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2011: Crime & courts tempered by hope & growth
Written by Classifieds   
Saturday, 31 December 2011 00:00

With 2012 on the horizon, many readers may be ready to say goodbye to 2011, a year when the Cottonwood Journal Extra reported a variety of unpleasant news stories, including several murders, suicide by cop, a weak housing market, food bank shortages, slashed budgets, fluctuating gas prices and controversy over redistricting.

Simultaneously, other readers may see hope for the new year in a number of positive stories, including positive growth in some sectors of the economy, new leadership at several public agencies and the completion and planning of a variety of beneficial public works projects.

Cops

Michael Antonio Piccioli, 23, a Verde Villages man, was accused of shooting his girlfriend to death Sept. 1. Piccoli continues to await trial at Yavapai County Detention Center on $1 million bond. Piccioli allegedly killed Xiaorong “Nancy” Wang at the couple’s home on Wranglers Way under circumstances not yet disclosed by police. Wang died of one gunshot wound to the chest. Trial in the case is set to start Wednesday, May 9.

Jake Palmer, 19, of Clarkdale, died after being stabbed during an altercation in Verde Villages Sept. 27. Palmer died from the wound he received when a 19-year-old Cornville man allegedly stabbed him at about 1 p.m. near the corner of Pipe Creek and Grand View drives. The Cornville man alleged he acted in self-defense and was not arrested.

Betty Shanafelt, 52, of Cottonwood, died on a sidewalk outside her home April 2, spent Taser wires that missed the mark uncoiled at her feet. When two Taser weapons failed to stun her, a veteran Cottonwood police officer shot her three times at close range with a rifle, believing she endangered lives when she attempted to draw a pistol from the holster on her hip. Arizona Department of Public Safety investigators ruled the death a justifiable homicide and cleared the officer of any wrongdoing. Shanafelt’s death was deemed “suicide by cop.”

Sgt. Brian Campbell lost two days pay and new handling procedures will were implemented in the wake of the death of Dakota, the Cottonwood Police Department’s drug-sniffing dog. Dakota died of heat stroke after Campbell left the animal in his patrol car for roughly four hours with air conditioning. An internal affairs investigation concluded Campbell caused Dakota’s death through “neglect or carelessness,” was inattentive to his duty and engaged in conduct unbecoming a police officer.

Courts

More than one year since town officials closed the Jerome Grand Hotel, settlement talks between the town of Jerome and hotel have not produced a settlement. Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Tina Ainsley ordered the hotel re-opened in January after finding town officials acted improperly when they revoked its certificate of occupancy. The town has offered no money to resolve the conflict, instead insisting hotel owners install another exit at their own expense. Hotel owners asked for roughly $100,000 to settle, at least enough to cover their attorneys fees and costs.

Self-help guru James Arthur Ray was convicted in the deaths of three people who participated in a sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona. A Yavapai County Superior Court jury found Ray guilty of negligent homicide, but acquitted him of charges of manslaughter. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Ray’s attorneys argued for a new trial alleging prosecutorial misconduct by the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office.

Economy

In February, a University of Arizona study concluded the wine industry added nearly $4 million to the Verde Valley economy in terms of sales tax revenue and wages paid to local workers.

In August, Yavapai College announced plans to create a Southwest Wine Center on its Clarkdale campus to offer viticulture and ecology educational programs, a full production teaching winery and a 20- to 30-acre vineyard.

In September, a Northern Arizona University study concluded Verde Valley wine tourists spend an average $185 when they visit and an average $382 when they stay overnight. Usually arriving in pairs, wine tourists dole out $48 on food, $32 on transportation, $33 on merchandise, $22 on entrance fees and $50 on miscellaneous items. Most of that money ends up in the pockets of Verde Valley merchants, restaurants and the people they employ.

By August, a study of real estate listings and sales showed 50 percent of Arizona mortgage-holders own property that is valued, on average, $65,000 less than what they owe. Likewise, roughly 50 percent of Arizona homeowners are 12 months or more behind on their mortgage payments. Many homeowners, overwhelmed by their housing costs, simply walked away, forcing the bank to foreclose and take ownership. Nearly 60 percent of real estate sales were distressed sales, meaning homeowners were behind in the payment of their mortgages. Even though foreclosures appear to be trending down, hundreds of Verde Valley homeowners are in default and on track to go through foreclosure.

By June, city of Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Department verified zoning for nine businesses proposing to launch medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, including one managed by the son of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Zoning for one dispensary proposing to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana at the site was also approved. However, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed a lawsuit in August asking a federal court to declare whether state employees could be guilty of federal criminal violations by administering the medical marijuana law. The court has not ruled and no dispensaries were established anywhere in the state.

