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Ousting Lowell: Misdeeds of miscreant Flagstaff officials

Two-turn-of-the-century Flagstaff town officials tried their hardest to take the land back under the Lowell Observatory.

Flagstaff’s first two decades were managed by a sound City Council determined to guide the growing town into a solid, respectable community. However, in 1906, several miscreants, led by farmer/rancher Ben Doney, got themselves elected to the City Council.

Civil War veteran Doney arrived in Flagstaff in 1883, and settled east of town in what is now known as Doney Park. He resented the laws being put on bordellos, gambling halls and saloons, but he really disliked fences — particularly the one put up by Dr. Percival Lowell around the site of Lowell Observatory.

Doney successfully alienated town leaders by thwarting any and all of their attempts to make improvements for the good of the town. Instead, he removed controls on gambling, prostitution, and saloons, among other questionable actions that usually put money into his and his cronies’ pockets. He was convinced the prior councils had misappropriated funds and insisted upon an audit to uncover discrepancies. None were found, and Doney refused to pay the auditor.

The auditor had to wait until a new City Council was in office to receive payment. Doney’s abuse of power put Flagstaff Mayor Leo Verkamp, who was elected mayor because he received the most votes in the council election, in an uncomfortable position and he rarely participated in City Council meetings.

Doney managed to get George Washington Glowner appointed as city attorney in 1906, at a salary of $20 per month; an expense Verkamp considered useless.  Glowner, a former Los Angeles attorney, had been a Flagstaff attorney since at least 1899, served as a National Guard captain and was active in the Democratic Party. He also was a miner and represented mining interests in the Grand Canyon. He ran for public office several times, the first being in 1904, when he was a candidate for Flagstaff town clerk. He lost that election and every other office he pursued through his time in Arizona. Always feisty and contentious, attempts to disbar him occurred twice in his career and he was once asked to appear before Judge F.W. Perkins to explain why he should not be removed as the estate administrator for a deceased person.

As Flagstaff city attorney, Glowner followed through on a Doney motion passed at the Jan. 2, 1908, City Council meeting that stated: “…it is hereby resolved, by the mayor and common council of the town of Flagstaff, that the town clerk notify R.J. Kidd, probate judge and ex- officio trustee of Flagstaff townsite, to commence the necessary proceedings forthwith in the proper courts to eject one Percival Lowell, and his employes(sic) and agents from the seventy-five (75) acres on townsite and, now fenced in by the west part of the south half of Section sixteen of said townsite and claimed by him as his own property. It is further resolved that the said Kidd be notified, that unless he takes necessary proceedings as hereinbefore required the said town of Flagstaff will commence the necessary proceedings in the courts to compel him to be present at the council meeting to be held January 9th, at 1 o’clock pm.”

This astonishing motion was published in the Jan. 16, 1908, Coconino Sun.  In the same issue, Mayor Verkamp, absent from the Jan. 2 council meeting, wrote a letter calling the motion a “…disgraceful communication…(the writer’s) aim is to incite trouble by his dirty and filthy work…I am opposed to taking from Mr. Lowell rather attempting to take any lands given him by the previous council. The Lowell Observatory is an ornament and big advertisement to the town, and any city would offer big inducement to have him with them. Mr.

Lowell does a volume of business in the community, and the advertisement given Flagstaff would warrant any courtesies extended him.” Verkamp’s letter went on to detail all of the misdoings of the current City Council and how he has been against most any action Doney initiated. He said he did not recognize the current council and chose not to participate in needless expenditures to the city. The Coconino Sun of Feb. 6, 1908, supported Verkamp with: “Flagstaff is not opposed to scientists.”  And, “The suit brought against Prof. Lowell by the City Council through their attorney, Glowner, can only do harm.”

Nevertheless, Glowner prepared a lawsuit against Percival Lowell to eject Lowell and the observatory from the townsite, citing that the

1894 City Council had misused the original townsite plot when they gave Lowell clear title to 10-15 acres. That council had promised support in every way possible of the highly-sought after Lowell Observatory.  The 1903 City Council donated 75 additional acres to the observatory.

Glowner said that the 75 acres were more valuable for its timber than its inclusion as part of the observatory.  Over a year later, the Coconino Sun of Aug. 20, 1909, announced that U.S. District Attorney J.L.B. Alexander had been in Flagstaff to investigate “the cock-and- bull story” at the request of U.S. Attorney General Wickersham, who had received a complaint from Glowner. The Arizona Republican ran an Aug. 22, 1909, article titled:  “A Useless Investigation : …It is believed locally that the complaint of Mr. Glowner is the result of a grouch, and no alarm is felt whatever, as it is not probable that the U.S. district attorney will find anything to report that will make the town of Flagstaff any trouble.”  A week later, the Coconino Sun reported that the D.A.’s office found no case against Lowell or the town.

By this time, Doney had been ousted and a new Flagstaff City Council was in place. One of their first acts was to order Glowner to “remove from the offices of city hall at once.”  Glowner then established a law office in Williams where he was named Williams City attorney in 1909, until he was deposed in 1913. By 1915, he was a special attorney for the U.S. Department of Treasury and still practiced in Williams.

He returned to California and died in 1933, a year after Doney.

The only results of the lawsuit case against Lowell were to embarrass the town and leave it with a large legal bill.

— S.D. Olberding. Photo courtesy of the author.

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