A wave of emotions washed over Kathy Siler on Saturday night as the curtain dropped on another Missoula Children’s Theatre production at the Payson High School Auditorium.
“As always, I have mixed emotions,” said the Payson High School theatre director. “It’s sad to see such a great, fun project end. This particular group will never be together again. Some of them will try out for the MCT show next year, but the group will be different.
“Also, I’m happy to see the project to completion and excited to start the next project.”
About 60 Payson Unified School District students took part in the MCT full-length, original, musical comedy production of “Jack and the Beanstalk” for two performances on Aug. 23 and 24.
This was the eighth consecutive year that the MCT has brought its “little red truck” loaded with a set, costumes, props and stage makeup to Payson for a performance. It’s a week-long residency.
MCT’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” is an original adaptation of the classic children’s story. MCT’s Taylor Sage Priday and Payton Hartwick directed the production.
Siler said ticket sales were similar to recent years.
“It was just enough to pay the invoice which is $3,750 each year,” Siler said. “That’s $3,450 then we add three workshops to make a total of six classroom workshops for the elementary schools, which is one of our community service projects for the local schools.”
Priday and Hartwick conducted those six workshops for elementary students during the production week’s school hours.
“MCT strives to use participation in the performing arts as a vehicle for children to develop the life skills (social, communication and adaptive skills, self-discipline, self-esteem, a strong work ethic, appreciation of the value of teamwork) necessary to answer the challenges of the present day,” MCT said in a press release.
Siler said she was pleased with how things went from tryouts on Monday afternoon to rehearsals to the performances on Friday and Saturday nights.
“The production week went very well,” Siler said. “Everybody worked together beautifully. Our directors included humor and team-building exercises that brought the cast members together as a team.”
It can be a challenge trying to pull together such a cast which included 60 first- through 12th-graders.
“It’s always fun to see the cast members enjoying each other and having fun with the project,” Siler said. “I’m always thrilled to see 12 different grade levels working together on a single project for the good of the group.”
Siler thanked four businesses that sponsor them every year — Ironhorse Signs, Miller Autoworks, Payson Premier Dental and Plant Fair Nursery, as well as, ArtBeat Rhythm of the Rim which is now a co-sponsor.
“We are a self-supporting project and we depend on their donations, along with ticket sales, DVD sales, concession sales and Credit For Kids donations to bring the Missoula Children’s Theatre back each year,” Siler said.
You can support the continuation of MCT in Payson by attending a performance or by making a donation. One way to donate is through the Credit For Kids program. Anyone who wishes to donate that way should pick up a form at Payson High School and designate that the funds go to PHS Drama-MCT. For more information, email Kathy Siler at email@example.com or call 928-472-5775.
The next project for the Longhorn Theatre Company is Julie Jensen’s “The Harvey Girls” on Oct. 17-19.
Don Bullard headed for the mess hall after long hours spent digging wrecked tanks out of the muck and mud of a shell-blasted battlefield in North Africa, bone-tired and covered in mud.
The 23-year-old tank driver and vehicle recovery specialist had volunteered to serve with the British Army in its seesaw battle with the Italians and Germans, which thundered back and forth across North Africa. By then Germany had conquered almost all of Europe and the United States had finally entered the global conflict on the side of Great Britain — thanks to the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. In North Africa, the Allies hoped finally to turn the tide against the seemingly invincible Germans.
As Bullard shuffled into the mess tent — all 5 feet 6 inches of him — he found himself confronted with a remarkable sight. There sat General George S. Patton, the slashing general determined to shatter the legend of German General Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox.
Patton looked the part of a movie star general, impeccable uniform, gleaming leather riding boots — a picture of military glory.
“What you been doing, soldier?” asked the commanding general.
Bullard gave him a long look — not quite rolling his eyes.
“Getting this uniform dirty ... Sir,” replied the irrepressible truck driver turned solider, a card-carrying member of “The Greatest Generation.”
