First rule of small-town politics: Don’t enrage the townspeople!

My first time reporting job was with my hometown newspaper, the Chino Valley Review. During that time, I covered numerous town council meetings, and some of them proved to be contentious. Some of the issues were serious, while some were just plain nutty.

The latest brouhaha in my hometown would qualify as seriously nutty, and it makes me wonder what kind of conversation would be going on in the newsroom.

Here’s the deal: Chino Valley has a roundabout at the south entrance to town. It did not pop up when I was living there, and I certainly would not have suggested putting such a traffic control device there. Regardless, it’s there now, and the town was looking to get $1.5 million from the Department of Transportation for additional sidewalks along the highway and to beautify the roundabout.

As part of the process, the town talked with local artists for design ideas and eventually gave approval for a hometown gal to design the approved sculpture of three horses. Chino Valley is a small town, and tapping local talent for a project like this is how small towns roll.

Unfortunately, because this was a Faustian deal with the state government, which anyone who lives in Arizona knows is filled with whackos and ne’er do wells with an addiction to red tape. The state government required Chino Valley to put the project out for a request for proposals—government speak for bids—to ensure “fairness” and claimed that if the council members did not dance like good little puppets, there would be no $1.5 million.

The town knew it wanted that $1.5 million cookie, so it sent out the RFP and formed a committee to look at the proposals. That might have been a mistake, since the committee looked at the proposals and chose out-of-state artists as the best three in the bunch, while the local artist originally approved for the project was ranked number four. The council went with the top-ranked proposal, which came from an artist in North Carolina.

That decision, which came down last week, has roiled the artists and business owners in my hometown who felt, and rightly so, that a local artist might have a better idea of what would look aesthetically pleasing in Chino Valley. I certainly realize that this fiasco originally sprang from the state government putting a stick in the spokes, but the town council didn’t do right by its citizens, either.

Local people usually know what’s best for the place where they live. There are inevitably disagreements among neighbors, but towns should be allowed to chart their own destinies with only minimum interference from state government. Otherwise, what’s the point of electing local representatives?

One of the committee members was quoted in the Review as saying it was a matter of needing the funds over the hurt feelings of an artist. Sorry, I don’t buy that. If the money was going toward fixing broken roads or some big necessity that would cripple the town if it wasn’t obtained, I could see the logic.

That’s not the case here. Sidewalks can be a good thing, but when you consider that the majority of Chino Valley’s businesses are in the northern half of town, I’m not sure you need to have sidewalks all the way from Center Street to the roundabout. Maybe in a couple of decades, if the business base is built up in the south part of town, but not now.

Instead of letting the state pull its strings, the town council should have decided to hand the money back and say, “Thanks, but we’ll find a way to function on our own.” Ignoring the will of the people is something best left to the bigger cities, and Chino Valley can only survive by letting the local people determine the community’s fate. Granted, the locals might end up jumping into the sea like lemmings, but that’s what freewill is all about.

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