Horndog Jim

In late July, Mesa city councilmember Jim Stapley sued fellow councilmember Joan Payne. Stapley claimed that Payne had slandered him by calling him a "pervert in polyester" on a local radio talk show. Stapley also sought an injunction in Maricopa County Superior Court preventing Payne from talking about him over the airwaves. The judge hasn't ruled on it yet.

The suit is the most recent jab in a three-year, highly publicized city-hall brawl that began after Payne accused Stapley of inappropriately touching her during a ride in a police helicopter in 1994.

This almost comical mano a mano being played out in Mesa city hall is troubling for a couple of reasons. First, the Honorable Joan Payne and the Honorable Jim Stapley are public officials entrusted with running the city. But, instead, they're spending their time obsessing about their niggling spat. Second, their fight has dredged up allegations that suggest that Jim Stapley really is the creep Joan Payne says he is.

These days, Stapley is fighting for his political survival, and he can't survive unless he silences Joan Payne.

Truth is, Jim Stapley's lawsuit is a desperate act by a guy who wants to shut up Payne before she lets the world know she's not the only woman who thinks Jim Stapley is a dirty old horndog.

Long before Payne began complaining about Stapley's sexual harassment, stories and allegations of his lasciviousness have swirled around the conservative Mormon community, but he's managed to duck any serious consequences.

The scion of a powerful and prominent Mormon pioneer family (Stapley Road is named after his clan), Stapley has found a satisfying career as a Mesa city councilmember, and he's not going to let Joan Payne ruin it now by painting him as a sort of Latter-day Mr. Roper on hiatus from the TV sitcom Three's Company.

Of course, his political career is on the skids anyway, even without Payne's input, but he won't acknowledge it. Earlier this year, Stapley was censured by the Mesa City Council for attempting to bully a city prosecutor into dismissing charges against one of his Mormon pals. When the prosecutor refused to cooperate, Stapley tried to have him fired. Stapley has always denied wrongdoing. He didn't make a mistake calling the prosecutor, he says, and he certainly didn't sexually harass Payne.

Curiously, Joan Payne and Jim Stapley were the best of pals when they were elected to the city council in May 1994. They seemed to agree politically, and both garnered support from Mormon and conservative Republican voters.

Then, gradually, councilmember Payne started changing. Dramatically. For reasons even Payne can't explain, she went from being a buttoned-down Phyllis Schlafly devotee to having a smiley-sun-moon face tattooed on her lower calf and multiple ear piercings. And she now has a seemingly unquenchable need to be noticed.

She drives those straight city councilmembers crazy with her attention-getting political antics, such as the time she paired up with Kat Gallant, who is famous for cutting men's hair in her underwear, to fight Mesa's rigid smoking ban. Anyone who has felt unwelcome living in conservative Mesa would find her a kick.

And she has clearly gotten under Jim Stapley's skin.
She's called him a pervert on the radio, and she ratted on him to city officials for pawing her during a helicopter ride, for sending her pornography and for inappropriately commenting on her sexy clothes.

His response has been to dismiss her as a bimbo with unbalanced estrogen levels.

But a funny thing has happened. Once Payne began fingering Stapley as a lech extraordinaire, strangers began calling her, alleging Stapley had, in one way or another, preyed on other women.

Joan Payne began building a dossier on Stapley, and she threatened to use it against him if he didn't leave her alone.

Which explains the lawsuit. With an election nearing, Stapley probably doesn't want that dossier to be made public.

For instance, one thing Payne has been saying is that Stapley has been reprimanded more than once for behaving inappropriately with secretaries in city hall. She says one secretary complained that he repeatedly looked down her blouse when she sat at her desk.

When no secretaries are around to grab, Stapley will grab at anything, apparently. Mesa politico Mike Graves alleges that Stapley has inappropriately pinched Graves' inner thigh at political gatherings. Graves said he's put an end to the inner-thigh pinching by "watching my back." Stapley says he's always kept his hands to himself.

And allegations about other sexual improprieties have centered on Stapley for years in the Mormon community.

In a case that has been amply documented, Stapley and the Mormon Church were sued for negligence and recklessness in counseling a sexual-molestation victim who was impregnated by a Mormon bishop named Arlo Atkin. At the time, Stapley was the girl's bishop, or spiritual adviser. Even though Atkin, a married father of five, admitted in court that he had frequent sex with the teenager entrusted to his care and also admitted he impregnated her, she later dropped the lawsuit. Stapley announced publicly it was a "ridiculous" suit and said he didn't think Arlo Atkin would do such a thing.

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