Now, Don Bullard’s 103 years old. The memories have grown dim after a life of duty, honor and relentless hard work. But the memory of time green kids like Bullard saved the world came flooding back recently. Marine Corps veteran Joseph Juharos assembled the veterans of Overgaard American Legion Post 86 to visit Bullard in his home to award him a plaque honoring his service, forgotten long ago by the headlong world. Hospice Compassus supports the effort, often inviting the honor guard to visit residents in its facility. Local veterans also attended, including Payson Councilor Chris Higgins.
Gary Korosec (Navy), Bud Collette (Army), Alan Yost (Navy) and Dale Strecker (Army) gathered around Bullard, who rested comfortably in his favorite armchair as Bullard’s daughter, Kathy, and two caregivers looked on. The honor guard sang patriotic songs, joked with the veteran of battles across North Africa and then across France into the heart of Germany.
Bullard looked alternately baffled and happy.
“I’m overwhelmed,” he said more than once.
His family said he never talked much about his role in the conquest of North Africa, France and Germany. He was humble and tough and a worker, who never put on airs. He fought the war, raised his family, worked all his life — and at 82 dug out his basement with a shovel so he could build a workshop.
Back in 1940, Bullard had a job driving a truck in St. Paul when he was drafted.
“I went because I had to,” said Bullard. “They asked me to. I was not doing much here,” he added.
About the time he finished his basic training, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
“I knew I was in for the duration then,” he recalls matter-of-factly.
He said he volunteered to be sent to a British tank unit in North Africa.
“He said he got tired of marching,” said Carol Watts, his caregiver.
He joined a furious battle with momentous consequences, as the British, the Italians and finally the Americans learned the harsh lessons of German-style total war. Bullard was in a group of 200 enlisted men and eight officers who joined the British 8th Army under General Montgomery. He was a tank driver, assigned a leftover design with little chance against the advanced German Panzers.
The Italians had thrown their lot in with Germany, hoping to expand their empire in Africa. The British fought stubbornly back from their own colonial domains anchored by Egypt. The Italians nearly forced the British from the continent before the counterattacks sent the Italians reeling — with advances and retreats covering hundreds of miles of harsh desert. The Germans sent in Rommel with several divisions, who checked the British advance and pushed them back once more to Egypt.
Bullard joined the battle as the British rallied to turn the tables on Rommel, with the help of the arriving Americans.
“We saw very little action,” Bullard wrote in a droll and low-key summary of his war experience for his family. “We were at the east end of the fighting and Germany’s supply lines were very long.”
The battle for North Africa lasted from 1940 to May of 1943 and cost the Allies 220,000 casualties, including some 35,000 killed. The U.S. suffered 2,715 killed, 6,500 missing and 9,000 wounded. The Germans and Italians had 22,000 killed and 350,000 captured, according to Wikipedia. Military historians have argued about the wisdom of the campaign, which proved a sideshow to the invasion of Europe. However, the campaign forced Germany to divert troops and aircraft from the invasion of Russia, which might have ensured Russia’s survival and determined the outcome of the war.
After a month in the field, Bullard returned to the States and rejoined the Third Army, training for tank warfare in the vast California deserts.
Bullard decided to seek a commission as an officer. He also married his sweetheart. He and his wife Gwen were to remain happily married for 60 years, but they started out in fear and uncertainty. She followed him to Texas where he underwent officer training and then on to England and Ireland before the Normandy invasion.
Bullard led by example and understood his men. They called him “junior” on account of his height. His superior officers frowned and told him that was disrespectful. Bullard just shrugged. “It may be disrespectful,” he said, “but they’ll do anything I ask.”
He found himself back in Patton’s Army after D-Day, determined to sprint across France and conquer Germany.
His unit landed in France a month after Normandy. “We were a heavy maintenance company and did all the maintenance the company, battalion, regimental, divisional and Army maintenance could not handle. We were assigned to the 3rd Army, George Patton’s old blood and guts Army,” he wrote in the account for his family.
A masterpiece of understatement, his account says — “we crossed France, Belgium and parts of Germany before the war ended.”
