Saturday, July 16, 2011

Small-town government run amok (Part III): Quartzsite, Arizona

I wrote two stories last year under the heading, "Small-town 'justice' run amok," (see here and here) but a story in today's New York Times has prompted me to expand that to "Small-town government." Jennifer Medina's story, dateline Quartzsite, Arizona, population 3,446, is a tale of dysfunctional small-town government in which the mayor seems pitted against most of the other city officials. The mayor, Ed Foster, has called the city's police chief a "corrupt thug" and is accusing various elected officials of malfeasance in relation to public coffers. Foster has invited the state attorney general's office to investigate. Meanwhile the city council has declared a public emergency and ceased to permit public comments at their meetings. They have said they fear for their safety and have brought in a police officer to guard the town hall.

It's hard to sort out who is most at fault in this "he said, she said" type tale, but a couple of quotes struck me as summarizing what appears to be partly a struggle over the size and functions of government, playing out at a low scale:

“We’re an example of everything that is wrong with small-town government,” Ms. Jones [a supporter of the mayor] said, wearing a button reading “Clean up Quartzsite” and featuring a large broom and the Web address for the state’s Tea Party chapter. “People come here to live cheaply; they know how to live within their means and they want their government to do so, too.”
Medina then summarizes:

A vast majority of homes here are mobile homes, and the residents are not the sort to embrace bureaucracy. With open desert as far as the eye can see, it is about as close as they can get to the Wild West these days.

Quartzsite is in LaPaz County, population 20,489, in western Arizona, near the California state line.

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