Who’s Scratching Who’s Back in Payson’s Twilight Zone?
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by Kevin Carpenter
What if I told you that not one, but two businesses occupied a single commercial building without any Occupancy or Building permits under the noses of the Fire Chief and the Building Official for up to 6 years and is currently still occupied? 
You might say these officials didn’t know, but what if that was not true? Especially when that very building was the center of attention after a fire that could have become an endangerment to lives and resources?
Would it be outrageous to you that this 8,640ft commercial building that was built in 2009, then sold in 2012, located by the Payson airport was previously filled with RV’s, Boats, Vehicles, and piles of insulation next to not one, but TWO valuable resources? They are two of the three propane companies that service Payson and the surrounding Rim Areas. If you know the area, you also know that a bullet manufacturer also runs a business across the street from both of those Propane Companies. If you didn’t know, you do now.    
Would it upset you to find out this was accomplished by your current Councilwoman, Barbara Underwood, a 40-year self-employed business owner, who tells you how to run your own business? 
Let’s jump back to 6:32 am on May 11, 2018, Payson PD alerted Payson Fire Department of smoke coming from 1319 W Red Baron, Payson, AZ 85541. Payson Fire arrived at 6:45 am and began its mission to extinguish a fire that was later found to be caused by the business that was subletting space inside that very building beside the other renters.
Payson Fire Department contacted Barbara Underwood, the owner of the building who stated in the Fire Report that “they had no insurance on the building but that the folks storing things inside the building had insurance on their vehicles and materials“. As a note, this commercial building was a stand-alone structure and was not supplied with water or electricity.
Not only was this business run without purchasing proper permits and fees to the Town, but Barbara Underwood also has never disclosed this building in her Annual Financial Disclosures as an Elected Official.  
To summarize, Four months after the fire on May 11th, the Underwoods then sold the fire-damaged building to the previous subletting company who now own, operate, and store much of the same materials still inside the building with no business or occupancy permits currently. The sale and transfer of ownership were on or about September 01, 2018.  (business started 3/22/2017 Not listed with the AZ CC as a registered business.)
WHY after the fire on May 11, 2018, did neither the Town’s Fire or Building Officials notify anyone about the misuse by a Town Official? Even when this fire was discussed in a Town Council meeting dated January 23, 2020? Who works for who? During this filmed Town Hall meeting, Chief Staubs brings up this building and says, “If we had one sprinkler in the building, it would have helped.” In the same conversation he states, “I had to risk the life of one of his fireman to enter the (Barbara Underwood’s) building.
The signpost up ahead says “safety”, but who is really in charge of your safety in Payson when it comes to building safety? Well, that is not a mystery, it’s between the Town’s Fire Marshal and the Chief Building Official that “should be working” alongside each other sharing information about building safety and enforcement.  
According to the Payson Fire Department History, July 1, 2013, the Payson Fire Department position of Fire Marshal was eliminated. Fire prevention and code enforcement responsibilities were spread out to operations personnel, the Town of Payson Building Department, and outside contractors. Let’s break that down.
Specifically stated, from Ray LaHaye’s job description duties as the Towns Building Official and Enforcement Officer “Detects unauthorized building activities and takes appropriate steps to remedy“, “Works with other Town Departments to ensure proper implementation of building policies“, and “Develops a professional staff with a high degree of competence and sound judgment in code enforcement” to name only a few. 
In the January 9th, 2020 Common Town Council Meeting, Ray LaHaye was asked by the Vice Mayor, “How often do you go through the town, drive through the town, to check on new construction, permits, and the contractors doing their job and being up to standard” Ray LaHaye stated to the Council from the podium that “We’re in the community daily, daily constantly“. 
Let’s step back again through another doorway. On January 23, 2020, a common council meeting of the Town of Payson, under agenda item F. (RESOLUTIONS AND ORDINANCES) 1. the Second Public Hearing re: 2018 International Building and Fire Code. 
In this meeting, Vice Mayor Janell Sterner is firmly aware that the Town has had no Fire Marshal, and for some time. The Vice Mayor (speaking to Chief Staubs) states that the required inspections have not, and are not being done because the Town lacks the role of a Fire Marshal.
Chief Staub then states, “Its not actually an accurate statement you don’t have a Fire Marshal, you do, it’s me“. 
If Staubs is the Fire Chief and he delegates the role of the Fire Marshal to himself which has not been implemented for some time, who do we hold accountable? Chief Staubs is a department head, his boss who should be holding him accountable in his duties is none other than the Town Manager.
When it comes to accountability of Ray LaHaye, that would be Doni Wilbanks at Community Development. Who holds Doni Wilbanks accountable for her staff performance you ask? That would be again our Town Manager.
These words, with or without the classic, eerie Twilight Zone theme music, should make you wonder what the heck is going on in Payson. Why are we paying all of these individuals more than an average of $90,000 PLUS in salaries and benefits which in turn become pensions in their retirements which only leave the citizens of Payson in more debt and without relief or general safety in expectation of their roles and duties?
Now it’s clear why so much time and effort is being spent currently looking for an experienced Town Manager. Because in the current state of back-scratching, there is no accountability, no rules, and therefore the twilight zone of repeated offenses will continue until we demand accountability and transparency of those in our Town Department Heads. ★