The resignation of Scott Helmer from Payson’s Planning and Zoning Commission this summer sparked a challenge to the mayor’s power to recommend people for the entire array of town commissions and committees.
The council didn’t take any action during its Sept. 14 study session, but had a spirited discussion about whether other council members should have more say in nominating people for committees — and whether the council should remove committee and commission members who cause problems.
The debate highlights the shift in power from Mayor Tom Morrissey, whose once consistent 4-3 majority has turned into an inconsistent 4-3 minority. As a result, Morrissey has battled to win council approval of his nominations, often against the opposition of Vice Mayor Chris Higgins and council members Barbara Underwood, Jolynn Schinstock and Scott Nossek.
Previously, the council minority often voted in vain against Morrissey’s nominees. Morrissey insisted the town’s rules gave him the sole power to propose candidates for council approval.
Previous mayors have favored a more open nominating process — sometimes setting up a council committee to review applications and interview people.
The town code gives the mayor the right to nominate people for boards and commissions — one of the few extra powers of the elected mayor in the town’s city-manager based system. However, the code also gives the council the power to approve or reject candidates.
The issue came to a head at a specially called council work study session on Sept. 14.
Staff provided information on the nomination practices of other towns and reviewed the number and duties of the current boards.
Higgins expressed concern at the lack of oversight once the council seats a board member or commissioner.
“There were a lot of qualified people that wanted to serve, (but) the ability of the council to be part of that decision is taken away in the current setup,” he said.
Morrissey said, “When I nominate someone, I reappoint people who work with me.” He then accused Higgins and Underwood of not liking “the fact that I didn’t reappoint people because they worked against me.”
Higgins said the current system cost the town Parks and Recreation Director Courtney Spawn, who often clashed with parks and rec board member Dave Golembewski, a Morrissey appointee.
“In the case of Parks and Recreation ... that committee doesn’t work with you. There is a real problem that did play a part of her not being here anymore because of how badly she was treated by committee members appointed by you,” said Higgins to Morrissey. “She was attacked and other staff were attacked by committee members. They degrade and lie about our staff. It is allowed by this council.”
Higgins suggested the council use a ranking system, with alternates as back up. Most council members agreed with that suggestion.
Nossek and Tubbs-Avakian suggested more updates on what committees are not meeting or inactive.
Nossek also wanted more background information about candidates.
“I have had council members that have come to me and asked why I’m nominating particular people. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this.”
Sheila DeSchaaf, filling in for town manager Troy Smith, said staff will take these suggestions and work on “better language” for the town code.
She then explained that some boards and commissions went inactive during the recession because of staff cuts. Now, towns across the nation face struggles to find staff to fill positions, such as city planner.
“If you look at activating more boards and committees, those have to come with additional funds or staff,” she said. “They all fall under the open meeting law. They have ... minutes and agendas, they all take time.”
The council will again discuss Golembewski’s position on the Parks and Recreation commission at its Sept. 23 meeting.