Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport on Thursday resigned his position on the council, stung by the criticism of fellow councilors concerning his support for background checks for people who buy guns at gun shows.
“There has been so much misinformation going around. I just don’t want to subject myself to this,” Rappaport said. “My wife and I, we don’t need this.”
The council must now elect a new mayor and appoint a new council member to fill out Rappaport’s term, which ends in the fall of 2014. Town officials on Thursday said that they don’t know whether new state rules will let the council appoint from within or from the community at large. Staff is still researching the options to fill the mayoral post.
The abrupt resignation “effective immediately” came after a dispute between Rappaport and several other council members concerning a letter he wrote on town letterhead supporting background checks for people who buy firearms at gun shows. He said the letter represented his personal position and that he never implied it represented the council’s position.
“I’m through. I’m walking away from it,” he said. “I’ve been with the town for nine years. That’s long enough I think. The reason I did this was for the benefit of the people who live in Star Valley. So many people seem to be against me, I don’t want to be a hindrance to a town that I helped to create.”
His resignation ends an era in Star Valley, since he helped spur the incorporation of the community in the shadow of a bitter dispute with neighboring Payson about the Tower Well. Rappaport has played a leading role in the community ever since incorporation, pushing for the speed cameras on Highway 260, the paving of most of the streets in town and a conservative fiscal policy that kept the little, low-tax town solvent through the recession that caused major cuts in neighboring Payson. In the end, he also pushed for a reconciliation with Payson that ended years of conflict. Under his leadership, Star Valley bought out Brooke Utilities and joined with Payson to create the Separate Legal Entity that is working to build a university in Rim Country.
Ironically, his resignation was triggered by his frustration concerning a side issue that didn’t directly affect town policy and hadn’t even yet come before the council.
Star Valley Councilor Paty Henderson, a frequent critic of the mayor, had contacted the Roundup to protest Rappaport’s decision to write a letter about gun control on town stationery. An e-mail seeking to drum up opposition to Rappaport’s letter said he had written the letter to supporting gun control to “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” an organization started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
She complained that “we elected a mayor, we didn’t elect a king.” And said that the council majority had refused to put a discussion of Rappaport’s letter on the council agenda this week. Rappaport later said the issue was slated for discussion on May 7.
A Roundup reporter briefly interviewed Rappaport about Henderson’s complaint. The reporter mistakenly got the impression that Rappaport was a member of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” and had written a letter to the White House. The reporter checked the organization’s Web site and found a picture of Rappaport under a list of members.
Rappaport said that was all a mistake. He said that he did write a letter supporting background checks at gun shows and sent it to Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake — not to the White House. He said that someone from “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” had suggested he write the letter, but that he had never joined the organization or given permission for the use of his photo on the Web site. He said he didn’t support the organization’s gun control proposals, including expanded background checks other than at gun shows, a ban on high capacity magazines and a restoration of the ban on assault weapons.
“I’ve been an NRA member for 26 years,” said Rappaport. This was not about the Second Amendment. This was just about closing the gap at gun shows — that’s the only thing I supported.”
However, Henderson had sharply criticized Rappaport for writing a letter on town stationery. “This is the latest in a long string of improprieties by the mayor. I resent that he implies the whole council favors this. This is underhanded.”
Rappaport said that Henderson was a “non-entity” on the council but that “I didn’t want to get involved in this back and forth thing. It’s not worth my time ... At this point, I’m just tired of getting beaten up. This was kind of a last straw. I get beat up on a daily basis about photo enforcement — you have no idea the kind of e-mails and phone calls I get about that. It’s mostly people from out of state — people down in the Valley — that get tickets. They think it’s all my fault. The thing is, what people don’t realize, since we put that in, we have not had one fatal accident. We’ve dropped the speed limit from 73 miles an hour to 43 miles an hour. We were averaging between three and nine fatal accidents annually before that — the majority at the Circle K and at Cornerstone and Moonlight.”
He said he had “no regrets” about his position on background checks at gun shows. “This is something I felt strongly about, after what happened to (Tucson Congresswoman) Gabby Giffords and this thing at Sandy Hook — it really bothered me personally. It was something I felt I had to do.”
He said he also felt good about his time on the council.
“Number one, I was the one that led the incorporation of the town. I’ve paved all the roads. I bought a water company. I put in photo enforcement — which probably now will be voted out or something, I would imagine. I brought the relationship between Payson and Star Valley back — that’s probably the most important thing right there.”
Still, he said that he felt hurt by the criticism.
“I was at Town Hall virtually every day. I’m taking this very personally. I get a lot of information secondhand from other people. People don’t call me. Usually I’m the one that has to reach out to find out what’s going on. They will not say anything to my face.”