Actually, he participated in one of the greatest campaigns of maneuver in history.
America’s Sherman tanks led the breakneck advance across occupied France, liberating Paris in August 1944 before regrouping for the assault on Germany. Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower opted for an advance on a broad, unified front — rejecting pleas for the tank commanders to spearhead a rapid drive into Germany. The Allied supply operations strained to keep up with the advance.
The assault on Germany involved 4.5 million Allied troops opposed by 1.5 million Germans. The Americans alone suffered 50,000 killed, 172,000 wounded and 23,000 captured or missing in furious fighting that stretched from August 1944 to March of 1945.
Patton proved the master of tank warfare. He used small planes to make daring reconnaissance of enemy lines, then sent in columns of Shermans to make breakthroughs, bagging hundreds of thousands of prisoners and repeatedly forcing the stubborn defenders to fall back. Bullard’s unit worked feverishly to keep thousands of American tanks in the battle.
Just as Patton was poised to push on into Germany, his tanks ran out of gas. Patton complained that with 400,000 gallons of gas, he could have been in Germany in two days.
Instead the advance ground to a halt. This gave the Germans the chance to mount a desperate, last-ditch counterattack in the dead of winter, the infamous Battle of the Bulge.
Patton pulled his Third Army out of battle lines and moved three full divisions to relieve the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, whose seeming suicidal resistance in Bastogne had stalled the German advance. In a maneuver even Eisenhower deemed impossible, Patton, within a few days, moved 133,000 Third Army vehicles with 130,000 tons of supplies to the relief of Bastogne.
The victory in the Battle of the Bulge cleared the way for the final assault into Germany. Patton’s 300,000-man Third Army captured 32,000 square miles of German territory, suffering 2,102 killed, 8,000 wounded and 1,600 missing. They killed 20,000 Germans and wounded another 48,000 while taking 653,000 prisoners. Between Normandy and the end of the war, the Third Army was in combat for 281 days, crossed 24 major rivers, captured 81,000 square miles of territory with 12,000 cities and towns. The Third Army captured or killed 1.8 million Germans — six times its own strength.
Or as Bullard put it: “we crossed France, Belgium and parts of Germany before the war ended.”
He also noted, “Patton was a good officer — but he was not for the men, he was for winning the war.”
Relieved to have survived, Bullard returned to his beloved wife. He went back to work at the same trucking company and learned to make molds for truck parts. His skill with molds led him into the fledgling plastics industry, which remade the world. He started his own company and worked hard all his life. He and his wife of 60 years raised three children. He outlived one of them, a deep grief.
His wife’s sister bought a place in Sun City. Every time Bullard drove through Payson to visit his sister, he declared, “I’d like to retire here.”
So at the age of 82, he sold all his tools and moved to Payson. He got to know all the neighbors. He found his “best friend ever,” his neighbor on the block.
But retirement didn’t really take. He soon found himself building things for his neighbors. With a shovel and a wheelbarrow, he dug out a basement under the porch, where he could build a workshop. He bought new tools. He built a spiral staircase on a dare, said his daughter.
“He was just always busy,” said Carol. “I think that’s why he lasted so long.”
So that’s why the aging members of the Overgaard Honor Guard made the drive down to Payson, to offer Don Bullard a well-earned salute.
They sang and chatted and made a ceremony out of handing Bullard his certificate for saving the world all those years ago.
“No one told me you were coming. I had no idea,” he said.
His daughter sighed. She had told him.
But it’s hard to remember 103 years worth of stuff — even if it includes saving the world.
“I’m overwhelmed,” he repeated.
Everyone exchanged glances, tempted by tears.
But then the young man with the dirty uniform answering a general’s dumb question glimmered in Bullard’s elfin smile.
“I’ll find out who’s behind this,” he added, his eyes twinkling.
The roomful of veterans laughed, perhaps remembering their own years of comradeship and danger.
Bullard loved the laugh.
So he said it again. “I’ll find out who’s behind this.”
