Williams City Manager Dennis Wells retires, returns to Cave Creek

By Linda Bentley | November 25, 2009

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dennis wellsCAVE CREEK – After nearly eight years as city manager of Williams, Dennis Wells has retired and returned to Cave Creek, his home since 1995.

When Wells, who has deep family roots in Williams, was initially hired in 2002 by city council, it was understood that one of his main goals was to raise the political profile of Williams.

Wells said got his first hint that change was in the air after the new council was seated and their review of his performance was the first he’d received in eight years that was “less than stellar.”

He said the new council thought he was going to the capitol too often and they wanted a town manager that was in the office.

Then, when council placed an executive session item on the agenda to discuss his employment, Wells decided it would be in his best interest to have legal counsel present as an independent third party.

In hindsight, Wells said that probably wasn’t the best idea, and most likely appeared antagonistic to council, which canceled the executive session.

So, no discussion actually took place.

On Nov. 16, Wells made the decision to retire, which became effective this past Monday.
Wells, 59, is proud of his accomplishments as Williams’ city manager and said he saw the city through 22 projects.

One of those projects was the siting of a new well, which Wells, who also has a geology degree, says is the city’s biggest producer.

While water has been an issue for Williams, Wells says it’s not due to lack of water in the area and said, “Williams sits on one of the largest aquifers in the state.” The problem, he said, is it’s 3,800 feet below the surface.

Wells has held one of the longest, if not the longest, tenures as city manager of Williams, which, like every other municipality in Arizona, is facing hard financial times.

When asked if the city already had someone in mind for his replacement, Wells said he didn’t know but stated this would be a good opportunity for the city to save some money by leaving the position open and the city under the oversight of Joe Duffy, interim city manager, whom Wells says has served previously in that capacity.

Another project Wells was involved with bringing before council is Bearizona, a North American wildlife park that allows visitors to drive into the wilderness and witness herd and pack life from the safety and comfort of a private vehicle.

Bearizona, which approached Williams about six months ago and is expected to attract 500,000 visitors per year, may be the boon Williams needs to emerge from these difficult economic times, just as Cave Creek looks to Walmart for economic relief.

Wells says Williams and Cave Creek are quite similar in that they have both held onto their cowboy heritage and have economies based on tourism, with Williams adjacent to Kaibab National Forest and Cave Creek bounded by Tonto National Forest.

And, while Williams has established itself as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, Cave Creek has become known for its massive open space, a refuge from the hustle and bustle of Carefree Highway and Phoenix to its south.

Williams Vice Mayor Don Dent said he enjoyed working with Wells for the past eight years and also appreciated the 18 years Wells served as a Coconino County Supervisor, which he said included Williams in his district.

However, Dent said the new council brought with it a change in philosophy and perhaps “the timing was right.”

When he accepted the city manager job in Williams, Wells said he told his wife it would only be for two years, three at the most, the average length of employment for city managers.

Having fully recovered from the removal of a small benign brain tumor in September, Wells plans to kick back for a while and enjoy Cave Creek while he reviews his options.