Just when you thought it couldn't be done, last nights Town Council meeting managed to lower the bar for Quartzsite politics yet again. How low can you go? I don't know..everybody limbo!
My, my, my, where to begin...the mayhem was brewing even before the meeting was called to order. When Mayor Ed Foster announced that he would be giving the invocation, Councilwoman Patricia Anderson and tho other haters began to wail...all Councilpersons refused to stand for the prayer. (Here's a novel idea, if you truly believe that our mayor is too unholy to bless the meeting, then I make a motion to actually separate church and state and do away with he invocation all together!) Councilman Jose Lizarrage made a motion that Vice Mayor Cowell chair the meeting. I guess he doesn't understand that legally, the position of "vice mayor" only exists in the absence of a mayor. These childish actions set the tone for what was to follow.
The only "new business" on the agenda was Vice Mayor Barbara Cowell's "Discussion and possible action regarding the ad hoc Ethics Committee recommendations concerning Mayor Foster's "official conduct" and "...to renounce and disclaim all of the actions and communication of Mayor Foster" etc. etc. followed by Mayor Foster's agenda item: "Discussion and possible response to the ad hoc Ethics Committee".
Let me preface the following recap by clarifying the fact that using the word "legal" or "ethical" in a sentence does not necessarily make it so. The Town's "Procedures and Policy Manual - Legal and Ethical Standards of Conduct" is not actually law, code, or statute of any sort, despite Alex Taft's defamatory insinuations to any publication that would waste the trees to print them.(which may be an ethics violation in and of itself as well as a crime under Arizona Revised Statutes 41-772)
Before proceeding to the new business, Mayor Foster explained that Council was "in illegal territory", and should the Council choose to proceed with that knowledge, they would be exempt from the "Executive Protection Clause" and could therefore be held personally liable in a civil action. Apparently, it's a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation our leadership has put the taxpayers in , where the only real winners will be the attorneys. Councilman Lizarraga commented that "We were told by our insurance that if we did not do something, we could be held liable."
Mayor Foster inquired as to whether the ad hoc Committee was proceeding under recommendations or legal council made by Town Attorney Pamela Walsma, and made it clear that nowhere in Arizona Revised Statutes 9-240 Powers of Common Council was there a provision for the Council to take sanctions against one of it's members. Foster asked Walsma if she could provide legal justification for such action, and would she sign a statement approving the Committee's recommendation to do so. Taking a page from the Dan Field play book, Walsma waffled and back peddled just as we would expect. She stated "I do not approve of all the things they do" and declined to sign Mayor Foster's document.
Mayor Foster also offered the Council the opportunity to deal with the matter in "executive session", but the Council declined and a video and audio recorded public free for all ensued.
The unethical Committee's recommendations included a demand that, as Mayor, Ed Foster stop publishing The Mineshaft, cease attending meetings which include the La Paz County Economic Development Board, and not travel at Town expense (something the Mayor has never even done). In addition, it was recommended that recalled Councilman "Machine Gun" Joe Winslow demand Mayor Foster's resignation yet again. Councilman Winslow said he didn't believe the Committee's recommendations went far enough.
Also, it was revealed that Pamela Walsma has been posting inquiries to the Municipal Attorneys online help blog as to the possibility of sanctions and other actions against the Mayor which included withholding his stipend. Foster made public the responses to Walsma's internet inquiry from Attorney Mary Wade of Tempe, and Scottsdale City Attorney Bruce Washburn , advising her that the proposal of censure was illegal. Something Town Attorney Walsma had not bothered to disclose to the Council, according to Councilman Robert Kelley. All six members of the Council voted to approve the censure of Mayor Foster, who stated that he will be ignoring the illegal demands.
Allegedly, Walsma has posted numerous internet pleas for assistance in municipal law since being retained as Town legal council, and one wonders why the Town mismanager would increase the budget for her services from $35,000 to $100,000 annually, when it seems clear that Walsma is practicing far outside of her legal specialty (wills, trusts and estates). If Walsma doesn't approve of the Council's actions, is she just in it for the money? And why did the Town toss aside more qualified candidates like Glen Gimbut and Gerald Hunt anyway? (Walsma's expertise might be useful however, if the Town was looking to engage in the eminent domain taking of property owned by residents unlucky enough to die without their affairs in order...)
