Tom Morrissey pensive shot

Mayor Tom Morrissey was criticized for several volunteer commission nominations he recently made.

A bitter council debate erupted on June 27 over appointments to several Payson advisory committees.

Town statute gives the mayor the right to recommend appointments to commissions that advise the council on a host of topics, including planning and zoning and recreation.

Normally, the appointments are routine with more concern over finding volunteers rather than who gets appointed. Past councils have accepted nominations from any council member, then reviewed resumés and applications to make a decision.

However, last week the issue prompted a split vote, with the minority complaining Mayor Tom Morrissey threw out incumbents in favor of his friends and volunteers from his campaign.

The topic not only split the council, it provoked a warning from Town Prosecutor Mary Bystricky about potential legal conflicts and/or violations of the town code.

The issue broke open when Councilor Barbara Underwood objected to approving a slew of appointments as part of the consent agenda. Morrissey had reportedly recommended replacing some committee members in favor of new appointees. He had also recruited volunteers for positions that had long remained vacant.

“I do have questions about people who have asked to be re-appointed,” Underwood said. “As a board, it takes awhile to get used to all the things you do ... it is really hard for me to support a nomination when someone who was willing to serve has been ousted.”

Underwood said she didn’t like losing the knowledge of experienced board members.

The members of the town’s advisory committees have to abide by all the same public meeting laws as council members, including the open meeting law.

“To turn (the committees) over with all new (volunteers), what’s the rationale behind it all?” she asked.

“Fresh eyes. Fresh energy,” said Morrissey. “Other people want to serve and they should have the right to serve.”

He then used the anecdote of a candidate losing an election.

“You gain a certain amount of expertise and then you don’t get elected again,” said Morrissey. “What I’m trying to do is to bring something new, some out of the box thinking ... is there anything wrong with that?”

“No,” said Underwood.

Councilor Jim Ferris agreed with Morrissey.

“I guess elections have consequences, don’t they?” said Ferris.

Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian reminded the council it’s hard to find volunteers.

Payson Council appointments

Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian and Vice Mayor Janell Sterner.

“I can tell you it is difficult to find people that volunteer,” she said. “Anyone that takes the time to fill out a packet, I respect.”

Councilor Steve Smith said, “It is difficult to fill positions. We’ve had some of these vacancies for quite some time ... what I just wanted to know, were all the other citizens that put in applications considered?”

Morrissey assured Smith they were.

“I did consider those applications,” he said, but added, “I have the power and the authority and I have the responsibility to fill those positions.”

One of Morrissey’s recommendations was Barbara Buntin, who served as Morrissey’s and Suzy Tubbs’ campaign manager. Darlene Younker was also nominated, she served as Ferris’ campaign manager.

Smith said he would like to make an informed decision, but at least one application didn’t provide enough information.

“There was one application that had nothing filled out ... I would just like to know about that applicant,” he said.

“That person submitted a resumé,” said Morrissey.

After the meeting, Councilor Chris Higgins shared the packet of applications with the Roundup. Another applicant had submitted a resumé, but not the applicant Smith wanted to know more about.

Underwood agreed that finding volunteers is difficult, but then asked specifically about Scott Helmer. This provoked a heated discussion.

Morrissey recommended Helmer for the Planning and Zoning Commission. Helmer is a business owner in Payson; although he has a home in Star Valley.

Underwood questioned whether Payson could legally appoint someone who lived in another community to a town committee.

“According to the county ... you pay taxes at 19 Moonlight Drive (in Star Valley),” she said.

Helmer said he used his business address for his voter registration — and also spends most of his nights at his fiancé’s Payson home. “That is where I lay my head,” he said.

Bystricky reminded the council she had given them a letter that “was covered by outside council when she wrote those documents,” and “attorney-client privilege,” relating to the issue of Helmer.

Bystricky continued, “If he is running against campaign laws that might be an issue submitted to the attorney general’s office for investigation.”