Between April 14 and May 18, the state approved applications from nearly 83 Verde Valley residents seeking medical marijuana cards, while another 25 people from Sedona applied. Nearly 95 percent of those who applied were approved

Turmoil in the Middle East pushed gasoline prices up in the Verde Valley and across the state. By March 25, Arizonans were paying an average of $3.53 per gallon, an increase of a penny and a half over the previous week. In Cottonwood, motorists were paying as much as $3.47 per gallon, better than the state average, but significantly more than per gallon prices posted at the beginning of this year. Gas prices returned to an average $3.15 by the end of the year.

Verde Valley Medical Center expected to lose up to $3 million in 2011 should deep cuts in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System take effect as expected. For all of Yavapai County, hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses and other health care providers lost out on as much $10 million normally paid to them through AHCCCS.

In addition, as many as 13,000 health care jobs were threatened by the Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to take away health care for hundreds of thousands of Arizona adults.

Politics

After roughly five months of public comment on four alternative maps proposed to redraw supervisor districts in Yavapai County, Yavapai County Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 in favor of a fifth map, Alternate Map A, after a public hearing Aug. 22.

District 1 Supervisor Carol Springer and District 2 Supervisor Tom Thurman voted in favor of Alternative Map A. District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis, who favored Map C, voted against. Despite overwhelming public support expressed in written surveys and public testimony to the board, supervisors adopted the map Davis alleged was intended to protect political dominance of the board by supervisors elected from districts in and around Prescott. The new boundaries were officially approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In October, Cornville property owners who favor annexation won a chance to officially register their preference through a petition drive. Should a majority of Cornville property owners sign a petition by October, residents of Verde Santa Fe subdivision will be annexed into Cottonwood. To qualify, those who sign, taken together, must represent ownership of more than 50 percent of the total assessed value of all real property in Cornville. Should that happen, another public hearing will be held where Cottonwood City Council must officially approve an annexation ordinance. Verde Valley Fire District members objected to the move since it will result in a loss of revenue to the district. VVFD Fire Chief Nazih Hazime said annexation would compromise the district’s ability to render aid to neighboring jurisdictions, meaning Cottonwood and Sedona.

Arizona Sen. Steve Pierce [R-District 1] and Arizona Rep. Karen Fann [R-District 1] told the Mingus Mountain Republican Club on June 12 the state budget will “go over a cliff” in 2014 unless state government reduces its size and takes in more money. The 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2010 will end in 2014, along with all remaining federal stimulus money. The anticipated revenue loss means legislators will continue to grapple with budget shortfalls into the near future, said Pierce, who was recently elected Republican whip by fellow senators. By the end of the year, however, state sales tax revenue was reported to be well ahead of predictions.

Several candidates in the 2011 Cottonwood City Council election expressed delight at the results of the March 8 primary that elected former Cottonwood Mayor Ruben Jauregui. He returned to council when he won the March 8 election outright. Mayor Diane Joens ran unopposed when the only other candidate for mayor was disqualified for lacking enough proper signatures to get on the ballot. The election set up a four-way runoff to fill two open seats. Terence Pratt, Duane Kirby, Mary Eichman and Jesse Dowling contended in the May run-off. Pratt and Dowling were elected.

Environment

Verde Earthworks, a Verde Valley curbside recycler, buried glass bottles, burned cardboard and burned plastic at its recycling site in Rimrock because it ran out of storage space for the items. The recycler at first denied any impropriety but then agreed to clean up the site after an inspection by Yavapai County Development Services Director Steve Mauk in September. The incident raised concerns when the county initially dismissed complaints about the recycler without investigating them. Matters were complicated when the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality refused to assist the county’s investigation, arguing the county was the only authority responsible under a delegation agreement.

A giant alternative energy provider with a national presence won approval for its plan to erect more than 80, 450-foot-tall wind turbines in an isolated area of Yavapai County after a unanimous vote by Yavapai County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 6. The board voted 2-0 to grant a use permit and approve a minor General Plan amendment. The vote allows NextEra Energy to move forward with a wind and solar park it predicts will produce a combined total 160 megawatts of electricity.

A black bear came over Mingus Mountain, probably seeking food, and ended up dead at a Cottonwood trailer park July 31. The bear, estimated to be 5 years old, 250 pounds, died just before dawn after a retired animal trainer chased him up a tree. As many as 12 Cottonwood Police Department officers responded to the scene, many armed with rifles, and surrounded the tree. Police called Arizona Game and Fish to the scene. A ranger responded and shot the bear dead.

Public Works

After a flood on the roof caused floorboards in the Cottonwood Middle School gym to warp and twist, preventing basketball and volleyball teams from practicing or playing in the gym for more than five months, the floor was replaced in November and December with new hardwood, sanded to a fine finish and was expected to be ready for boys basketball to begin in January.

Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System officially opened the new Cottonwood Community Based Outpatient Clinic on Dec. 14. The new $1.3 million clinic, which started accepting patients in November, is located on South Willard Street. The 9,500-square-foot facility replaces the VA’s former clinic on Candy Lane.

