I have attended several Benson City Council meetings in part to hear about our 40-year contract with the Villages at Vigneto development. I have questions about the effects it will have on our taxes, how infrastructure by the city and development will be paid for, and the effects on our water safety and availability. I am deeply concerned that the developer is fighting to avoid an environmental impact study. I am equally concerned by the national attention the development received which involved the Trump administration and our Fish and Wildlife Service.
I have tried to remain objective in order to hear what appears to be two sides to this development. Trying to glean information about the development, I heard first hand strong language from our mayor and another member of the council regarding issues of economy, the development and property rights.
When trying to understand the other side, the environmentalists are demanding the development follow the appropriate channels to preserve our river, our aquifer, and the species that live here, too. Environmentalists are being labeled “fake” by a man from Washington who has set up a corporation here in Benson. He also claims the environmentalists are more interested in “rural cleansing” rather than protecting our river, our water source and species. This divisive language fired up the Benson business owners and our mayor at the event where I heard this.
When I was trying to hear the environmental side of this issue at a recent Benson City Council meeting, an individual signed up to speak at a Call to the Public. She was quickly shut down and was not allowed to speak. I understand that in accordance with the Arizona Open Meeting laws, our council is not bound to answer questions by the public at meetings. In fact, they are not bound to offer Call to the Public. Others interested in this situation have sent letters with questions through the proper channels and they have remained unanswered.
The Benson City Council lacks transparency, leaving many with questions of how this development will affect Benson residents. It is time to bring back the Call to the Public and it’s time for the citizens of Benson to keep a better eye on the actions taking place here.