As you read on the front page, Wickenburg Mayor Everett Sickles is facing a recall election. While many observers have muttered that local politics here must be worse than anywhere else, that may not be true.
A quick trip out to cyberspace brings up a ballotpedia.org where one can see that in various states across the US there were 66 recall efforts against mayors in 2016, 55 in 2017 and 23 have been reported so far in 2018. (It appears to take awhile for the list to be compiled.)
In Arizona in 2018, Oro Valley mayor and three councilmen were able to retain their seats in a recall which criticized them for purchasing the El Conquistador resort for $1 million and raising taxes to renovate it into a convention center.
The mayor and three councilmen in South Tucson all lost their seats in a recall last year after they reduced funding for city pensions, cut firefighter pay and used $650,000 from reserves to cover an unbalanced budget.
The Holbrook mayor and a councilman were both ousted last year after petitioners had endured enough “unprofessional, unethical and vindictive behavior.” (ballotpedia.org)
And, in Superior a couple of years ago, the mayor was thrown out of office after the town clerk alleged the mayor used the town’s debit card for personal purposes. In what was undoubtedly a fiery meeting, that clerk lost his job because the council voted 3-3 for the clerk to be fired and the mayor cast the deciding vote, tipping it to 4-3 in favor of the firing. The mayor ultimately lost his seat as well.
The list goes on in towns all across the country. Wickenburg is not unique in enduring eras of political upheaval.
When Wickenburg Mayor Everett Sickles was elected 15 months ago, he won because many people knew his name and because he was a successful businessman in the area, known for charitable efforts around town and was generally thought of as good guy. He unseated incumbent mayor John Cook who was also popular and was on the ballot, but did not campaign to retain his seat.
Sickles’ campaigned as the voice of the people and has used that phrase many times since his election. Often he uses the phrase when talking about “solving the problem” at the Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce. The mayor continues to bring the topic of the Town’s relationship with the chamber back to the forefront of Council discussions and agenda items. After two years of encouraging and facilitating many hours of public comment (mostly) against the chamber and its director; and after Council and attorneys for the Town and the Chamber hashed out ambiguous language in the contract between the two entities; and after refinements to the contract were approved by the Chamber board and Town Council, Sickles continues to say a problem must be solved.
Currently, Sickles is pushing for a new relationship in which the Town funds a visitor center and removes that responsibility from the Chamber. Foreseeably then, the Chamber could lose some or all of the approximately $50,000 marketing funding now annually provided to it by the Town (bed tax revenue).
The mayor’s undying push to change the town’s relationship with the Chamber has overshadowed Town business and monopolized many council meetings since Sickles’ election. A lot of folks in town clearly have been offended by actions of the Chamber, and they continue to put wind in Sickles sails. On the other side, many people in town have not been offended by the Chamber and feel it is a worthwhile organization which does a lot of good work to organize activities and promote people visiting and relocating to Wickenburg.
Then there are people who don’t have a strong feeling either way, but want the fighting to stop so discussion and energy can move on to other issues. Many more-pressing issues are pending in Wickenburg. Clearly, the $50,000 provided to the chamber is a tiny portion of the Town’s $13 million budget. Clearly growth is here, and the valuable resources of time, energy, collaboration and planning should be at the forefront of the minds of elected leaders and staff at both the Town and the Chamber.
A recall election will burn up precious resources during a time when the town as a whole could be working together for good and for the future. Nevertheless, because of his own inability to move past the issue of the Town’s relationship with the Chamber, Sickles now faces a recall. While the language of the petition draws more general accusations, this is the issue. No doubt.
Sickles confirmed that to the Sun on Tuesday morning (see front page story). Ruben Madrid, who pulled the recall petition, confirmed the chamber was the main issue when he spoke to the Sun on Monday evening.
Hopefully, the recall will not monopolize Town Council meetings this spring. It would be a great exercise for Sickles to resort to other goals such as working toward affordable workforce housing, and supporting economic development efforts, just to name a few.
Sickles’ entire legacy does not have to be a dust-up with the Chamber of Commerce – but he’s painfully close to that outcome.