Part of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office investigation launched in September involves the Town of Duncan’s water lab, Interim Town Manager Philip Cushman disclosed last week.
On Oct. 18, Cushman posted a notice on the town Facebook page notifying customers in the Hunter’s Estates area that their water hadn’t been tested properly for coliform bacteria during a specific time frame in 2019, and therefore the town couldn’t be sure of the quality of their drinking water during that time period.
On Friday, Cushman said that in the months since Duncan Town Manager John Basteen resigned he and newly hired office staff have found evidence some water tests weren’t being done and reports were not being sent to the proper authorities.
The town also recently found paperwork indicating that none of the privately-owned unchlorinated wells in the area have failed inspections in the last three years, something that is “statistically improbable,” Cushman said.
Asked if there is some suspicion that someone was being paid to falsify the reports, Cushman conceded that is being investigated.
As for unperformed tests and missing reports, Cushman said, “I can’t go into too much detail because it’s related to the ongoing investigation, but we found a bunch of letters telling us we were in non-compliance and they (the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality) were asking for answers.”
Those letters pertained to tests and reports about the town’s drinking water and for the town’s clients, Cushman said. They also pertained to the lab’s internal policies and procedures.
The town conducts water quality tests for more than 50 clients monthly. Roughly half of them are people who own private wells and the others are comprised of government organizations and businesses, among them the Town of Clifton, Mt. Graham Observatory, the federal prison in Safford and various school districts and RV parks.
According to new water lab director Patsy Dixon, the ADEQ requires monthly, quarterly and annual reports from many of the town’s clients.
On the positive side, Cushman said Dixon has done an “amazing job getting things back on track” within the lab and ensuring the water systems are being tested “in the right way.”
Tierra Water Management continues to collect samples while three town employees obtain the certification to do the work themselves.
The Town of Duncan also just received a $270,000 grant from Freeport-McMoRan’s Community Investment Fund to put toward much needed water system improvements, Cushman said.
The town is in the process of pursuing several grants and, if successful, it will be able to replace all of the town’s 340 water meters with those that can be read accurately and remotely and result in automated billing. Various tanks and other components of the town’s water and sewage system would also be replaced.
The water lab is only one angle being pursued by the AG’s office.
Cushman announced in September that two special agents with the AG’s Office had spent a few hours reviewing electronic and paper documents at town hall.
The investigation is separate from, but related to, an ongoing Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool investigation launched in August at the request of the Duncan Town Council, Cushman said at the time.
The council asked the pool to conduct a forensic investigation after a financial expert hired by the council revealed she’d found irregularities in the town’s finances, including missing cash, dozens of credit card charges not backed up with receipts, and extra payroll checks written without explanation.
The expert, Patricia Walker, also discovered none of the town’s four bank accounts had been reconciled since January, and the town is owed $137,322 in utilities bills and that $98,590 of it is more than 90 days overdue.
Basteen resigned following Walker’s investigation.