Twenty years of incorporation has been one wild ride for Camp Verde

When the first Sedona incorporation effort met with ballot box failure in October 1985, my first obligation was to take care of business. I had a story to write.

My second obligation was personal. I had grown quite fond of the Sedona incorporation leader. First as a reporter in Flagstaff and later after joining the staff of this newspaper, Cecil Lockhart-Smith had always been up-front and professional with me. He was courteous. He gave generously of his time. More than anything, I had the utmost respect for Lockhart-Smith's organizational skills and the untiring work ethic he displayed in trying to bring self-governance to Sedona.

So, when I finished that election night interview with him, I told Cecil that on a personal note I was sorry to see that the effort had failed. I knew how hard he had worked. He deserved to win.

Cecil laughed, put his hand on my shoulder and said something to this effect: "Dan, I knew we would lose going in. This is one of those things in which you have to lose first in order to win later. All I'm doing is paving the road for someone else."

He was right. A year later, Pat Kantor and Ronald Bricker picked up the pieces of Lockhart-Smith's failed effort. They succeeded in changing Sedona from a community governed by two sets of county supervisors into a municipality.

But even they had to take it to the voters.

At the same time this was happening, on the other side of the Verde Valley, folks in Camp Verde were meeting with equal diligence and considerably more determination. Camp Verde too was going to incorporate. The organizing committee established boundaries for their proposed town. They laid out a battle plan for circulation of petitions. They informed then-Supervisor Wes Mauldin to begin making a short list of those he would appoint to serve as the first governing town council for Camp Verde.

One more thing: There would be no election, members of the committee announced. They were going to gather enough signatures to incorporate outright without the bother of an election. It was allowed under the law, although few people realized it. Everyone just took for granted that the petition process was needed to force an election. No one even thought about trying to gather enough signatures to incorporate outright by petition. No one could say for sure if it ever had been done in Arizona.

It was a noble goal, a lot of us thought, but not very realistic.

We were wrong. Camp Verdeans do not always present what you'd call a unified front. Maybe it's the old military tradition of the town, but an issue is just not an issue in Camp Verde unless it's worth fighting over.

Not so with incorporation. There was unity from the very beginning. They were going to succeed, and they would not need an election to do it. On Dec. 1, 1986, the incorporation petitions were handed over to County Supervisor Wes Mauldin. The following Monday, Dec. 8 ‹ 20 years ago today ‹ Mauldin declared Camp Verde the 81st incorporated community in Arizona.

Mauldin appointed Bob Barker, Carol Blaich, Mona Cooley, John McReynolds, Karen Mealey, Tom Neilson and Ben Pareja to serve on the first town council. In the spring of 1987, the town had its first municipal election.

Two of the best things that could have happened to the town in those early years was the selection of Bob Barker as Camp Verde's first mayor and Chuck Devine as the first town marshal.

Barker owned a real estate and insurance company in Camp Verde. He was also one heck of a guitar player and singer, especially when he sang Johnny B. Goode. Most importantly, the guy was smart as they come. He once described the formation of Camp Verde's town government as being like the power structure of a corporation. The council was like a board of directors, Barker explained.

"And we answer to the shareholders, which in this case are the residents and voters of this town," Barker said.

It's also worth mentioning that Barker was tough as a bear. Once in the middle of a town council meeting, he leaned over and whispered something to Vice Mayor Thomas "Tap" Parsons and handed him the gavel. Barker got up and left the meeting as if he had another appointment that he could not miss.

We learned the next morning that Barker went outside, found a phone booth and called 9-1-1. He had suffered a heart attack during the town council meeting, but he wasn't about to let it get in the way of town business.

That health scare cut Barker's political career short. It was unfortunate. There are those of us who believe Camp Verde would have made quicker and more fruitful strides as a community had Barker's service as mayor not been cut short.

Chuck Devine was Camp Verde's first town marshal. Devine was a career police officer. He proved invaluable in establishing the town's first police force. More importantly, though, Chuck was a governmental jack of all trades. Whether he really knew how to do all the things asked of him was debatable. Chuck would be the first to tell you that he didn't have a clue how to do some of the things asked of him.

But he always managed to get the job done.

In addition to serving as town marshal, Devine came to the rescue countless times and did double-duty as town manager. The joke at town hall was that Chuck's many turns serving as town manager represented "Devine Intervention."

Since then, it's been one heck of a ride for Camp Verde. The town's politics are sometimes more volatile than what you'll find anywhere else in the Verde Valley. At the same time, you will not find a more interested, observant and participatory citizenry than what you'll find week in and week out at Camp Verde Town Hall.

Camp Verde citizens obviously did not incorporate only to roll over and play dead in the subsequent governance of their town.

In that sense, the spirit of unity exhibited 20 years ago is still alive and well.

Happy birthday, Camp Verde.

‹ dengler@verdevalleynews.com

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