Political Turmoil in Quartzsite, Arizona

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Arizona Republic Columnist Doug MacEachern discusses the political battle between the mayor and town council of Quartzsite, Arizona that’s been in the national spotlight ever since a video of a woman being arrested at a Council meeting was posted to YouTube.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

Ted Simons: Chaos in Quartzsite. Some residents claim their town is under martial law. That after a woman who had been disruptive at prior council meetings was arrested and this video of the arrest went viral on YouTube. The woman is a political ally of the mayor, who was not permitted to attend a council meeting over the weekend, which the mayor claims violated open meeting laws. Council members disagree and say the city is not under martial law. Here now to try to sort out this mess is "Arizona Republic" columnist Doug MacEachern. Thanks for being here.
Doug MacEachern: Glad to be here.
Ted Simons: Doug, this is quite a story. Who are the players here?
Doug MacEachern: As you mentioned, the mayor is central to it, Mayor Foster is on one side, he's aligned against most of the council on the other side, as well as the police chief and the town manager. And both of whom I -- the latter two are pretty central to this whole drama. But the big issue is you're talking about a small town, people with a lot of time on their hands, and they're very politically aware and politically active, they've divided into two sides, and ever since the shootings in Tucson, things have gotten very tense because some of the officials in Quartzsite view the intense political activism on the part of their opponents as being something that might lead up to something dangerous like what happened in Tucson.

Ted Simons: And I know the mayor has talked about something along the lines of some council members, not necessarily council -- maybe there was council members, but some folks in government lining their pockets, that checks were being mailed out to folks that no one could figure out who the folks were or where the checks were going. That's one of the charges?

Doug MacEachern: Correct, it is. In fairness to these officials, these are things that people in small towns like Quartzsite fight over a lot. They find conspiracies under rocks and in file cabinets and overheard conversations all the time. Those are allegations, they may or may not be true, but they're still just allegations. That's what's dividing these people. That's what started the fight.

Ted Simons: And that's what started the fight. So then we had an ally of the mayor, she tries to speak at a council meeting and this has gotten everyone's attention.

Doug MacEachern: This is what has made this a national story. It's a fact that Jennifer Jade Jones, a local activist, now she's started her own little online newspaper, was speaking before the council, she was speaking critically, she had been recognized bite council, she had the microphone, she wasn't up there very long before someone on the council said you're done. And she started to argue she had been recognized and she deserved her time and that's when someone else, some other council member said take it away from her, two police officers came up, took the microphone away from her after a struggle, and ended up arresting her.

Ted Simons: Where does the police chief come into all this? It sounds like the police chief is obviously some of his officers are involved, and now the mayor is saying, along with this woman, that officers -- sounds like he's being arrested almost on a daily basis in Quartzsite.

Doug MacEachern: As the political factions go, the police chief appears to be aligned with the members of the council that are opposed to the mayor. And there are some serious allegations that the police chief has been using his power, police powers to -- against the other factions. A lot of these people I've talked to over the past week, another reporter at the "Arizona Republic" has talked to even more of them, have said very casually I get arrested am the time. The mayor himself has been arrested, all for disturbing the peace. And some of these arrests are on video, and these people don't appear to be disturbing much peace, and -- but the crux of it is it's not only the activists making these allegations, 10 of the 14 sworn officers on the Quartzsite police department have signed a letter saying that they think that the -- their chief is overstepping his powers and using his police powers for bad end.

Ted Simons: Those officers were saying they've been ordered to stop and cite and arrest political opponents and the chief protects his friends from being served. Granted, Quartzsite is a small town, 160 some-odd miles, everyone passes through it on the way to Los Angeles; there is Jim Show, Jim and Mineral Show out there, which is a big deal. But that's serious business. I can't have a police department arresting political opponents.

Doug MacEachern: That is a serious business. As a matter of fact, there's another video in which the police chief is addressing the council, and this is one of the eerier videos, and he's expressing his concerns that Quartzsite is going to end up like Tucson, like what happened in Tucson, alluding to the fact there could be shootings. It was a video, a speech he made to the council just a few days after the Tucson shootings. And so it gave a really eerie sense that maybe he will take steps beyond his usual police powers to see to it that peace is maintained.

Ted Simons: This sounds like an intervention is needed here Doug. Someone has to do something. Who is going to do it. The mayor says he's been trying to get the governor's office and attorney general's office involved and all they do is ignore him.

Doug MacEachern: There is a real run-around going on. I have spoken -- I spoke to DPS, they acknowledge they were investigating the police chief for the allegations laid on him by his officers, but they said that there is no chance the DPS itself is going to take action and step in and take over keeping the peace in Quartzsite. The next higher government organization is the La Paz County, I spoke to a couple people -- supervisors today and they said it's not in their authority to step in and keep the peace in Quartzsite. So that is a real open question. It may be that the La Paz County sheriff will be able to do something, but failing that, I think it really is at the governor's feet.

Ted Simons: It will be interesting. You guys are continuing your coverage on that, correct?

Doug MacEachern: Yes. As a matter of fact, our reporter Dennis Wagner is covering it very intensely.

Ted Simons: Very good Doug, thanks for joining us.

Doug MacEachern: You bet.

Doug MacEachern: Arizona Republic;

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