Recall supporters say they have enough signatures to recall Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey, but don’t yet have enough signatures to force three other council members into a recall election.
The Unite Payson recall group said they have collected 974 signatures, but needed only 770 to recall Morrissey. The group turned 89 pages of signatures into the town clerk Tuesday.
Stan Garner, who is heading up the recall effort, said it amazes him that volunteers collected that many signatures by the end of August after starting Aug. 15.
“I couldn’t believe we got that many in just 17 days,” he said. “That is a lot of signatures every day if you think about it. We had a small army of volunteers collecting.”
The recall group initially set a target of collecting signatures by the end of August so there could be a special election held in November, but Garner believes that is unlikely. He said given the time it will take officials to verify the signatures and then allotted campaign time, a special election will most likely occur in March. Under state law, a town can hold a special election outside of a primary/general in November, March, May or August/September.
If the town and the county elections office verify the signatures in the next 60 business days, Morrissey can either resign or take part in the recall election.
Garner said they have gathered more than 900 signatures for Jim Ferris, Janell Sterner and Suzy Tubbs-Avakian, the three council members they are hoping to recall. They need 1,653 for each council member to face a recall, but Garner said their goal is 2,000 signatures for each so they have enough “padding” if any of the signatures are thrown out.
The recall group has until Dec. 10 to gather enough signatures to force a special election in March.
Garner said they are keeping the recall office, in the Swiss Village Shopping Center, open at least another month to collect signatures.
He said most residents who visit the office are for the recall, but they have had a few protesters.
“We don’t dissuade anyone from coming in,” he said. “We give people the facts.”
He said many residents have come in for more information about the recall. He said volunteers tell residents to go home and watch the recent council meetings and decide for themselves if Morrissey and the three councilors should face recall. He said most return and sign the petition after watching the videos, which are posted on the Unite Payson Facebook page.
“Those videos will answer all your questions,” he said.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric swirling around the recall effort has taken a turn, with the wide circulation of a flier. The flier states the three council members not facing recall voted against God, put taxpayers at risk in supporting a $43 million prep school project and are trying to bring Chinese and Canadian immigrant students to town to claim taxpayer-funded benefits.
One recall opponent passed out the flier at the recall office in the Swiss Village, initially refusing requests to leave over the holiday weekend. He ultimately left after signature gatherers took his photo, said recall supporters.
When asked about the flier, Morrissey said, “I have nothing to do with this flier,” adding, “I do not approve.”
Councilor Tubbs-Avakian said she had, “never seen this before. I don’t know anything about this. How would I know for certain it’s from my supporters?”
The flier said the “The Recall Pack” is made up of “three councilmen who mocked God and voted to remove God from all Payson council meetings.”
This is apparently a reference to a June 13 meeting when a question about putting Bible quotes in proclamations prompted Councilor Steve Smith to ask if that would offend those who do not practice the Christian faith.
Smith said it appears whoever passed out the flier was hoping it would upset the signature gathering effort.
“I understand it turned out to be the exact opposite — 25 percent of the signatures were gathered in the final four days,” he said.
Smith said he found the flier’s attack on immigrants “appalling.”
The flier accuses the three of voting for “a facility to house 500 Chinese and Canadian immigrant students with a $43 million mortgage placed on and guaranteed by the Payson taxpayers.”
This is an apparent reference to the effort to build a 500-student prep school in Payson. The previous council explored a partnership with the prep school to upgrade recreational facilities in Rumsey Park, but dropped the plan after voters approved a ballot measure that would have required voter approval of any long-term partnership.
However, the Rim Country Educational Foundation (established by the MHA Foundation) revived the plan in March. The Foundation wants to build a community center, year-round pool and the private sports academy on its property between Highway 260, Mud Springs Road and Tyler Parkway. The Roundup reported the MHA Foundation planned to partner with Community Center Partners to build a $43 million campus financed “from private sources, secured by revenue generated by the facilities.” (MHA Foundation announces plan for prep school — Payson Roundup, March 15, 2019)
Councilor Chris Higgins said he was offended that the flier suggested he and the other council members were not good Christians.
The flier said, “We say, stand with God. Stand with town mayor Tom Morrissey.”
“That is inappropriate and in poor taste ... To me it means, that person is implying who you support politically determines whether you believe in God ... it’s wrong. It’s not right,” said Higgins.
The flier said, “The new town council members represent Payson taxpayers and common sense growth. The taxpayers do not endorse Chinese and other immigrants who get free water, free sewer hookup and other taxpayer funded freebies.”
The Rim Country Educational Foundation has asked the town whether it wants to contribute to the community center, swim center and playing fields to ensure residents can use the facilities at a discounted rate, but has not asked for taxpayer money to fund building the sports academy.
The flier ended with, “Once again, the three complaining council members, who are bought and paid for, are fooling themselves if they think the Payson taxpayers don’t know what they are up to. Stand with God. Stand with Mayor Morrissey. Stand with Payson taxpayers.”
Recall volunteers said they didn’t call the police to remove the man who showed up with fliers because they “don’t want to create more problems at city hall than they’re already dealing with.”
Alexis Bechman contributed to this article.