No one has yet filed to run against the four incumbent Payson council members seeking re-election as their terms expire.
Incumbent Kenny Evans is so far the only person running for the two-year term as mayor. Meanwhile, only incumbents John Wilson, Rick Croy and Michael Hughes have taken out papers for the three open four-year council seats.
Wednesday, Dec. 14 is the deadline for turning in the 199 signatures necessary to get on the ballot in the March primary. If no one else runs, the election will be decided in the primary. Otherwise, candidates who get more than 50 percent of the vote will win in the primary and others will face a runoff in the May general election.
Town Clerk Silvia Smith said she couldn’t recall another election in which no one challenged the incumbents, who all ran for re-election.
All four incumbents said they took the lack of other candidates as a sign that the community supports the town’s current direction, especially the effort to build a university campus in town.
Mayor Evans said he wrestled with the decision to run again, given the emotional demands of the long, complicated, often-delayed effort to convince Arizona State University to build a four-year campus here.
But ultimately, he decided he couldn’t quit until the town has started construction on both the campus and on the Blue Ridge pipeline.
“I think the delays in getting this ASU project up and running” played the leading role in his decision to run for a third term. “It’s almost ready to take off on its own. I need to get it and the pipeline project far enough along that they can take off on their own. I want to finish what I started.”
The other three council members also said they decided to run again to make sure that Payson ends up with a university campus and the Blue Ridge pipeline, which will double the town’s water supply.
Vice Mayor Michael Hughes said “I’d like to continue to help the town get through these tough financial times and make sure that we do the best job possible with the resources we do have to provide the services and to continue to promote trying to get ASU here. I’m confident that things will start to recover — especially with ASU — and want to try and make sure that the town does it responsibly.”
A Realtor and contractor elected four years ago in a hard-fought campaign that turned on a debate about the town’s tough growth controls, Hughes has played key behind-the-scenes roles in working on the budget and negotiating for a return of the airport to town control.
Hughes said almost everyone he has talked to supports bringing a university to town.
“The biggest thing right now that I sense is that people are really trying to stay positive and they’re really hoping that ASU gets done,” said Hughes. “The only frustration that I get a sense of is the delays in the different roadblocks that keep getting thrown up at the last minute. They don’t understand why such a good thing is being picked apart so much.”
Councilor John Wilson, a former Internal Revenue Service officer and one of the longest-serving council members, said he had no specific plans for the next four years, but wanted to continue to function as the “auditor” for council actions.
“Mostly people ask me, ‘where do you stand on the college?’ I say, ‘I support it.’ They say, ‘fine, I’ll sign.’ I find a very, very small number not in favor. But nobody else was running: nobody has indicated they will. I waited until after anybody else would sign up to see. Nobody signed up. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it’ — to keep from having a void.”
Wilson added, “I’m the auditor. I check over what everybody else is doing so we can get it fixed and make sure we don’t have any unintended consequences: I’m not pushing for any reforms. The town staff is doing a good job. All of our problems we have right now are budget related. When the economy comes back we’ll be able to start thinking a little more assertively on what is our highest priority to make up for what we’ve lost.”
Richard Croy, a developer of low-income housing complexes for seniors elected in the contentious election four years ago, also said he wanted to make sure that the campus and the pipeline get built.
He said the university remains the top issue for most of the voters he talked to gathering his nominating petition signatures. He said he has talked to at least 100 local merchants.
“Many of them are hanging on by a thread, waiting for this to all happen: they’re all optimistic. Hopefully enough of them can hang on long enough to bring this to completion and we’ll have some new activity taking place and we won’t be totally dependent on the tourism as we are now.”
He said the biggest surprise and disappointment in the past four years has been the way in which people came out to criticize and oppose even the handful of new projects that have come before the council.
“I think the thing that bothered me the most was that when you get into subdivision and rezoning and so forth, that there’s such a ‘not in my back yard’ attitude by some. They’re not looking at the community as a whole. It kind of disappointed me that we had as much controversy as we had on a few of the ones in the past.”