History’s a touchy topic in Rim Country, what with the cowboys, Indians and water wars — not to mention two-year-old contracts with the Northern Gila County Historical Society.
That’s the topic that provoked a rare split vote by the Payson Town Council last week, as the historical society sheepishly sought two years worth of payments on an overlooked contract with the town. A 4-3 vote provided the back money to the historical society.
The historical society is among the local charities that have been getting dwindling support payments from the town council. But in the midst of board changes and reorganizing, the historical society forgot to submit a request for a new contract for the past two years and no one at town hall apparently noticed.
“I’ve got a real concern with going back so far,” said Councilor Richard Croy of the historical society’s request for about $6,000 to help pay for the small museum centered on the replica of Zane Grey’s Cabin at Green Valley Park.
“Money is the issue for our entire operation,” continued Croy, “and we’re opening up a Pandora’s Box: The rules have to be followed.”
But Mayor Kenny Evans supported the back payments. He said the town several years ago shifted from just giving grants to contracting with groups in the community to provide public services — like running the museum.
The shift was supposed to result in annual contracts with specific goals and regular reports on achieving those goals, while at the same time phasing out the payment altogether over a period of five years.
Evans said “the newly reconstituted historical society has gone above and beyond in what they’ve done on that facility,” in a historic building in the park.
Volunteers raised money and donated labor to renovate the historic building that houses the museum, for instance discovering thick oak floor under layers of linoleum. Visitation has jumped with the renovation and a surge in volunteers. The town’s contract with the historical society had been based on boosting visitation and creating a draw for Green Valley Park.
“I’m proud to take people in there now,” said Evans of times he takes VIPs on a tour of the town. “My perception is that we have a better image because they have presented this community so well.”
Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis agreed. “Every single month the visitation numbers are going up, which definitely proves that they’re doing something right.”
However, Councilor Su Connell said the group should have submitted contracts in a timely manner.
“These non-profits are certainly performing services the town needs, but I struggle with going back for three years.”
“Just two years,” interjected Evans.
Councilor John Wilson then supported the extra money, noting that his wife works as a volunteer at the historical society.
“They’re providing a service the town needs,” he said.
Councilor Mike Vogel said that he’d been against the retroactive payment until he took a close look at what the historical society had accomplished in the past two years.
“I did take the time to go through the facility and I can’t believe what they’ve done with no funding.”
Vogel said the town made mistakes of its own by not noticing the historical society had not turned in required reports and then not submitting a contract for two years in a row. “If we’re going to start blaming, we’d better step up and take our licking too ... If we’re going to start spanking — then we’re going to have to start spanking on both sides.”
“It’s like someone coming to paint your house,” said Evans, “and then when they don’t submit the bill in a timely manner, you won’t pay them.”
But Councilor Ed Blair remained fixed on the spanking metaphor.
“I don’t think of it as spanking anybody,” he said in support of Connell’s motion to limit the back pay to one year. “It’s a compromise giving them one year out of two. It’s not spanking it’s just a bad economy.”
The vote turned into a rare council cliffhanger, with Connell, Croy and Blair voting against the two-year payment. However, Evans, Wilson, Vogel and Councilor Michael Hughes outvoted them.