Former Payson mayor Bob Edwards offered a post-election critique of the council as three council members listened grimly, but many of the questions focused on whether the town should allow seven-story buildings.
Edwards mixed his familiar complaint that the current council was too beholden to special interests a with sharp criticism of the council for not cutting town employee salaries.
“We haven’t cut any salaries,” said Edwards last week before about 40 people at a meeting of the Citizens Awareness Committee. “In fact, we’ve raised some salaries. And this is a great time to put into place a real rainy day fund.”
In fact, the town council approved temporary two-day-a-month furloughs for all town workers, which amounts to a 12.5 percent pay cut. Town workers also have had to pay an extra $1,000 annually for health care. The town has had a freeze on raises for nearly two years and a ban on most overtime. As a result, most police and firefighters make at least 15 percent less now compared to a year ago.
The council also struggled to rebuild a substantial reserve fund that was consumed in the final year of Edwards’ term.
Edwards decried the rise in the cost of government at every level, noting that the national debt has risen from $69 billion in 1910 to $13.8 trillion today — or $45,000 for each American.
Edwards said the town remains equally divided between the “citizens” who support him and the “special interests,” which support Mayor Kenny Evans.
“The special interest group is more motivated and better financed. The citizens’ group are basically here to retire — it takes a signature issue to awaken them. There is a feeling that the specials can’t be challenged, and this election bore that out. We were able to do it in 2006 because of a perfect political storm — we had the Tower Well issue and a team of people with campaign skills and press that did not tear us apart on every issue. But for a candidate to do it on their own now requires a lot of money, a lot of time and the ability to combat a paper that is in the pocket of the specials.”
He said the current council “have shown a void of leadership. Tough times call for tough leaders and they failed.”
No one filed to run against Evans, who was re-elected with 75 percent of the vote. About 1,000 voters did not vote in the mayor’s race and another 224 wrote in someone besides Evans.
Edwards endorsed Councilman Ed Blair and urged voters to vote against Vice Mayor Mike Vogel and to not vote for the Evans.
Vogel ended up losing by about 23 votes to challenger Fred Carpenter, a former town manager to whom Edwards had offered a buyout to get him to retire early, following a council luncheon meeting that the state attorney general’s office ruled had violated the state open meeting law.
The council race was marked by more than 2,000 under votes — which means many people voted for one or two council members instead of three. Observers speculated that many of Ed Blair’s supporters may have followed Edwards’ recommendation and “single shotted” their vote.
Previously Vogel said Edwards vowed to work against his re-election when Vogel opposed the reappointment of Edwards supporter Gary Bedsworth to the planning commission. Vogel also recommended against the appointment of Tom Loeffler to the Traffic Advisory Board. Loeffler ran unsuccessfully for council on a ticket with Edwards.
The most sustained and vigorous questions on Thursday focused on a proposal to change zoning codes to allow some buildings of up to seven stories.
The planning commission has held hearings on the proposal to double the town’s height limit in certain commercial or industrial zones to allow for apartment buildings, a resort hotel and perhaps classrooms and dorms on a proposed 300-acre campus site.
The council has asked for a staff and planning commission recommendations, but hasn’t yet voted on an actual proposal.
Edwards observed, “to do this without looking at the impact on the water supply is not smart and to change the whole image of Payson without citizen input is wrong.”
However, the proposed Blue Ridge pipeline would provide the town with enough water to supply a population of more than 38,000. The proposed change in the zoning will require public hearings before both the planning commission and the council, as will any specific projects.
The prospect of tall buildings alarmed some participants.
“If you build large complexes, you’re going to get Soviet-style apartment complexes,” predicted one woman.
Edwards suggested a hidden agenda for the proposed change. “There’s some reason why someone is pushing to make this happen,” he said.
Councilor Su Connell, just re-elected with the top vote tally, spoke from the audience, saying that the proposed ordinance would limit high rises to certain areas that didn’t overlook residential neighborhoods. “It’s not a blanket rule,” she said.
“If this is only for the college, this would have pretty strong support,” said Edwards. “If you try to make it townwide, you’ll get an uproar.”
Councilor Richard Croy also spoke up from the audience saying that high rise apartment units could prove essential for providing affordable housing in town.
“No one has come to Payson in many years to build an apartment complex because it doesn’t pencil” without the greater density an increased building height would offer, said Croy. “This would apply to just certain areas of town.”
Edwards in the end appealed to voters to fight special interests.
“God did his part — gave us pretty much everything we need.” But he said that Payson needs “vibrancy,” like Durango, Colo. or other tourist-oriented towns.
Dan Adams rose from the audience to observe that the session started out decrying government spending, but wound up talking about all the additional things government should do.
“We started out talking about how government was the basis of all our problems and here we are talking about how we want some level of government to do more for us. We deserve every bit of trouble we have.”
And in the final irony of the afternoon, Edwards observed “I’ve never seen a town that throws so many knives. We need to start living in our town and believing in our town.”