Town council with DeSchaaf

Town of Payson CFO Deborah Barber has filed two complaints against Councilor Jim Ferris for creating a hostile workplace and defamation. In one of the complaints she also names Mayor Tom Morrissey.

Town of Payson’s Chief Financial Officer Deborah Barber has filed two workplace harassment claims against members of the Payson Town Council, according to a copy of the complaints obtained by the Roundup.

Barber claims Councilor Jim Ferris came into her office and was upset about a delay in obtaining a copy of a $100,000 check the town had received from the Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE in 2014. She said the incident created a “hostile and unpleasant work environment.”

The second complaint alleges both Ferris and Mayor Tom Morrissey circulated a rumor that her husband had contributed to the recall effort against four council members, both in a public meeting and in a video posted on a Facebook page.

The complaint said the false statements, coupled with comments by the mayor that people who supported the recall would regret it, amounted to workforce “intimidation” and “harassment.”

The Roundup received Barber’s complaints after filing a broad Freedom of Information request. Barber did not provide the claim to the Roundup and she declined comment on the filing, saying she did not want an article to further inflame the situation. She has been the town’s chief financial officer since 2017.

Ferris did not respond to the Roundup’s multiple requests for comment by email. At the Jan. 6 Main Street Merchants Guild meeting, Ferris told a Roundup writer he had no comment.

Acting town attorney Justin Pierce would also offer no comment and Morrissey said he had not yet read the complaint.

The complaints touch on the role of town councilors in a town manager form of government. The town council hires the town manager and the town attorney. However, all other town employees report to the town manager, according to town code.

Office visitBarber’s first complaint revolves around Ferris’ effort over several weeks to get a copy of a $100,000 check written in 2014 from the SLE to the town.

The check was an extra payment from money left over from a $700,000 payment made by the country clubs to build a raw water pipeline. The pipeline carried wastewater from Payson’s new C.C. Cragin water treatment plant to irrigate the country club golf courses. Ferris has in several public forums suggested the SLE misappropriated the money.

Ferris in early October asked Barber to find a copy of the $100,000 payment.

In her complaint, Barber explained that the town’s accounting system did not allow her to search easily for a check going back that far. Barber did not work for the town at that time and had no firsthand knowledge of the check or how it was processed, according to her complaint. She told Ferris she would need time to find a copy.

She said Ferris expressed frustration about the delay.

Shortly after that meeting, Ferris sat on a newly created subcommittee looking into contracts awarded for town capital improvement projects. During an Oct. 18 meeting, Acting Town Manager Sheila DeSchaaf told the committee all requests for research must go through the town manager’s office.

Roughly a week after the subcommittee meeting, Barber found the journal entry for the $100,000 payment and provided it to DeSchaaf “in accordance with her direction at the CIP subcommittee meeting,” according to the complaint.

Roughly a week later, on Nov. 8, Ferris reportedly again appeared in her office without an appointment, according to the complaint. He had apparently not yet received a copy of the check.

She said she felt accused of withholding information.

“I tried to explain these events to Mr. Ferris, but he was not happy with me. He continued to speak to me in a loud and angry voice for an extended period of time, moving on from direct accusations to venting about the actions of others which occurred many years prior to my employment with the town,” according to the complaint.

The exchange left Barber “shaking and distraught.”

“By his actions, Mr. Ferris has created a hostile and unpleasant work environment, as strictly prohibited by the Town of Payson’s Personnel Manual. In addition, intimidation and harassment constitute workplace violence.”

Recall claimsOn Nov. 8, Barber didn’t know Ferris had also accused her husband of contributing to the recall effort against Ferris, Morrissey and two other council members. Ferris made the allegations during one of Mayor Tom Morrissey’s Wednesday morning meetings. The claims were also posted on a website.

After learning of these accusations, she filed another complaint. The Roundup previously covered those accusations in another article, “Payson councilor makes false claim against town employee.” Read the story at https://bit.ly/2T3zmJR.

In short, Ferris claimed Barber and her husband were partners in a business that contributed $500 to the Unite Payson recall effort. The company is owned by Margie Oldenkamp, but on the town’s website, Jon Barber was listed as an owner and point of contact.

Barber’s husband manages the company when Oldenkamp is out of town, they said. The company sells gas to pilots at the Payson Airport. However, Barber’s husband has no control over Oldenkamp’s finances and is not listed as a partner according to papers filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission. Both Jon Barber and Oldenkamp have confirmed he has no controlling interest in the company and did not contribute to the recall effort.

Oldenkamp did make the $500 donation.

Barber said when she learned about those accusations, she added that incident and included Morrissey in her complaint.

“The comments at this meeting were a public defamation of my character by Mr. Ferris, with the knowledge and support of Mr. Morrissey,” wrote Barber.

She said the comments and the way it has spread on Facebook have “tarnished her 25-year reputation for exemplary professional service within the community of Payson” and caused “irreparable harm that cannot be recovered.”

The complaint concluded with Barber asking the town to take action “to support me in correcting this situation.”

DeSchaaf did not respond to questions about the complaint.

Barber seeks a public retraction and apology and removal of the “false and defamatory video” from Facebook, as well as protection from retaliation.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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(1) comment

Paul Frommelt

The article states, " Barber did not provide the claim to the Roundup and she declined comment on the filing, saying she did not want an article to further inflame the situation." And yet, here is the inflammation. It's also interesting that the author keeps referencing our "city" government when it is in fact, a "town." It's more than just a difference of semantics.

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