Former Payson Mayor Bob Edwards has delivered a scathing assessment of the new town council and pointedly sidestepped a question about whether he might run again.
Edwards said the council had ignored the views of citizens, acted on behalf of special interests, become a “plaything” of developers and reinstituted the “good old boy” network, in a speech on Monday before the Citizens Awareness Committee in the Payson library.
He focused much of his specific criticism on the man who beat him in the election earlier this year, accusing Mayor Kenny Evans of “one man rule” at the behest of political backers and special interests.
Edwards said he bore some responsibility for the outcome of the election because he got “overconfident” based on the assumption voters would appreciate the accomplishments of his administration. “I was too busy being mayor, nor did I counter Kenny’s pandering and I let personal attacks roll off my back,” said Edwards.
He included the Payson Roundup in his indictment, saying the paper was “clearly in the tank for the good old boys.”
He issued wide-ranging criticism of the town council’s actions, saying the councilors had ignored the views of the voters.
As an example, he cited the council’s vote to tentatively approve the lease of five acres of land in Rumsey Park to the YMCA, which he described as a land grab. Some 57 percent of those voting on Nov. 4 rejected the proposed partnership.
“That’s pretty amazing,” said Edwards, considering that the YMCA spent heavily on advertising.
He also criticized the town council for approving a $520,000 plan to buy a chunk of land near the airport for industrial development. The council approved the purchase on the assumption the federal government would pay back the money — but then last week cancelled the deal when problems turned up in the title search.
Edwards’ critique also hit on the town council’s recent decision to replace the slogan “A mountain town with a Western heritage” with “A cool mountain town.”
Edwards said it was “lunacy” to abandon a link to the town’s western heritage.
Repeatedly, Edwards insisted that the mayor and the council had acted out of politics rather than the town’s best interests on everything from a proposal to use a waterfall to cool and oxygenate the water in the Green Valley Lakes to shifts in plans for the Payson Events Center.
He repeated his longstanding defense of the “smart growth” restrictions on new building permits and the financing of all new infrastructure through development fees that members of the current council have criticized.
He quoted remarks by Evans that “you grow or you die. So I assure you, if you grow, you can become another Prescott Valley,” said Edwards.
Ironically, Edwards also castigated the current council for not establishing a “rainy day” fund to get through budget downturns. Such a fund would have to be one that “politicians cannot get their hands on” except in certain defined financial emergencies. In that case, the council could only access the fund with a super majority or unanimous vote.
Edwards was mayor for most of last fiscal year, during which time the council spent some $3 million in reserve funds without asking for regular financial reports.
Edwards’ summary ranged on to other topics, denouncing the lack of action to push drainage improvements to protect Payson Ranchos as “criminal,” commenting that “ethics seem to be going by the wayside” and that the disbanding of the unofficial issues-oriented task forces reporting directly to the mayor was “disastrous.”
Toward the end of the meeting, one group member asked Edwards if he would consider running again for mayor.
Edwards laughed and said, “next question,” then added: “I’m not real pleased. I would like to be the strongest supporter two years from now. I’d like to step out” providing the council took a different course by then.
Mayor Kenny Evans replies
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans reacted more in sorrow than in anger to former Mayor Bob Edwards’ assertions the “good old boy” network has taken over the town and ignored the views of the average citizen.
“I truly am saddened people would hold onto their grudges and preconceptions at the expense of what’s best for the town,” said Evans, in response to his one-time opponent’s speech saying Evans had effectively sold out to pro-growth development and business interests and doled out political favors.
He said there was “absolutely nothing” to Edwards’ claim that Evans’ skepticism about the Event Center master plan and other decisions represented a payoff to development interests.
“He would have to identify who these people are. But usually they make the assertion and immediately run the other way,” said Evans.
“Anyone who thinks Payson is growing too fast because of the two houses a month we’re building is either blind or stupid,” he said.
In many cases, the criticisms seemed upside down — including the notion that changes in the process for appointing members to boards and commissions represent “one man rule” and an effort to pay off supporters.
Evans said the council shifted responsibility for nominating commission members from the mayor to the vice mayor. Then in response to a legal opinion from the town attorney, the council clarified existing policy so that the council would ratify the nominations by the commissions as to who should serve as chair.
Evans said that in most cases, Edwards’ critique involved a deliberate attempt to blame the current administration for the problems created by Edwards’ own administration.
As one example, he cited the proposed deal between the YMCA and the town to lease 5 acres of land in Rumsey Park.
Evans said that when he took office, the proposed terms involved only a $10,000 lease payment.
He pushed for tougher terms that would have required the YMCA to cover the cost of public swim hours, which would have saved the town an additional $130,000.
He also noted the irony of Edwards’ complaint that the council has not set up a politician-proof rainy day fund accessible only on a super-majority vote of the council in an emergency, since Edwards’ administration spent several million dollars in reserves in its final year.
“I see a certain sadness in it,” concluded Evans.
“Those who create the problem are looking for someone to blame it on. We’ve been in there six months — we certainly have not spent several million in reserves.
“We are asked to respond to each of these things factually, but the other side can throw this out and they don’t have to defend their stance,” Evans concluded.