Payson Mayor Kenny Evans has taken out papers to seek re-election, overturning his promise two years ago to serve only one term.
Evans said he reluctantly concluded that he would break far more promises if he didn’t run again, given the state of major projects — including the attempt to convince Arizona State University to build a Payson campus, the push to complete the Blue Ridge pipeline and the need to attract more stable, year-round businesses in the face of the recession.
No one has yet filed to run against Evans, with the close of the deadline for filing petitions looming in early December.
Evans said he had fully intended to serve only one term, but the recession delayed completion of many major initiatives.
“I made a number of promises and (serving only one term) was one of them. One of the things that changed my mind has been the recognition that I really could not do all the things I had promised people I would do (in two years) — not because I have not been trying.”
Two of those promises involve the effort to lure ASU to Payson and the drive to finish the Blue Ridge pipeline. Observers note that Evans largely wrote a grant application that brought in nearly $11 million for the $30 million Blue Ridge pipeline.
In addition, Evans did the lion’s share of the work in winning some $70 million in pledges for the ASU campus and negotiating with ASU administrators to move Payson to the head of the line of rural communities vying for an undergraduate campus.
“The more I looked at it, the more I realized that although we’ve made major progress on these issues, we still have some major hurdles to overcome. For all my best efforts to get that done in a short and timely fashion, circumstances outside my control have kept that from happening.”
Evans has reportedly spent 40 to 80 hours a week on the mayor’s job and spent a lot of his own money on frequent lobbying trips.
His term has been marked by financial crisis as the town has slashed its budget, imposed a hiring freeze and postponed many capital projects. The town that once worried about growing too fast has, in the past two years, grown not at all, with a plunge in sales tax collections and the spread of empty storefronts.
In the first year of Evans’ two-year term, the council had to balance a shrunken budget, absorb the voter rejection of a new YMCA-built recreation center in Rumsey Park, adjust to the nearly complete collapse of new construction and cope with the threatened closure of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
However, the council under Evans leadership has also advanced Blue Ridge, won more federal stimulus money per capita than almost any community in the state, maintained core town services despite significant budget cuts, launched a host of new town events and promotions, entered into an agreement with the state that kept Tonto Bridge State Park open on weekends and advanced negotiations with ASU.
Evans said he’s sure he’ll serve only one more time.
“I will be completely and totally burned out by then,” he joked.
“There will be nothing left of the candle to burn — because I’ll have tossed the stub in the fire.”
Critics have faulted the town under Evans’ leadership for borrowing money from the water department to balance the budget, eliminating even much routine street maintenance, all but abandoning master plans to upgrade the Event Center and not pushing plans to revive Main Street. Critics have also accused Evans and the current council of effectively dropping the state’s toughest growth management plan – although the lack of new projects has made any growth management approach moot.
However, the town also scored some major achievements, despite the bleak financial picture.
The council finalized a contract with Salt River Project to build the Blue Ridge Pipeline, which will more than double the town’s water supply starting in about 2015.
The federal stimulus grant Evans drafted and then lobbied through his contacts in the Governor’s office will pay for about a third of the cost of the pipeline.
The town has also markedly improved the tenor of relationships with Star Valley.
Payson did lose to Gila County its contract to provide police services in the neighboring community. However, the once bitter arguments about the threat Payson’s Tower Well might pose to Star Valley’s water supply has largely subsided – thanks in some measure to the progress on Blue Ridge and to some degree on a change in the lineup of the Star Valley Council.
Still, Evans’ penchant for frequent meetings with other Rim Country political leaders, plus state and federal agencies – and his low-key, joke-tinged leadership style in public meetings has soothed over many contentious issues.
“I guess I’d say my biggest accomplishment has been getting the town to work together — when we’re pulling together it’s amazing the things that can be accomplished. That doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements or clashes — it means we work in such a way that we leave our disagreements behind us and agree to disagree without being disagreeable.”
Evans added: “If I die tomorrow, I hope my epitaph will say something about being a peacemaker.”
He said his three top priorities for a second term include breaking ground on both construction of the Blue Ridge pipeline and a new ASU Campus, plus attracting new businesses to Payson to strengthen and diversify a local economy now strongly reliant on building new houses and tourism.
“The town has been known for a long time as being very anti-business. I’d like to see new businesses not only coming to town, but standing in line wanting to explore the opportunities.”