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The Quartzsite Affair

When a small town reporter was removed from a public meeting and its mayor replaced by the chief of police, Quartzsite, Arizona showed how quickly democracy can devolve into dictatorship.

On the morning of July 11, 2011, residents of Quartzsite, Arizona, a small town of 3,677, awoke to find themselves in the midst of a bloodless coup. Sunday night, the five-member town council held a closed session in which they declared a state of emergency, ousted the mayor, and installed the chief of police as chief executive. Their alarming actions were the latest salvo in a battle over a woman who was arrested for speaking out at a Quartzsite town council meeting the previous week.

On June 28, Jennifer Jones, publisher of the Desert Freedom Press, rose during the “call to the public” section of the meeting, in which members of the public are invited to speak. Jones began to address rules that had been recently introduced by the town council, at which time one council member, a Mr. Joe Winslow, ordered her to relinquish the microphone. When she refused, Police Sergeant Fabiola Garcia attempted to forcibly remove the microphone from Jones’ hands.

Quartzsite’s mayor, Ed Foster, who was elected in May 2010 on a platform of fighting corruption, protested the removal and even told the officers that they were violating the rules of order. This was not the first time the mayor and the town council had been at odds. Mr. Foster had recently uncovered a ghost payroll totaling around $250,000 a year, and suspected the town council members themselves were involved with the graft.

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