And everyone laughed again, proud of the small, humble man who saved the world and won the peace.
Because sometimes, the laughter of comrades is even better than a salute.
The last full weekend of August turned out especially hot for residents of Tonto Basin with a slew of power outages.
Friday, Aug. 23 and Saturday, Aug. 24 each had outages ranging from three to four hours during some of the hottest periods of the day. There was an outage early Monday morning that lasted for less than an hour, but disrupted the Tonto Basin school.
“There were three separate and unrelated outages,” said APS spokesperson Jill Hanks. “Two (Saturday and Monday morning) were caused by birds getting into electrical equipment. Friday night, a wire on a power pole came loose and touched a power line, causing the system to trip.”
The Friday and Saturday outages turned hours long because, “We require APS linemen to physically patrol the power lines before restoring power to make sure there’s nothing that could increase the risk of fire,” said Hanks. A valid concern during a year with the worst monsoon in history.
Yet a long outage during some of the hottest parts of the day creates other pressing issues. In response to an APS post on a Tonto Basin news Facebook page, one resident feared for the safety of infirm neighbors.
“For older people dependent on oxygen concentrators, air conditioners and other medical devices, it is a lot more than an inconvenience — it can be life threatening and ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ does not begin to address the seriousness of hours and hours of no power.”
Another resident “lost a few of my electronics due to all the on and off.”
For the Tonto Basin Elementary School, August outages have already shut down school twice.
“We were closed on Aug. 1 and Aug. 26,” said Chad Greer, school superintendent/principal. The school won’t have to make up days, however, because Tonto Basin has extra hours banked in preparation for acts of nature shutting down the school.
These recent closures caused some parents to express their upset on Facebook, but Greer says his, “first priority is to the health and safety of the students and staff.”
For the school, it’s not just the lights going off that causes problems — without an air conditioner “when we’re in an excessive heat warning ... it doesn’t take long at all, like 30 minutes, for it to get as hot inside as out,” said Greer.
The school’s “security and fire are all connected to electricity,” said Greer, “so we’re open to anything.”
But what really gets everyone out of sorts is a lack of water. The well doesn’t run without electricity, which not only shuts down drinking fountains, but toilets.
“We get about one flush,” said Greer.
Greer understands the plight of APS, however, so he’s created a connection with “someone who can get me more information than the (APS) website.”
For both Greer and APS, keeping people safe is the top priority.
“Patrolling miles of power lines, and sometimes in challenging conditions (after dark, in bad weather, etc.) and/or rough terrain, can extend the time it takes to get the power back on,” said Hanks. “We understand any disruption of service is an inconvenience for customers, however, safety is our top priority and this is an added level of safety to protect the public and the grid. We certainly appreciate everyone’s patience as our crews always work to get the lights back on just as safely and as quickly as they can.”
Call it the tale of two cities — or regions, if you want to get technical.
Both Flagstaff and a cluster of communities in the White Mountains have tried different approaches to saving their communities from the next megafire.
The White Mountains launched the White Mountain Stewardship Project, which sought to thin thickets of trees menacing every forest community with the help of local industry and federal subsidies.
Now, Flagstaff has launched the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, with money from a voter-approved, $10 million bond issue as well as a close partnership with the Forest Service.
So how did that go?
What’s the right approach?
A recent forest health and thinning conference in Payson shed light on the two most successful forest restoration and wildfire mitigation projects in Arizona to date. The summary offered muffled hope in confronting an existential threat — the kind of wildfire that devastated Paradise, Calif., destroying 12,000 homes and killing 88 people.
University of Arizona economist Anne Mottek summarized the strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches, the most serious efforts to confront the threat a megafire will sweep out a sickly, mismanaged forest to consume Payson or Pine or Show Low or Pinetop or Alpine or a dozen other unincorporated communities. Most of the communities in Rim Country and the White Mountains face a far greater threat than Paradise did before it burned to the ground last year.
Mottek worked as a consultant to both projects, giving her a unique perspective.
