On Aug. 12, a Payson resident filed paperwork to launch a recall of Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey, Vice Mayor Janell Sterner and councilors Jim Ferris and Suzy Tubbs-Avakian.
Stan Garner, the widower of Payson Councilor Su Connell, filed the petition paperwork. Garner says he is working with a group of concerned citizens and filed the paperwork on behalf of the group.
To force a special election, the group must gather 770 signatures to recall the mayor and 1,653 for each of the three council members in the next 120 days.
The petition forms detailed grounds for the recall of each council member. The Aug. 8 firing of Town Manager LaRon Garrett figured in all the complaints.
At press time, only the mayor had replied to a request for comment on the recall effort.
Morrissey reiterated what Ferris said when he moved to remove Garrett — the town manager serves at the pleasure of the council and the council no longer was pleased with Garret’s performance — especially after Morrissey heard, “many instances where citizens expressed their unhappiness with Mr. Garrett and their treatment by other staffers.”
Morrissey said he understood that when “LaRon chose to move this issue to a public setting when it was scheduled to be done in private” it “seems to be what triggered the emotional response more than anything.
“I don’t live in a bubble,” said Morrissey. “It is not a secret that some folks have been upset with this last election. However, trying to change the outcome of the election is quite a slap in the face of Payson residents. Who out there thinks they have the right to try and usurp the voters’ will? Apparently, these folks do.”
On each of the recall applications, the committee detailed grounds for the recall.
Regarding Morrissey, the petition stated, “His conduct and decision making have been divisive and have damaged the morale of town staff, town committees and volunteers. Choosing to remove a 25-year employee without cause, or give a reasonable notice, is costing the Town taxpayers many tens of thousands of dollars and potential liability.”
For Tubbs-Avakian, the petition stated, “disregard for ethical decision making hurts economic development, staff retention, and Town morale.”
In Sterner’s case the petition said, “Her actions regarding the former town manager have cost the taxpayers of Payson thousands of dollars and have hurt the morale of our wonderful town staff. The taxpayers deserve a council that works to unite the many different factions of Payson to ensure a better future for us all.”
The recall committee got more specific with Ferris, who moved to remove Garrett. The petition said, “Failing to follow ethical best management practices in removing a 25-year employee without cause and with only a few hours notice has placed an unnecessary financial burden on Town taxpayers. In disregard of the public’s request to know, when pressed for an answer, Councilman Ferris refused to give the reasons for his abrupt actions or even to enumerate a single reason.”
The group has 120 days to gather signatures from registered Payson voters. If the signatures qualify, the town will then hold a special election for Payson voters only, which would probably take place in the spring.
It will take 770 signatures to recall the mayor, but 1,653 for each councilor. That’s because the town’s statute sets the number of signatures according to the last time a council or mayoral race coincided with a general election.
Payson Town Clerk Silvia Smith said both the Gila County Recorder’s Office and the Town verify the signatures. If enough signatures qualify, only then would the council schedule an election.
In response to the financial concerns of the recall committee, Morrissey said, “Their action to implement a recall effort is what will cost the town thousands of dollars if they are successful in holding a special election.”
Garner has agreed to serve as chair for the recall committee. He did not indicate who was on the committee.
He said this is the first time he has seen a recall effort like this in Payson.
“This is probably the single most diverse group I have been associated with,” he said. “You’ve never seen anything like this, they are very upset.”
The council last week on a 4-3 vote ousted Garrett, giving him until noon the next day to clean out his desk.