County Role Shuffle Ruffles Supervisor

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Supervisors representing opposite ends of Gila County disagreed openly over personnel shifts, power struggles and growing pains during the newly seated board's monthly meeting Thursday.

Tommie Martin of District 1 announced to an overflowing audience that John Nelson, county manager, requested a demotion, relinquishing his post to deputy county manager, Steve Besich.

Martin said Nelson's decision, added as a last-minute agenda item, is an attempt to reduce stress. Nelson's ailing wife, the upheaval caused by the new board of supervisors, a heavy workload and frequent 100-mile commutes to Globe from his home in Strawberry are affecting the county manager's health.

"Last week his doctor had said to him he had to do something immediately for his stress reduction," said Martin. "Or he wasn't going to be around to do anybody any good at all."

At the urging of Nelson, Martin proposed the switch.

Besich will step up as county manager, and after a short leave of absence, Nelson will return as deputy county manager.

"Steve Besich and this board would do the day-to-day business together," Martin said. "Let John Nelson do the things (he's) assigned to do anyway, the budget, finance, personnel and so on."

Shirley Dawson, District 3 supervisor, met the proposition with ire.

"I have been very concerned about how things suddenly appear," Dawson said.

Dawson accused Martin of procedural improprieties regarding the 11th-hour additions to the agenda.

"We take nothing into consideration," she said. "Just a mere shifting of the highest-paid positions in this county."

Dawson's displeasure then turned to Besich. She referred to an Arizona Corporation Commission report signed off by Besich in connection with a county authority project, partly funded by private ventures. Dawson questioned a $300,000 disparity in the reported deposit amount and the balance of the bank account.

Although Besich isn't available for comment until early next week, Martin said that the county only accounts for its contribution -- private investors would oversee their own financial transactions.

Dawson's worries weren't limited to financial and procedural mismanagement. She voiced concerns over another agenda item proposed by Martin to formalize the chain of command between the county manager and board of directors. Dawson said if passed, the motion would remove the board's power, placing it in the hands of the county manager.

"I will not and cannot vote for this dictatorship," Dawson said, "nor for someone who takes the finances of Gila County as no big deal."

Martin, wide-eyed, defended her stance.

"I'm surprised, Mrs. Dawson, at your moral high-horse position on this," she said. "Last Tuesday, you were caught redhanded taking subpoenaed documents from me."

Dawson, who didn't deny the charges, continued to wring her hands over losing control of her board, and who no more than a month ago, influenced the Gila Community College Board of Governors to abandon their statutory control.

"The line about taking all our powers away is the very action she was encouraging against the college," she said.

The board of supervisors, fraught with disorganization and an inability to prioritize, struggles to serve the taxpayers of Gila County, and that's why Martin called for an affirmation of organizational policy.

"I believe we waste a lot of time. If you have a disparate group of people, you have to have some organization. (County employees) have let us run amok so that we could learn, but we're not learning," Martin said.

As of Tuesday, May 3, Besich has taken over the county manager post for the next six months. The board of supervisors will hold a work session in the coming weeks to solidify the county's chain of command.

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