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News Link • Events: Arizona

Learning from Quartzite

• Sonoran News
I was having breakfast last month at Mountain Quail Café with Quartzsite Mayor Ed Foster when someone handed us a copy of the Arizona Republic, containing an editorial entitled, “Cave Creek, don’t become the new Quartzsite.” We laughed out loud that the Republic’s Editorial Board had coined the phrase “gone Quartzsite” as a euphemism for what I usually refer to as municipal anarchy, and they even mentioned the mayor and me, if not by name.

Then I read John Hoeppner’s Sonoran News response, “Cave Creek is no Quartzsite,” but as the de facto expert on the subject with a ring side seat I must admit there are disturbing similarities. Both municipalities are less than three decades old, and governments, like petulant toddlers, are prone to testing their boundaries. Both have hired friends with no experience and terminated long time employees resulting in civil claims, because the Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool (AMRRP) will vigorously defend their actions for a small deductible, no matter how reckless. Both owe millions in municipal debt and have angry residents demanding the ouster of everyone but the mayor. Residents of Quartzsite who have also read both editorials concur; Cave Creek may be “the jewel of Maricopa County” but they are poised to follow Quartzsite down the rabbit hole to “Blunderland.”

Quartzsite is a cautionary tale; a municipality allowed to act so far outside of the rule of law that it has become the poster child of what not to do, a national embarrassment that has even gained international attention. If you are not familiar with the criminal antics of Quartzsite’s officials in recent years you should be, because a precedent is being set and history is being made as lawsuits work their way through U.S. District Court.

After Mayor Foster and I became known persons due to a video of the June 28, 2011 town council meeting going “viral,” countless people reached out to us and related similar problems in their local governments. It became apparent that while our cast of characters may be more freakish and their actions more over the top, Quartzsite is not unique. Our nation is suffering from a plague of apathy that allows petty tyrants to abuse their authority.

The only cure for this disease is accountability. Politicians, like dogs and children, will repeat successful behavior. Why do they behave badly? Because they are allowed to. The citizens must learn to say “No!” – say it loudly and be prepared to back it up. In Quartzsite we learned that state and federal government agencies would not send the cavalry to our rescue.

The direct democracy provisions of recall, initiative and referendum were a gift to the citizens of Arizona because our founding fathers understood the potential for corruption and the necessity of keeping public servants in check. The voters of Cave Creek should be applauded, not derided for exercising their rights. They are the employer. Ultimately, the corporate board must yield to the needs of the shareholders or be replaced if the business is to prosper. The cost of a special election is trivial compared to the financial damage resulting from bad leadership decisions.

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