Council Races Turn On View Of Incumbents

Star Valley draws more candidates than Payson, with no open seats in either town

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Despite mountains of problems and a sickly economy, all the council incumbents in both Payson and Star Valley will seek re-election.

Star Valley seems set for a political dustup in the March 9 council election.

Former Star Valley vice-mayor Randy White hopes to unseat Bill Rappaport, appointed by the council nine months ago after Chuck Heron resigned suddenly.

For council, Chris Benjamin and Paty Henderson hope to unseat incumbents Vern Leis and Del Newland.

Benjamin is the former chairperson of the Star Valley Water Task Force and Henderson was a reporter with the Rim Country Gazette.

Meanwhile in Payson, Mayor Kenny Evans faces no opponent in his bid for a second term.

However, former town manager Fred Carpenter hopes to unseat one of the three incumbents — Vice Mayor Mike Vogel, Councilor Su Connell or Councilor Ed Blair.

The primary election is March 9, with the general election on May 18.

Star Valley promises to see the most vigorous campaign, with major questions about the town’s financial future, water and whether the town needs a sewage system on the agenda.

White ran for Star Valley mayor in 2008, but lost to Heron by 341 votes.

White said he decided to run again, “to follow through with the commitments” he made when the town was incorporated in 2005.

These include keeping the town a small, honest place to live.

We need to “keep the budget simple and keep life simple like it has always been,” he said. “Water should continue to be something that we deal with and protect.”

White and several others felt this simple way of life was threatened when Payson bought the Tower Well from a private developer. White said he went door to door getting petitions signed to incorporate with fellow supporter Diane McDaniel.

“We are the ones that got this thing together,” he said.

Now with the town in its fourth year, White said it is important the council remember the reason the town exists — to protect water and the rural lifestyle.

White added that he doesn’t think sewer is the main issue for the town at this time.

“As we progress and grow, we’ll add more services, but I don’t think sewer is the big thing right now.”

Benjamin, who also helped with the incorporation of the town, said he decided to run to make a difference.

“I was a key player when we incorporated, and I know the reason we incorporated and the history of where we have been,” he said. “I don’t think the Star Valley citizens’ needs are being served.”

Henderson said she decided to run “because democracy is not a spectator sport.”

In Payson, fewer candidates will clash about equally vital issues.

Carpenter’s campaign could produce some fireworks, given his decades of experience managing small towns throughout Arizona —including Payson.

Carpenter retired just over two years ago, after accepting a buyout of his contract. Later, the town council faced sanctions imposed by the state Attorney General’s Office for discussing at an illegal meeting the reorganization of town government and Carpenter’s retirement and buyout.

Carpenter’s campaign could raise issues about the town’s fiscal management. After Carpenter resigned, the council promoted then finance manager Debra Galbraith to the top job. During the next eight months, the town council spent reserves — that at the peak amounted to about 26 percent of the operating budget — in part for the lack of monthly spending reports. When the recession hit and sales tax revenue dropped, the lack of reserves forced layoffs, a hiring freeze and cancellation of most capital projects.

On the other hand, Galbraith subsequently announced the discovery of about $1 million in funds that had apparently mistakenly been put in two different budget reserve funds.

Current council members have generally blamed previous town management for the development of those financial problems, which makes Carpenter’s run for office a possible touchstone for a replay of those controversies.

Councilor Ed Blair, a retired minister, is the last remaining member of the council who was closely aligned with former Mayor Bob Edwards. However, he has maintained friendly relationships with other council members, doggedly raising questions and focusing on constituent service, while avoiding high-profile political fights.

Vice Mayor Mike Vogel, a former top firefighter’s union official, has remained a blunt-spoken independent, who has emphasized hands-on constituent service and nitty gritty negotiations on things like building a third fire station at about half the cost of a normal station.

He said he reversed a decision to retire to help finish a slew of potential projects, including the Blue Ridge Pipeline and a possible four-year college in Payson.

Councilor Connell had also decided to not run for re-election, but changed her mind due to the lure of a college campus and the impact of the recession on local residents. An ever-present volunteer for many community organizations, she has emphasized the need for human services to help people through the recession.

Evans had also promised to serve only one term when he was elected two years ago, after a sometimes bitter battle with Edwards that set spending records for local politics.

Evans’ term has been dominated first by the budget crisis and then by efforts to restart the local economy, through a host of special events and efforts to recruit new businesses. After months of intensive negotiation, Evans convinced Arizona State University to enter into exclusive negotiations about locating a college campus in town.

Ultimately, he concluded that he couldn’t complete all the projects he’d started, despite his campaign vow to serve only one term.

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