It took a council member’s complaint to push the Payson Town Council to vote on a code of conduct.
For the past year the council has roiled under an attempt to recall members of the council, a complaint by an employee, several complaints by town residents, and a lawsuit with the largest nonprofit in the community. Most of the complaints had to do with allegations of slander or libel.
But it was Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian’s complaint against fellow Councilor Steve Smith for “making fun of me” that tipped the council to action.
The comment referenced Tubbs-Avakian’s use of a wheelchair after surgery.
“My whole thought behind (proposing a code of conduct), is that this council has gotten out of control,” she said. “There is arguing amongst us. We cannot walk out of here and shake hands and disagree — or agree to disagree. It’s been ugly.”
The code of conduct covers the rules, responsibilities and respect required of council members when working with each other, town staff, the public, and other agencies including the media.
The scope of rules didn’t sit well with Councilor Jim Ferris.
“There’s a lot of things in here that to me are just ... uh ... we’re becoming P.C. (politically correct) or thought police,” he said.
A few of the listed principles of conduct include keeping promises, being dependable, listening attentively and showing empathy.
Actions not defined as proper conduct include, showing antagonism or hostility, spreading rumors, or stirring up bad feelings, (and) divisiveness.
Contract Town Attorney Justin Pierce attempted to soften the language of the document.
“Obviously you are ... it doesn’t mean you can’t be critical ... that is a First Amendment right,” he said. “These types of things arise that I have seen in other places, personal attacks, unprofessional and uncivil behavior (that) would get you in trouble in any workplace.”
The code lays out the procedure for the mayor to mediate complaints between council members.
With the Tubbs-Avakian complaint, Mayor Tom Morrissey mediated between the two to reach an agreement.
Smith read a public apology to the council.
“This occurred on the May 30 council meeting. We were talking about budget funds for the nonprofits that we support, the humane society, chamber of commerce and the senior center. During that period I jokingly made a comment in regards to perhaps we should add a meal for Suzy Tubbs because she’s been incapacitated,” he said.
Smith then expressed regret “for my comments and conduct which offended council member Tubbs-Avakian.”
Tubbs-Avakian said she hoped that the council would remember “to be professionals” and “act professional.”
The vote to approve the 16-page code of conduct split the council, 5-2.
Vice Mayor Janell Sterner and Ferris dissented.