All the Payson Town Council incumbents are expected to seek re-election, which so far has deterred potential challengers.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans has not yet taken out an election packet for the March 9 primary ballot, but insiders suggest he has decided to run again.
Incumbents Ed Blair, Mike Vogel and Su Connell have all returned packets declaring their intention to gather petitions and stand for re-election.
Fred Carpenter, a former town manager now working as a disc jockey for parties and gatherings, remains the only challenger to return a statement saying he’ll run.
In addition, John Wakelin, former president of the local Humane Society chapter has taken out a packet, but not yet returned an official declaration that he plans to run.
Incumbents Vogel and Connell had previously said they didn’t intend to seek re-election. But recent council initiatives, including the possibility that Payson may land an Arizona State University branch campus reportedly prompted them to stay on.
When Evans ran for election two years ago ago, he said he would only serve one term. However, he has reportedly reconsidered that decision in light of the delicate stage of negotiations about bringing a 3,000-student, four-year campus to town.
Evans’ tenure has been marked mostly by a festering budget crisis and a recession that has withered sales tax revenues, forcing the cancellation of a host of ambitious projects launched by the previous administration.
However, Evans has also played a lead role in snagging a $10.5-million grant for the Blue Ridge Reservoir pipeline, trying to lure ASU to town, revamping the August Rodeo and trying to expand summertime tourist-oriented events.
Evans declined comment on his plans.
However, councilor Mike Vogel reportedly dropped his own plans to run for mayor after Evans assured him that he would run for re-election.
Political insiders have been speculating for months about whether former mayor Bob Edwards might seek a rematch with Evans by running again.
Edwards has offered repeated, high-visibility critiques of the current council, saying the council caters to “special interests” like developers and Realtors.
He has criticized the council’s reliance on a potential million-dollar loan from the water department to shore up the town’s dwindling budget, suggesting the council should instead make further cuts in town services.
However, he has all but ruled out another run for mayor.
“I don’t see any reason why I would want to do that again,” said Edwards. “If there are other folks, then someone needs to carry the torch. I’m not inclined to. People are beating on me to run, but I’ve been in politics all my life. I don’t need it for any personal reasons. We went in and made a lot of changes. The people knew what I stood for two years ago and people have made a choice. Sometimes, you have to listen to them.”
So far, the lineup of potential candidates promises a much less tempestuous election than two years ago, which proved the most expensive in the town’s history with the largely self-funded Evans drawing intense criticism from a three-candidate slate headed by Edwards.
Carpenter could generate fireworks, since he served as town manager until he retired under some pressure from the Edwards administration.
The town council held an illegal meeting at a Arizona League of Cities and Towns meeting to discuss the reorganization of town government after which Edwards offered Carpenter a buyout to retire. The Arizona attorney general’s office later concluded that lunch meeting violated the state’s open meeting law.
Carpenter was replaced by the current town manager Debra Galbraith, who he’d hired to serve in the finance department.
In the six months after Galbraith took over, the town council ended up spending most of Payson’s roughly $2 million surplus during a time when the council wasn’t receiving monthly financial reports.
Council members subsequently said they didn’t realize they had spent the reserves. The shortfall forced deep cuts in the next year’s budget, including some layoffs, a hiring and salary freeze and cancellation of most capital projects.
Since then, Galbraith has instituted a system that provides a detailed monthly report on all town spending and revenue and managed a more than 25 percent reduction in town spending.
Critics blamed Galbraith and the council for not keeping better track of spending in the six months leading up to the budget crunch.
On the other hand, town insiders blamed the financial system Galbraith inherited from Carpenter and former finance director Glenn Smith. Smith was the one who filed the complaint with the attorney general’s office that resulted in the findings concerning the open meeting law violation.