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.
One such issue recently established as a contentious matter among residents concerned the intention of the council to continue holding planning meetings in Laughlin, a sizeable distance from Quartzsite that was widely criticized for creating an environment in which citizens could not easily participate. In spite of wide opposition, the council reiterated its intention to meet in Laughlin, a move Bennett condemned.
At a meeting held by the Citizen’s Coalition Monday, August 25, Bennett indicated that he had revised some of his previously held concerns, citing a need for the council and citizenry to work together to address several matters that had heretofore remained unaddressed.
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.
At the Citizen’s Coalition meeting, Town Manager and Town Attorney Daniel G. Field indicated that this matter was being addressed, indicating that the Holt Group would have to authorize, beforehand, any monies they would be charging as ‘consulting fees’ to answer questions from those not authorized to consult with them, a practice that had apparently become accepted. Field gave no indication of exactly what percentage of the $400,000 in question resulted from such consultations.
He did indicate, as did Bennett, the town was very concerned and involved with the new ADEQ [Arizona Department of Environmental Quality] requirements involving sewer issues that were going to cost the town several million dollars and which, if not addressed in a timely fashion, could result in problems with the town’s status concerning issues related to growth– but only if the town did not present a plan of action. As long as the town made arrangements to conform to the new ADEQ standards, growth would continue unhindered.
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.