“Complacency permeated the Forest Service in 2002 — but the Rodeo-Chediski Fire was like nothing we had ever seen. Not only was it such a large fire, but it was a very intense fire. It pretty much fried the landscape, fried the soil — it was a very, very disruptive fire. Public opinion began to change from ‘logging is evil’ to ‘logging is good.’ Wildfire finally became a front-burner issue.”
But that was 20 years ago. How’s it going?
Slowly. Very slowly.
The two locally supported projects demonstrate the possibilities — and the lethal frustrations — of reversing a century of mismanagement that turned a forest adapted to low-intensity, frequent fires into a death trap, prone to searing, megafires.
Lethal wildfires galvanized both projects. The 560,000-acre Rodeo-Chediski Fire inspired the White Mountains Stewardship Project in 2002 by forcing the evacuation of 30,000 residents, consuming 500 structures and costing the federal government $308 million in initial firefighting costs — and millions more in damage to the watershed.
The 15,000-acre Schultz Fire inspired the Flagstaff project, after charring thousands of acres and killing a girl in a post-fire flood. It cost $10 million to fight and the subsequent flooding did $140 million in damage. The town undertook studies after the fire that revealed Flagstaff had narrowly avoided a catastrophic series of floods that could have done a billion dollars worth of flood damage to downtown Flagstaff — even if the town avoided burning down.
Overall, the White Mountain Stewardship Project had the biggest impact, before it expired from its reliance on a fitful per-acre subsidy to help deal with disposal of the nearly worthless brush and slash. The project sputtered along at a rate of about 5,000 acres annually, limited largely by how much money the Forest Service could dig up each year to provide a roughly $800-per-acre subsidy.
However, the more recent Flagstaff project has already cleared thousands of acres on the edge of Flagstaff and does not rely on the support of the Forest Service, with a budget now suffering cutbacks as fighting fires consumes an ever-larger share of the total.
White Mountain Stewardship ProjectThe White Mountain Stewardship Project not only saved the tattered remnants of a timber industry in the region, it pioneered the whole idea of large-scale timber projects focused on forest restoration. The project and its spinoffs have spurred the thinning of some 150,000 acres in the past 15 years — dwarfing any other restoration project in the country. The project itself lasted 10 years before the Forest Service pulled the plug in what has so far proved a vain hope the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) would do the same job on millions of acres with no taxpayer subsidy.
“They were the pioneers. It was the beginning of seeing the industry as a true partner. It brought together environmental groups, industry, scientists, community members and the Forest Service,” said Mottek.
The project proved loggers could make money processing trees just 12 inches in diameter, compared to the early mills geared for old-growth trees 25 to 36 inches in diameter. The project got a huge boost when Novo Power opened, proving a place to sell much of the biomass.
The people willing to invest in new mills faced daunting challenges. They often struggled to line up financing, since banks remained leery of any mill dependent on a steady, long-term supply of wood from public lands, given the gridlock and delays that had plagued timber contracts in the past, said Mottek.
The onset of the recession four years into the project nearly polished off the mills and wood-processing operations. The housing industry collapsed, which killed the markets for many of the products the mills were by then producing.
Somehow, the risk-takers who gambled on the contracts and built mills that could handle the small stuff stayed in business – buffeted by the recession, the federal requirement to essentially pay union-scale wages and the year-to-year swings in how much the Forest Service let them thin, said Mottek.
“They developed a cluster model —which was really important.” So different businesses opened close by one another, to make use of all the wood and biomass produced by the thinning projects. In the old days, the giant trees produced so much revenue producers would just discard the waste and the smaller materials – often just leaving it in piles in the forest to burn.
The Wallow Fire in 2011 burned another 600,000 acres, including 50,000 acres earmarked for thinning projects. However, the thinning projects already completed probably saved Alpine and Springerville, showing the value of the project.
The infrastructure investment ultimately totaled some $130 million from private industry and some $50 million in federal funding.
