Hector Figueroa Payson Town Council

Payson Town Attorney Hector Figueroa offered a lesson in Robert’s Rules to Order at a recent council meeting.

When’s a contract not a contract?

When’s a motion not a motion?

And why’s everybody picking on the Payson Town Council?

The town council got a dose of irony and open meeting law bewilderment at its March 28 meeting — right after a lecture on Robert’s Rules of Order.

It started with a presentation by Town Attorney Hector Figueroa, nettled by social media comments on the new council’s reportedly casual approach to procedure.

“The reason I asked to make the presentation is because I got wind that on social media certain individuals were thinking that you, Mr. Mayor, should have walked onto the scene and known everything about Robert’s Rules of Order and procedure,” he said. “I want to tell you, it’s not easy.”

But he offered help.

“You’re the fourth mayor in this town (that I’ve worked with),” he said. “Each mayor has asked me to be the sergeant-at-arms and the parliamentarian.”

He said they need to work together when it comes to running meetings — and making sure everything they vote on, shows up first on a publicly posted agenda.

The new council’s had a hard time getting this right at times.

Not to worry.

“You have absolute immunity for what you do so long as it is on the agenda,” he said.

By meeting’s end, he proved himself wrong.

Blame agenda item H.7.

It dealt with extending a contract with ESI to rehire a retired staff member still drawing a pension.

Specifically, the town has been paying former water director Buzz Walker on average $100,000 annually since his retirement in 2010.

Walker supervises the $54 million C.C. Cragin water project. He has been working on the water project for 20 years. But, his contract expires June 30, said Town Manager LaRon Garrett.

Water from Cragin arrives in Payson this summer.

Does the town need Walker until all the technical bugs get, well, flushed out of the system?

Morrissey was skeptical.

“We have water department manager Tanner Henry right? And is Tanner Henry not competent enough to be able to take this into July?” he asked.

That opened the floodgates.

Councilor Chris Higgins said Henry could handle things.

Councilor Suzy Tubbs asked how Henry would feel taking the project on after July 1.

Councilor Jim Ferris said he was surprised to learn that Walker was still doing negotiations with SRP.

“Our water manager should be a part of that,” he said.

Councilor Steve Smith figured the town has paid Walker $750,000 in the past eight years — on top of his pension.

That’s enough, he said.

Smith made a motion to have Walker report directly to Henry so by the end of the contract term Henry would be up to speed.

But that was not the agenda.

It only covered the July 1 contract extension. It didn’t say a word about changing the current contract.

Then Morrissey amended Smith’s motion so the town could take back Walker’s town-owned vehicle.

Councilor Barbara Underwood, who is also on the school board, raised a point of order.

“I’m just wondering, Hector, have we gone beyond the parameters of the resolution?”

Figueroa said he didn’t think so.

“We are voting to have a 30-day notice to Buzz,” he said. “We were not deciding on his current contract.”

With Figueroa’s consent, the council voted 6-1.

Underwood cast the sole dissenting vote, but turns out, it was actually Underwood’s bag of trail mix, which had hit the no button.

“I didn’t want to do that,” she said.

But it turns out, the trail mix was right.

Just before closing out the meeting, Figueroa asked the council to rescind its motion on Walker.

The staff could check out the contract, but the current contract wasn’t on the agenda.

The council reversed the motion.

Not only have previous councils been on open meeting law probation, but the state could jerk millions in funding for meeting law scofflaws.

Figueroa asked residents to go easy on the council.

“You have to give the new council a break ... give leeway to the elected officials getting harangued in the news media ... we do not deserve to be harangued by anybody.”

contact the reporter at: mnelson@payson.com

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

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(1) comment

Phil Mason

Pitiful excuse for a story. I worked at the State Legislature as staff in both the House and Senate. The problem is the Open Meeting Law. The lawyers in the House, the Senate, Legislative Council, the Sec of State Legal Counsel, the Attorney General, and law firm lobbyists ALL have different interpretations of the OML. Common sense transparency is trumped by nit picking so that the people's work is impeded. I don't know of anyone who believes our Mayor and Council are being deceptive or duplicitous. Even the report from the AG's office made stupid statements about items not being violations but opined that 'it could be clearer to avoid misunderstanding. If the paper had to operate under strict Open Meeting Law rules, we would still be waiting for the initial issue.

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