Cornville road was reconstructed over several months ending in November, several weeks late but under budget. The project was more than 90 percent complete by October, but unexpectedly soft ground required contractors to dig up a section of the road near Windmill Park to install rock and cement for a more stable surface. The work was the chief reason for the delay. The new road is wider, safer and easier to driver thanks to new curbing and turn lanes.

Both Clarkdale and Cottonwood moved ahead with plans to construct new wastewater plants. Budgets to design the new plants were approved and construction on both projects is expected to start as soon as 2012.

A 4,000-foot-stretch of 12th is to be reconstructed for the benefits of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians The $3.5-million project will get under way in early 2012 following a September Cottonwood City Council vote to proceed.

A $1.8 million water main project to replace 12,000 feet of leaky, 100-year-old steel pipes was completed in April on budget and ahead of schedule. The lower town line replacement project added 15 new fire hydrants and relocated five others, lowering the town’s ISO rating and decreasing future premiums Clarkdale residents must pay for fire insurance.

An investigation by the Cottonwood Journal Extra in February showed Cottonwood collected more than $2.5 million over a period of several years from water users who paid into four city enterprise funds not directly related to the actual cost of water. City Manager Doug Bartosh said all of the charges were necessary and proper to protect the city’s water supply now and in the future. The city changed language in monthly water bills to better explain the purposes for the money.

Northern Arizona Women’s Professional Rodeo Association named Cottonwood Equestrian and Animal Events Center  the Best Ground in the State. Association members voted the center’s ground was better than arenas in Scottsdale and nine other venues across the state.

Schools

The Tavasci Elementary School mascot marches dejectedly out of the Cottonwood Elementary School Gym after a mock standoff with the Oak Creek School mascot at the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District’s staff welcome assembly at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. Tavasci was closed due to budget restraints in May while Oak Creek School remained open.An International Baccalaureate school, Mountain View Preparatory, opened its doors in August in the west wing of Dr. Daniel Bright School. The school, approved by the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Governing Board, is the new home of more than 170 students attending kindergarten through sixth grade. The school opened after the board voted to close Tavasci Elementary School and decided to allowed Oak Creek School in Cornville to remain open on a reduced budget and fewer services. The decision was reached after a lengthy, contentious debate between the board and many residents of the unincorporated Cornville community.

Yavapai College cut its men and women’s basketball teams and eliminated 100 computers, 13 instructors and a dozen or more support staff for the school’s 2011-2012 academic year. The move was necessary to make up an anticipated $3.4 million budget shortfall.

Mingus Union High School District Governing Board voted 3-2 on April 14, to use a traditional six-period day in 2011-2012, sticking with a scheduling plan introduced in 2010 that brought objections from many students involved with Career Technology Education classes. Board President James Ledbetter and board members Anita Glazar and Brenda Zenan voted in favor. Board members John Tavasci and Mike Mulcaire voted against. The switch from a schedule that allowed students to take four, 80-minute blocks each semester to a daily class scheduled comprised of six, 60-minute classes, caused some controversy and was reviewed by the board six times in 2010.

Transitions

In December, members of the Verde Valley Fire District Governing Board stood and applauded after presenting Public Information Officer and Safety Education Director Merry Shanks a plaque commemorating the untold injuries she prevented, among many other accomplishments, during her 20 years of service to area fire districts.

VVFD Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen stepped down to assistant chief in August after six years in the position and former Sedona Fire District Fire Chief Nazih Hazime was hired in September as fire chief.

Yavapai College hired Penny Wills as its new president in May. Wills negotiated a three-year contract that will earn her $220,000 a year with a $10,000 expense account. Wills was previously president of North-east Iowa Community College.

Following the resignation of longtime Verde Valley Humane Society Executive Director Cyndi Castillo in July, the VVHS Board of Directors, after an initial misfire, hired a new executive director, Sierra Neblina, in September. With help from her board, and with strong backing from Cottonwood City Council, Neblina successfully negotiated deals with both the city and the Humane Society of Sedona that saved the shelter from closing its doors. Kyla Allen, who also serves as executive assistant to Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh, was elected president of the board. In December, the VVHS thrift store was renamed and moved to a new location in Old Town, a move that allows the society to pay rent of $1 per month to the city.

Longtime Clarkdale Police Department Police Chief Pat Haney returned to work after suffering a stroke and then decided to retire after several years of service. An estimated 50 percent of people who suffer the same type of injury as Haynie die within three months. Another 25 percent suffer some type of permanent disability. Haynie called his recovery a miracle.

Pat Spence, the hard-charging Clarkdale town manager and police chief who worked to improve roads, preserve parks and protect the people he served died at a Phoenix hospital Feb. 9. He was 66.

 

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