Mayor Steve Benett steps down

Bennett’s resignation presented Thursday evening did not come as a tremendous surprise to those in attendance at Tuesday evening’s regular meeting of the Quartzsite Town Council, August 26.

In it, evidence against Bennett’s concerning a tax debt allegedly owed the Town of Quartzsite was presented and discussed in detail, with Councilman Wes Huntley openly suggesting Bennett step down and forfeit his newly acquired position as Mayor, vacating a position he’d held only since May 21, 2008.

Bennett, a well-known businessman and builder in Quartzsite was regarded as a favorite choice among voters, easily winning his post despite strong efforts by competitors for the post of Mayor to discredit him and disseminate information concerning his alleged tax debt to the townspeople.

Forced by these same efforts to launch a write-in candidacy — considered a much riskier and more difficult alternative to the conventional candidacy standard — Bennett still won by a large margin, attributing his staunch support by voters to the number of ‘disillusioned residents’ who complain, often loudly, that the council holds little or no regard for their opinions, beliefs or concerns.

Among those issues were several issues Bennett had discovered immediately following his election: the amount of money the town was paying to the Holt Group, an engineering firm.

Indeed, the $400,000 allocated for engineering fees far exceeded the amount typically paid by other — even larger — municipalities for these same professional fees. One comparison Bennett discovered was $48,000.00 — and that was for a municipality considerably larger than Quartzsite.

This particular issue was at the center of Bennett’s presentation to the Citizen’s Coalition.

Field indicated that the town has already borrowed $2 million of the required funds and is considering a sizable increase in sewer fees to residents and businesses to generate another $2 million.

Field further explained that Quartzsite’s unique position as a ‘tourist attraction’ with a burgeoning population of tourists during its short tourist season has apparently resulted in requiring an ‘upscaled’ version of the sewer and treatment infrastructure. This now necessitates significant improvements to the existing sewer system which Field described as ‘outdated’ according to the ADEQ.

Bennett, who had previously indicated the town needed to consider advertising for a new Town Manager and suggested the town seek out a more affordable option to the Holt Group rescinded his previous stance at the August 25 Citizen’s Coalition meeting, citing the ADEQ improvements as matters of higher priority and suggesting no change in leadership be considered until the ADEQ issue had been properly addressed.

But among the Citizen’s Coalition members, many noticed that in the council meetings held since his election in May, Bennett’s efforts to open dialog with the council concerning several key issues were thwarted when councilmen, required to make a motion to follow through on the Mayor’s suggestions for consideration, met his comments with complete silence.

While the position of Mayor remains unfilled, many residents seem determined to find another candidate from outside the existing group to replace Bennett’s  forfeited position in the town’s government.