“Without the stewardship contract as the foundation and without the grant money as the seed, I don’t think the White Mountain situation would have been nearly as robust,” said Mottek. “You have to give a lot of credit to the Center for Biological Diversity and the contractor and Forest Service personnel, who really changed that combative climate to cooperation… The forest products industry was actually re-established in the White Mountains. Businesses could grow and take risks and invest in infrastructure.”
The model proved itself by the acres thinned. After seven years of trying to make 4FRI work without a subsidy or market for the biomass—the contractors have thinned just 13,000 acres.
4FRI was supposed to thin 50,000 acres annually at no cost to taxpayers, but so far the main impact has been to nearly kill off the fledging, reinvented wood products industry in the White Mountains. Only strenuous efforts by a coalition of local officials and industry leaders have kept it alive through the leadership of the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization. The small-scale forest products industry spawned by the stewardship project has picked up 4FRI contracts the main contractor can’t get to and keep themselves alive.
Meanwhile, the blunted hopes for 4FRI that led directly to Flagstaff’s desperate effort to take its future into its own hands, by raising money to spur thinning projects from local taxpayers.
The Payson Forest Health conference took place as Flagstaff’s nightmare threatened to become a reality, with the Museum Fire burning on the very watershed consultants warned could generate a billion-dollar flood if a heavy monsoon rain hit the slopes after a high intensity fire.
In a bitter irony, the fire was sustained in part by piles of logging slash left behind by the town-financed thinning projects. In some cases, crews piled up trees using a helicopter because the slopes were so steep. Fortunately, the region got just enough early monsoon moisture to tame the fire, but none of the heavy downpours that could have spelled disaster.
Flagstaff voters approved the first voter-supported, forest restoration bond issue in the nation, cementing the town’s status as the leader in responding to the wildfire threat. The measure received a stunning 74 percent of the vote. The $10 million in local funding attracted another $7 million in grant funding, enough to make a difference.
Flagstaff had already adopted a wildland-urban interface (WUI) building code, designed to prevent embers from a nearby wildfire from setting many buildings on fire at the same time and to limit the spread of a fire from house to house. Flagstaff also has a strong Firewise brush clearing code and has deployed its own fire department brush thinning crews to clear overgrown lands within the town boundaries.
None of the counties or towns in Rim Country and the White Mountains have comprehensive WUI or Firewise codes, much less money to thin critically overgrown areas on the outskirts of town.
Mottek called the nine-month campaign to pass the bond issue an “incredible journey,” which brought together Flagstaff and Coconino County officials, environmental groups, the fire department and a wide cross-section of the public. The support turned on voters’ realization that wildfires not only threatened their homes, but the watersheds on which the whole community’s future depends, she said.
However, even the fully engaged voters of Flagstaff and town officials willing to embrace codes requiring WUI building standards and Firewise thinning can only throw up a desperate, last line of defense in another Rodeo-Chediski, Schultz or Camp fire.
If the Forest Service can’t make 4FRI work and restore millions of acres of forest to health, the wildfire will inevitably extract its terrible toll, agreed the experts gathered at the conference.
In the meantime, the Forest Service continues to spend about $3 billion each year fighting wildfires. Using a White Mountains Stewardship model, that money would thin 3.7 million acres annually, while providing tens of thousands of jobs in hard-pressed rural communities.
“We can pay now or we can pay later,” said Arizona State Forester David Tenney, previously a Navajo County supervisor. “It costs 10 times as much per acre to put out a fire as it does to treat it ahead of time, so why in the world would we say it’s better to do it later?”
Payson’s town council faces two legal challenges — one claiming the mayor infringed on a protester’s free speech rights and the second centered on an alleged open meeting law violation.
The investigations have only deepen a persistent 4-3 council split, with Mayor Tom Morrissey and councilors Jim Ferris, Janell Sterner and Suzy Tubbs-Avakian on one side, and councilors Barbara Underwood, Chris Higgins and Steve Smith on the other.
Complaints about the actions of the majority have prompted a recall effort against Morrissey, Ferris, Sterner and Tubbs-Avakian.
