The fledgling Payson mayor’s race turned nasty this week, with a claim that Mayor Kenny Evans acted unethically and perhaps illegally in writing a letter to a wealthy friend assuring him he could put in a swimming pool if he complied with all town codes.
Mayoral candidate Randy Roberson presented no direct evidence of either ethical or legal misconduct in a long press release raising questions about the propriety of a letter Evans wrote to Fred Wagenhals in February in response to a question about building a pool.
Evans said he merely answered a question from a constituent and did nothing to bend the rules for Wagenhals.
The swirl of allegations and Evans’ response comes weeks after the town council agreed unanimously to lift a longstanding ban on building outdoor pools originally imposed to save water. The council cited the imminent arrival of water from the C.C. Cragin pipeline, but critics said the town should have waited until the town actually finished the pipeline in 2015 or 2016.
Roberson says Evans pushed the council to change the water conservation ordinance so Wagenhals could sell his home in Chaparral Pines known as the Log Mahal. Wagenhals has contributed to many charitable causes in Payson and also was at one time a principal in a development group with an agreement to build a hoped-for university campus in Payson.
However, Evans said his letter merely informed Wagenhals he could build a swimming pool so long as he complied with all town codes and regulations. At the time Evans wrote the letter, Wagenhals would have had to build an indoor pool. By the time the man who eventually bought the house from Wagenhals applied for a permit to build a pool, the town council had changed the law to allow for indoor or outdoor pools.
For as long as anyone can remember, the town has banned swimming pools to protect the area’s limited water supply. At least that is what most everyone thought, including Evans, Vice Mayor Michael Hughes and several councilors.
Turns out, the code only explicitly barred outdoor pools. Town Attorney Tim Wright said anything other than an outdoor pool was therefore allowed, whether you call it a covered or indoor pool.
Wagenhals had reportedly been trying to sell his 14,000-square-foot home for four years. When he asked Evans last fall if he could build a swimming pool on the property as requested by a potential buyer, Evans said he replied, “No!”
“That is what I believed at the time (that all pools were banned),” he said.
Hughes also said he thought all pools were banned.
As it happens, the council had previously instructed Wright to review and update the town code. At a staff meeting at the beginning of the year, Evans asked about the restrictions on swimming pools. Staff said homeowners could build indoor pools, but not outdoor pools, which have a much higher evaporation rate, said Evans.
Surprised, Evans realized he had given Wagenhals incomplete information.
So on Feb. 19, Evans wrote Wagenhals — known as the “NASCAR Diecast mogul” on Wagenhals’ website — a letter on Town of Payson letterhead assuring him he could build a pool as long as it complied with all town construction and building codes.
Evans’ letter did not, however, discuss the difference between an indoor and an outdoor pool. He signed the letter and sent it to Wright, who signed off on it. Wagenhals later sold the home to Lou Laskis.
Roberson said it is suspicious that Evans did not in the letter tell Wagenhals he could only build an indoor pool, since the ordinance had not yet changed.
The council eliminated the ban on pools on April 17, but the change didn’t take effect until May 17.
Roberson believes Evans pressured the council to change the code solely so Wagenhals could sell his home to Laskis.
Because Evans wrote the letter two months before the issue came before the council, Roberson speculates Evans might have violated the open meeting law by talking to council members privately to push the change through.
“I found this information to be very disheartening as it raises the question of a violation of the open meeting law prior to Feb. 19 or if Mayor Evans feels such a sense of power over the six other council members that he was confident enough to write this letter before the issue was ever brought forward in a public council meeting,” said Charlene Creach Brown, a council candidate in a press release.
Evans denied all such accusations. He said he just sent the letter to correct bad information he had given Wagenhals. He said he frequently fields questions from the public and helps residents.
Evans’ response did not change Roberson’s mind.
“We aren’t pointing this out to defame anybody, but we are trying to point out that some things have been done (at town hall) that are not in the best interest of the public,” he said.
Roberson’s press release said of Evans’ letter, “the document begs the question, is this just unethical or is it a violation of law?”
Log Mahal pool
So was this infamous Log Mahal pool ever built? Not yet.
Around the same time the council allowed for all pool types, the council adjusted its impact fees. The water impact fee on a home dropped by about $1,000 to $6,592 for equivalent dwelling unit (EDU). Pools, spas and fountains count as one EDU per 30,000-gallon system. On May 30, Laskis’ builder applied for a building permit for a 13,460-gallon pool and spa valued at $30,000 at the Log Mahal, said Ray LaHaye, with the town-building department.
The plans have been reviewed and approved, but the builder had not picked up the permit. Given the pool is .45 an ERU, Laskis will have to pay a $3,400 impact fee as well as $300 permit fee. The impact fees will go into a fund to pay for the pipeline.
LaRon Garrett, Payson’s public works director, said several enclosed pools have been built in the past and owners always had to pay an impact fee based on the number of gallons the pool could hold. Hotels have built several indoor pools.
Roberson said he and the other Voice of Rim Country candidates are planning to reveal more activities by the council and mayor they find unfavorable soon, hinting at the Tower Well. He said they are gathering information through Freedom of Information requests before they go public.
This is the first time in some time that multiple candidates have challenged incumbents. Evans is up for re-election as well as councilors Su Connell, Fred Carpenter and Ed Blair.
Besides Roberson and Brown, Lew Levenson, Greg Friestad, Bob Lockhart and Chris Higgins are running for their seats.