Put a fork in him. Payson Mayor Kenny Evans is done. He was grilled by county supervisors in a work session last week and then turned over and grilled again at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, June 7.
Evans initially went to the county May 31 to invite it to partner with the towns of Payson and Star Valley in forming a Separate Legal Entity (SLE) that would help bring a four-year university to northern Gila County.
He did not ask for money. He did not ask for special favors from the county. Evans even said if money were offered it would be refused.
The point of the SLE, he explained, was to shield taxpayers from any financial liability in the plan to build a $500 million, 6,000-student, college campus and support facilities.
But with the Gila County Board of Supervisors’ less than enthusiastic support for the project, Evans later declared the county was out of the deal.
“They couldn’t get by what our motives were,” Evans said.
“They didn’t understand we didn’t want anything Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport said he was disappointed with the county supervisors’ behavior, but pledged Star Valley was still 100 percent behind the project.
On Wednesday, Payson and Star Valley staff met to begin work on a draft of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to form the SLE.
Evans originally designed the plan to include both towns and the county.
On Tuesday, however, Chairman of the Gila County Board of Supervisors Mike Pastor and District 3 Supervisor Shirley Dawson said they still had unanswered questions and could not fully pledge their support.
Although Dawson voted with District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin to join the SLE, Evans said the motion was too little too late.
Opening the June 7 discussion, Pastor said although he had concerns he was not opposed to the project.
“I need answers before I can commit the county and taxpayers. It’s a good idea. It makes sense. (But I still want to know) how it would work with Gila Community College. I want to meet with ASU (representatives),” he said. “I can’t commit county resources.”
“I believe there are lots of questions,” Dawson said. “We don’t have a conceptual framework. This is not a north-south thing. A four-year college is something we all want for our children.”
Rappaport, Star Valley Councilor Paty Henderson and Vivian Burdette, a member of the Tonto Apache Tribal Council, attended the supervisors’ meeting in support of the SLE.
Rappaport and Burdette criticized Dawson and Pastor for failing to visit northern Gila County.
“The last time we spoke was when we incorporated,” Rappaport said.
“If you spent more time (here) and saw what (a four-year university) would do ... You seem to have made up your minds to object to it,” Rappaport said.
Rappaport pointed out Star Valley voters represent a large chunk of Dawson’s district.
Burdette also criticized Pastor for only meeting with her when he was seeking election.
“Mr. Pastor, you have never been to the reservation to see what is happening,” she said.
Burdette said the college campus was desperately needed in Gila County.
“(Higher education) outside the county presents a tuition issue,” she said.
“We have seen an exodus of young people who want to get a higher education. We don’t have the resources we need to keep our children home,” Henderson said.
The three community leaders urged Pastor and Dawson to reconsider their positions on the SLE.
“We need to do this,” Martin said. “Entering negotiations to form the SLE the only (county) resources (needed) are the attorney’s time and some staff time. They’re not asking for money. They’re not asking us to increase our liability.”
Pastor repeated that more information was needed.
“Let us meet with ASU. It’s a good project, but before I commit the county I want more information,” Pastor said.
Dawson said she was not against the project, but told Payson to move forward.
Evans said they would since only two municipal entities are needed to form an SLE.
“Your timeline and ours are not lining up. We will go forward. We will make this happen. My timeline is now. Whatever decision (you make) is fine with me,” Evans said.