One of the most eventful eras of Payson politics ended with applause and a graceful flourish on Tuesday, as Mayor Bob Edwards and councilors Andy Romance and Tim Fruth took a final bow.
The council guard changed in the shadow of a budget study session that presented incoming Mayor Kenny Evans and councilors Michael Hughes and Richard Croy with an immediate dose of tough choices, including an overall 15 percent cut in town spending.
However, the roughly 70 people who crowded the council chambers came mostly to see off the outgoing council members, particularly Mayor Edwards, whose term included landmark achievements like securing water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir, a surge in citizen involvement, major progress on street and drainage projects and the embrace of the state's most stringent growth control measures -- not to mention some fierce political struggles and a passed-along budget crisis.
Chris Tilley summed up the sentiment for many in the audience when she said, "Mayor Bob, I am honored to speak for many residents of Payson. You inspired many of us to volunteer for the town. You brought inclusion and openness to town government. You set a very high standard for those who follow."
Edwards and Romance both made farewell comments. Councilor Tim Fruth, whose term also ended on Tuesday, missed the meeting due to a medical procedure.
Edwards' statement summarized the major accomplishments of his term. The key points included:
- Establishing the "smart growth" limitation of 250 building permits per year, intended in large measure to ensure the town didn't outstrip its water supply before the arrival of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir in about 2015.
- Securing a permanent water supply in the form of the Blue Ridge water, which projections suggest will provide enough water for a projected build-out population of about 38,000.
- Hiring a new tourism director who has launched a Web site to help visitors and promote local businesses.
- Major increases in spending on street upgrades and drainage.
- Major increases in the number of people involved in town affairs, partly through the establishment of a host of citizen task forces that reported directly to him.
Edwards challenged the new council to build on that foundation, with some specific warnings.
"Put into place a true Rainy Day Fund to make sure this is the last time Payson government is impacted by a bad national economy," which was his sole reference to the budget crisis that engulfed the new council members as soon as the budget study session started. Finance Director Doug Hill told the new council that the roughly $2.7 million contingency fund had been almost entirely swallowed up by a sharp drop in sales tax and building permit fees, plus council decisions to continue tapping into the fund for new projects until late in the year.
Edwards said "we need to become outraged and stop accepting crime and drugs as inevitable ... I implore you to do a frontal attack on drugs and make Payson a true drug-free zone."
He said managed growth "is the area of real concern. During the campaign, all the incoming council committed to pulling away from it.
If we keep the 250 limit in place, we can honestly say we will be well within safe yield all the way to build-out, but if we eliminate it, we can't. Citizen control of government is another area where you need to stay vigilant. We gave you control, don't lose it by inaction."
He called on the core of citizen activists he repeatedly mobilized to back his policies to remain involved.
"Clearly define your goals and convey them to the new council ... praising them when they move them forward and pointing out when they don't. Remember it is not who is driving the boat that is important, but where it is headed."
And he warned the new council that he will remain involved.
"While we are passing the gavel, we are not walking away. If you work for Payson, we will support you. If you work for special interests, we will oppose you. It is our great hope that in two years we can join in unison saying ‘congratulations, job well done.'"
Councilor Andy Romance says goodbye
Councilor Romance, a civil engineer appointed to serve out a council term due to a resignation, during his term proved the mainspring behind the development of a comprehensive trails system. He served a key role as the council's most detailed and persistent analyst, often calling attention to key details of ordinances and actions. Resolutely nonpolitical on a politically attuned council, he maintained good relationships with the shifting council factions and focused mostly on the nuts and bolts of government.
On Tuesday he mostly thanked fellow council members and residents for the chance to serve, and the support they had offered. He offered a personal note to each of his fellow councilors.
"Ed (Blair), you are an extremely hard worker. You take this job seriously and are intimately involved in every aspect of the task at hand.
"Tim (Fruth), you are one of the most insightful people I know. A valiant defender of all citizens, giving voice to the unheard. I strive to walk in the steps of Christ as you have.
"Bob (Edwards), you are a true leader. I for one have been most grateful to be counted as a friend and not a foe, as without the support of yourself and your faithful, I would not have been effective.
"John (Wilson), you have become nothing less than a pillar of our community. History will one day recall your value. Not least of which will be remarkably winning an election with a $51 campaign fund.
"Su (Connell), you have a pure servant's heart. Your tentacles of care reach deep into this town, and we are so very grateful.
"Mike (Vogel), you certainly know how to get things done. So many citizens in their pursuit of happiness can rely on you to shine light on concerns and create solutions. My name will be added to that list tomorrow morning."
He teared up a little when he shifted to address his wife and children, listening from the audience, which filled every seat in the room.
"Ciara, my daughter, may you know that an element of leadership is not just having a good idea but you must take the risk and make it known, then courageously carry it over obstacles.
"Cameron, my son, may you know that an element of leadership is not expressing displeasure about each and every issue, but doing your part to make your neighbor's life better. Your personal reward will then follow.
"Cindy, my spouse, hi, Honey, I'm home."