The mayor said, “I asked them to fill these positions and so they are not campaigning. I’m campaigning for them.”

Higgins said his reading of the town code suggests the parks and recreation commission must recommend new appointees to the council.

“Isn’t it in the code that ... the role of the parks and rec commission is to suggest to the mayor qualified and interested persons available for the parks and rec commission? If that is not done, that is a violation of the town code,” he said.

Morrissey replied, “It is clear to me that I have the right to appoint to the parks and rec commission those that are qualified. I strongly oppose your recommendation.”

A motion to ask for the recreation commission’s recommendations failed on a 4-3 vote.

Higgins later said he would have liked to have seen Nancy Gartner and Todd Braeger, who served on the Parks and Recreation Commission re-appointed and John Swenson re-appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Another motion to hold off on approving Helmer’s appointment also failed on a 4-3 vote, with Underwood, Higgins and Smith on one side and Tubbs, Janell Sterner and Ferris siding with the mayor.

The motion to approve the mayor’s other recommendations passed with the same split vote.

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I cover the Town of Payson, courts, wildfire, business, families, non-profits, the environment and investigative reporting

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(5) comments

Jack Hastings

Do you have Steve Smith Derangement Syndrome? You once again are deflecting the facts to divert attention to wrong doing. First they volunteered then they were appointed all the people appointed were either chairpersons of the Tea 4 or major donors to election campaigns. Deflecting and diverting is a know tactic and it doesn't work. nice try. Next it's going to be "Hockey Rink" ,"Hockey Rink" that is becoming a tired argument when anyone talks about development.Wrong !is Wrong! sir. no matter how hard you try to deflect it.

Jack Hastings

Hey Phil. If you deflect obvious wrong doing onto someone else and keep talking fast with no facts. Aren't you consenting to the wrong doing? Who are you? Do you not understand right and wrong or are you just a follower with no ethics?

Phil Mason

Wrong doing? How do you get to that position without documentation? The City Code gives the appointment of volunteer committees to the Mayor. You fail to note that FACT! The only wrong doing that has been documented by the perpetrators themselves was the violation of the Open Meeting Law in the process to appoint Steve Smith to fill a vacancy on the Council Stating that FACT is not deflecting, it is illuminating the fact. I understand right from wrong. I was raised in the parsonage and believe me I was taught right from wrong early and often. Those life lessons were impressed on my mind and other body parts. You are the one deflecting, although doing a particularly poor job of it.

Phil Mason

What is there about the following is not understood? Town statute gives the mayor the right to recommend appointments to commissions that advise the council on a host of topics, including planning and zoning and recreation. Glad that the Roundup showed the picture of Steve Smith with the article. From his appointment that was in violation of the Open Meeting Law - acknowledged by all - to this latest flareup, his sometimes subtle and sometimes open conflict opposition to the Mayor and Council is always on display. The former "leaders" who the voters turned out in the last election are constantly doing everything possible to roil the waters. They have made it clear that they will oppose the majority of the Council. Payson voters will have the opportunity to solve this problem in the next election cycle by electing new council members who will work as a team for the good of all the citizens of Payson. Until then, be prepared for more histrionics by the off-key Smith Trio.

Jack Hastings

Apparent Tom (Tea) Morrissey and the Tea trio have no regard for the open meeting laws or town ethics codes. If you are a major campaign donor or a election chairperson you can take your pick of and board or commission seat you choose. That whole group ran on a platform of denouncing cronies and cronyism these appointments are the pinnacle of hypocrisy . For a group that ran on a platform of "Transparency" this action seems to have been crafted in the dark. I for one do not like to be manipulated by a small far right group they certainly do not reflect the opinion of "all" the people as Tom (Tea) Morrissey claims he works for. If you look at the council links at the Town of Payson website and review the election campaign finance reports all these positions are being filled by chairpersons and donors to Tom (Tea)Morrissey's and the Tea Trio's election campaigns regardless of qualifications. i think the attorney General would be interested would be interested in an explanation.Shame on you.

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