The town of Quartzsite, AZ, population 3,466, is in disarray after a video showing police hauling away a citizen for speaking at the town meeting podium went viral. The woman was saying that the town council had been violating open meeting laws.
It was the second citizen arrested at a Quartzsite town meeting in two weeks (here’s the first). Tensions have been simmering in the town ever since the council raised sewage and water rates in order to help meet budget shortfalls. Citizens got upset after there was a disagreement over whether the town council meetings were being held in full accordance with open meeting rules. For instance, whether all all the meetings were accessible by the public and whether there was sufficient public notice given as to their dates and times.
After butting heads repeatedly, the council fired the mayor and declared a state of emergency. The council put the police chief in charge of everything and decreed that open meeting laws were suspended.
Allegations of corruption have swirled through the small town over the past few years (here’s one from 2009) as various parties have accused the town of overpaying contractors. Vice Mayor Barbara Cowell told the Arizona Republic that the town is not corrupt and that it gets audited every year. “Our people work so hard,” she said. “We’ve had to cut back on staff … just to keep us solvent.”
This video explains some of the backstory from the perspective of the activists.
One of the townsfolk has taken to documenting the meetings as well as confronting various council members with his video camera (here’s his YouTube channel). He was the one who captured the footage of the woman being taken away by police, over the objections of the mayor. The mayor would later refrain from participating in the town council meetings, calling them “illegal.”In a town meeting a week after she was arrested, the activist returned to remind the town council what the Arizona rules regarding public meetings were.
“You work for us. You shouldn’t be telling us what to do – we should be telling YOU what to do. That’s your job.”
This time all were silent and she finished her statement without interruption.Qtown.US News
Arizona town in disarray; mayor alleges corruption [AP]