Edwards. Edwards has fought the extension tenaciously and the council has repeatedly overruled his objections. However, the council did direct STAC to study ways to limit and slow traffic on Phoenix Street and Mud Springs.

"The council should not ignore the sanctity of the neighborhood," said Edwards. "If you do the roundabout, then you are doing the extension."

He said the contract offered the council one last chance to shift the proposed $1.1 million for extending Mud Springs to other streets like Manzanita.

That opened the door to a fresh round of testimony from opponents of the extension and the roundabout. Traffic engineer Robert Bleyl predicted the extended Mud Springs will carry so little traffic that a stop sign at the highway would suffice. That testimony actually undercut the central assertion by critics that the route would become a defacto highway bypass.

The discussion raised new questions about the roundabout. Previously, Town Engineer LaRon Garrett had said that Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) officials supported a roundabout. But under questioning by Edwards, Garrett noted ADOT's support for a roundabout would depend on the outcome of a traffic study due next week.

The council initially voted 5-2 to reject Edwards' request to table the contract. After learning about ADOT's request for a traffic study, the council voted 7-0 to table the question of the contract signing -- and perhaps whether to award the roundabout design contract at all -- until the April 17 meeting.

That issue also contributed to a debate about whether to change the method of appointing volunteers to town commissions, starting with Mayor Edwards' three recommendations that night.

Fruth said shifting the responsibility for appointments to the vice mayor would free the mayor to focus on other issues and reduce even the appearance that political contributions influenced appointments.

Fruth noted that since he didn't run for re-election, the change wouldn't affect him personally.

The council tabled to April 17 Fruth's suggestion and directed town staff to research the issue.

But that question complicated the subsequent discussion of new appointments.

Edwards objected to Connell's suggested postponement of his appointments. "I can't believe we are even doing this," fumed Edwards.

Anticipating rejection of the proposed appointment of Kathy Baas to serve on the town's personnel board, Edwards said, "If this council turns Kathy down, it is another disgusting show."

When Edwards attempted to table all three appointments on the grounds that his opponents had worked everything out in advance, several council members cried out "no."

The council then unanimously approved Baas' appointment, with Councilor Mike Vogel participating by conference call from Australia.

The council also approved the appointment to STAC of Christine Tilley, the chair person of the task force on a highway bypass.

The council majority balked at the proposed appointment to STAC of Bob Dalby, a public opponent of the Mud Springs extension. Doubts were expressed about Dalby's appointment because of an e-mail opposing the appointment from Tom Loeffler, the chairman of the STAC committee.

Dalby promised to not vote on Mud Springs issues, but the council majority cited Loeffler's opposition in voting 5-2 to postpone action. Edwards and Councilor Ed Blair favored Dalby's immediate appointment.

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