And one voter has filed paperwork saying he will try to recall Smith.
Morrissey has dismissed both the open meeting law complaint and the free speech complaint as efforts by the “good old boy” network to regain power of Payson.
“Do you want to go back to the days of the Good Old Boys from previous administrations?” wrote Morrissey in an email. “Or do you want the opportunity to look to a future of opportunity with the recently elected mayor and town council where the citizens are empowered and allowed to participate in town direction?”
Recall supporters have criticized the mayor for not allowing public comments during some town meetings and for reportedly making decisions in private.
The legal battles started when Smith filed an open meeting law complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office back in May. He maintained the council majority lined up votes ahead of a decision on whether the town should support a plan to help improve broadband service. He based his complaint in part on an email sent to the council majority by Greg Friestad, a member of an informal broadband committee.
Since then, letters have flown back and forth between the AG’s office and Payson’s legal counsel.
The AG sought evidence that proved, “whether any council members responded to or discussed the (Friestad) email ... with any other council members ...”
A lawyer for the town argued the charges “must be dismissed” because although Friestad emailed four council members, who ultimately voted against the broadband proposal, it does not prove councilors spoke to one another about the email.
The open meeting law bars a council majority from agreeing on their votes outside of a public meeting, but doesn’t bar officials from receiving information if they don’t talk about it among themselves.
A council could violate the law by forwarding emails in a way that serves to influence their final votes.
The town lawyer argued, “the complaint must be dismissed” because there is no evidence of a violation.
“What happened after six months was the filing of a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office of a frivolous open meeting law complaint by an unelected member of the town council,” said Morrissey in an email. “I was subsequently advised by the investigating attorney for the attorney general that there was no finding of a violation after she investigated the matter on behalf of the state attorney general. After that not bearing fruit they have now turned to a recall election.”
However, the AG’s office has not closed Smith’s case. In a prior article, the Roundup reported the complaint had been dismissed based on inaccurate information. However, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office this week confirmed that the investigation continues.
“This is still under investigation,” said Rachelle Lumpp, a public information officer for the AG’s office. “We have not sent a letter with our findings yet. Happy to provide that ... once it’s been completed.”
The second legal battle stems from Morrissey’s decision to order police to eject Payson resident Marjorie Oldenkamp from a council meeting. She has filed a First Amendment violation with the Town of Payson, the American Civil Liberties Union and the AG’s office.
Hearing that the mayor would not allow comments during the Aug. 15 meeting, Oldenkamp displayed a sign that said, “No public comment, back room meeting, recall now.”
She sat at the front of the room — her back to the audience and the sign’s message visible only to the council and city staff at the front of the room.
“I did not say anything or make any noise,” she wrote in her complaint to the town.
Then, “the mayor immediately ordered a Payson police officer to remove me and my sign from the meeting because I was being ‘disruptive,’” said Oldenkamp.
As officers removed her from council chambers, Oldenkamp told the mayor “there was no Payson town rule preventing me from displaying a sign at the council meeting and that he was violating my civil rights by ordering the Payson police officer to remove me and my sign from the meeting.”
Her complaint accuses Morrissey of “an abuse of his power that violated my First Amendment right to free speech and also violated my Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure.
“This is against the mayor,” said Oldenkamp. “He will have to pay for his legal defense. The town doesn’t have to pay.”
Morrissey explained his reasoning for ejecting Oldenkamp.
“The town attorney advised me of that several times ... that I run the meetings and am charged with maintaining order,” he said. “That means that when there is a disruption I have the duty to restore order. Her (Oldenkamp’s) actions at that meeting were in my judgment, disruptive. Freedom of speech does not give a person the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
“Emotions run high at some of our town council meetings and maintenance of order can be challenging, but it is always necessary for public safety.”
Neither the AG, nor the ACLU have indicated they will take Oldenkamp’s case. No decisions have been made in her cases.
On Tuesday, resident Dave Golembewski took out paperwork to recall Smith. Read more about why he wants to recall Smith in an upcoming Roundup.