Despite Mayor Foster pointing out to Police Chief Jeff Gilbert that he was in violation of A.R.S. 14-772 by engaging in politics while on the job and in uniform, Gilbert showed his blatant contempt for the law and insisted on opining on five, count 'em five separate occasions! Mayor Foster graciously told Chief Gilbert that "freedom of speech" was at work and indeed, Foster seems intent on keeping his promise that he would allow anyone to speak their opinion of him during the meeting.
Resident Violet Kiss falsely alleged that the Mayor had specifically instructed vendor Jennifer Harris to "sue every person on the Council" at a meeting of the Citizens Coalition she attended in June. However, that meeting was recorded and the facts reveal that Harris had publicly notified the Town Council of her intent to do so at a Council meeting roughly a year earlier, before she had ever met Mayor Foster.
"Point of order! Point of order" repeatedly cried Council and audience members who didn't want any opinion expressed but their own and the meeting was continually disrupted by.those who wanted to silence any criticism of the apparent conspiracy against Mayor Foster.Police Chief Gilbert demanded "we will have order" even though, if acting as "Sergeant at Arms" it is not his legal place to make that demand unless acting on the instruction of the meeting's Chairman (the Mayor). Resident Ron Burch was even threatened with being thrown out of the meeting (at the direction of Councilman Winslow instructing Chief Gilbert) for trying to speak loud enough to be heard over the clamor. (He had asked that the entire discussion be tabled for review by the Attorney General ). Council members Bob Kelley, Jerry Lukkasson and Joe Winslow got up and stormed out, but were careful to keep a quorum of four members to avoid have the meeting adjourned prematurely. Mayor Foster rightly pointed out that Burch had the floor and should be allowed to speak his peace, and former Quartzsite Mayor Richard Oldham turned his video camera on Police Chief Jeff Gilbert and advised "I don't think you should Chief". Faced with the probability of yet another round of unflattering appearances on the internet, Gilbert backed down.
When Mayor Foster pointed out that under state law, the only recourse for any allegations of ethics breach was a recall, Councilman Jerry Lukkasson's wife Michelle cried out "November 25th!" (Silly woman! In her haste to pull recall papers on the Mayor, she doesn't even realize that Town Hall is not open on that day because of the holiday.)
Perhaps pandering to advertiser pressure, wanna be journalist Shanana "Rain" Golden-Bear stated that she was putting the next issue of her free campfire kindling to bed, and for now, would be scaling back her print coverage of Town politics...and then went on to post a lengthy internet dissertation with her biased spin on the meeting. You didn't really believe she could keep her anti Foster opinions to herself now, did you?
Foster allowed supports and critics alike to speak their mind and now (in my opinion) has ample prima facie evidence against his critics to seek possible criminal prosecution in addition to civil damages. Thousands of dollars have reportedly been raised by outraged citizens in the hope that Mayor Foster will use the donations to sue Taft, Gilbert, and the Councilpersons as individuals since Foster has vowed to not sue the Town for the actions of it's officials. The meeting was finally forced to conclude when Al Johnson announced that the timer for the air conditioning would be shutting the system down in five minutes. I'm just impressed it could keep pace with all the hot air as long as it did!
It should also be noted that earlier in the day, the Council held a work session to discuss vendor permits and requirements. Although no action is to be taken this season, Building Official Al Johnson wants the permits changed from the current annual renewal to a permit that would expire every 180 days. This would effectively align the vendor's "temporary structures" with the current definition contained within the Town Building Code, and Johnson could then use the permit records to target long term vendors for citations. Mayor Foster took a stand for the vendors, stating that they might feel short changed, whether they intended to stay and create revenue or not. Police Chief Jeff Gilbert stated something to the effect that "we should not live our lives for the vendors". The La Paz County Health Dept. was in attendance and proposed a plethora of new regulations for the food vendors. These proposals were not actually rejected and may possibly be put into effect for the following winter season...that is, if the currently recalled Council members are not removed from office and replaced with "vendor friendly" candidates. So vendors, make your presence felt this winter and attend the meetings!