Leaders In New West Use Brains Instead Of Bullets

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It had all the classic signs of an authentic Western showdown over rustled cows or water rights.

When Gila County inadvertently gave away $189,824 that rightfully belonged to the Town of Payson, the recipients the towns of Globe, Hayden, Winkelman and Miami drew a line in the sand and dared us to come across and take it back.

The money was from vehicle license taxes that were supposed to be allotted to the county's towns on the basis of population. It fell into the wrong hands between 1995 and 2000 when the county failed to take note of the 1995 special census, which showed that Payson had gained several thousand residents.

The Payson Town Council responded by pinning a tin star on Town Attorney Sam Streichman and sending him out to get our money back from those ornery rustlers down south.

If the stage had been set by Hollywood, Sam would have tied his horse to the hitching post and walked slowly through the swinging doors of some dusty Winkelman saloon in search of the varmints responsible for perpetrating the outrage.

But then Gila County Administrator Steve Besich put on his white hat, rode into town on his white horse, and saved the day by offering to give the money back to Payson. All $189,824. Within 10 days. With no strings attached.

Besich reasoned there was no sense in compounding one mistake with another. And what good would it do to start a range war between the county's towns?

After the Gila County Board of Supervisors and the Payson Town Council tentatively endorsed the deal, Streichman loosened the grip on his six-shooter and proclaimed the uncharacteristic development a rare example of "cooperation between governments." The council approved the finalized agreement Thursday. The board of supervisors will consider the deal Tuesday.

A showdown at high noon averted, everybody at Town Hall bellied up to the bar Thursday for a congratulatory round of sarsaparillas.

John Wayne couldn't have done it any better.

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