Authors Articles byMichelle Chance

Michelle Chance

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Trisha Sorensen is the interim city manager. Rick Horst starts June 25.

The city council will vote Tuesday whether to approve new powers and duties for its city manager.

On the agenda June 5 is an ordinance that would amend city code to allow the city manager the ability to “create, consolidate or eliminate” employees, offices, divisions and departments.

The city manager would also have the authority to reclassify full-time employees to other departments, amend their salaries and re-structure the city’s organizational chart. In the current code, the city manager must bring such recommendations to the city council for approval.

The amendment would provide the city manager flexibility to run city operations efficiently, according to Interim City Manager Trisha Sorensen, whose idea it was to amend the code.

“As the city manager, you need to be able to be responsive to changing needs and you never know when that’s going to happen — and to wait two weeks to go to council to get approval for something, sometimes you need that flexibility to do it right away and we don’t have that,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen said she has no plans to consolidate or eliminate any city departments.

If approved, any such actions taken by a city manager would be under two stipulations:

  • The action must be within the annual council-approved budget; and,
  • It must not increase the total full-time city employees approved by council.

Sorensen said the code change request is similar to that of other cities.

The idea to amend the code was a product of this year’s budget discussions when Sorensen said she needed to move existing positions to other departments but couldn’t do it without council approval.

If approved Tuesday night, the city manager’s new powers go into effect immediately under an “emergency measure” – meaning the city would not have to wait the typical 30 days for implementation.

Sorensen said the code change will not give the city manager too much authority, but she said there are checks and balances to a city manager who acts in bad faith.

“If you’ve got a city manager coming in and they’re abusing that authority, then the city council will handle that on an individual basis with the city manager,” Sorensen said.

Ricky Horst, Maricopa’s new city manager will begin work June 25, according to Sorensen.

 

Dustin LeMaster's dream of running a food truck was also his father's. Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa resident Dustin LeMaster’s “Tac-O-Bout It” food truck opened for business Wednesday afternoon on the southeast corner of John Wayne Parkway and Edison Road.

Opening day was years in the making.

After his mother passed away in 2012, LeMaster and his father decided to start a food truck business. Together they purchased a truck and worked for more than a year to rehab it.

A shop in Phoenix later took over for the father-son duo and completed the mobile kitchen transformation.

Then tragedy struck.

“The day before (the truck) was finished, we found out my dad had cancer,” LeMaster said. “He died eight days later.”

One month after his father’s passing, LeMaster lost his sister to an accidental overdose.

LeMaster cast his culinary aspirations on the back burner and eventually had a truck buyer on the line for $50,000.

“My wife talked me out of selling it and said, ‘This was you and your dad’s dream; Do it,’” LeMaster said.

Tac-O-Bout It hit the road May 30, nearly six years after the journey with his dad began.

The roadside eatery features street tacos, carne asada fries, grilled chicken and the “Big Boy Burrito.” The taco truck will be in the 99 Cents Only store parking lot Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

MUSD Board

 

Teachers and other certified personnel in the Maricopa Unified School District can expect to receive the 10-percent raise. The governing board approved pay hikes Wednesday.

The increases affect paychecks in the 2018-19 school year, totaling about $2.6 million.

Bus drivers and mechanics are approved for a 10-percent hourly-wage increase. Administrators and classified staff (maintenance workers, secretaries, aides, etc.) will see a 5-percent raise. Most funding for the traditional teachers comes from monies allocated to districts from the state Legislature.

MUSD expanded its definition of “teachers” to include counselors, teachers on special assignment, academic coaches and related service providers. To afford that, the district is dipping into is inflationary funds to cover those and other employees’ raises.

While the board approved the 5-percent raise for classified staff, Board Member Patti Coutre suggested bumping the figure to 7 percent. Aron Rausch, Business Services director for the district, will assess the impact Coutre’s suggestion would have to next year’s budget.

A discussion is expected on the possibility of adding 2 percent to the approved 5 percent during a meeting June 27, where an anticipated budget will be presented.

Shawn Main. PCSO photo

 

The homicide case involving a Maricopa woman might not see trial until after the third anniversary of the victim’s death.

Shawn Main, 48, was scheduled to stand trial in July in the first-degree murder and child abuse of 3-year-old Tiana Capps.

The toddler died of blunt force trauma at Banner Casa Grande Regional Medical Center after Main, the child’s caretaker, called for emergency help on Ralston Road southwest of Maricopa in December 2015.

In April, the defense team successfully pushed the trial to January.

Co-attorneys Chester Lockwood and Cody Weagant argued they needed additional time to prepare the defense, blaming much of it on their client’s alleged medical conditions.

Main’s health issues include “probable and suspected” heart problems, diabetes, chronic swelling and poor circulation of the feet, a goiter and a growth on her chest area, according to a court document filed in April.

The defense team said Main needs a primary care physician and a complete medical evaluation before an eventual thyroid surgery ahead of trial. Lockwood and Weagant wrote in their motion to court that neither they nor their client had a timeline for when those would occur.

Instead of preparing for her summer trial, Main and her attorneys are now hoping to dig through evidence they motioned for access to in May.

The defense is asking the court to release electronic devices seized by the state, including those belonging to Main’s co-defendants: her ex-wife Maria Tiglao and the victim’s biological mother Tina Morse.

“It is believed the seized devices contain exculpatory evidence and the state has possessed the same for nearly three years,” court documents state.

Main is also motioning the court for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) records for the victim and her three siblings who lived with Main and the other two women in a home in unincorporated Maricopa.

Court documents state the Casa Grande WIC office weighed and measured the children during each visit.

A medical examiner testified earlier this year that Tiana Capps was undernourished.

Counsel for the victims has until early June to file a response to those motions.

Main will be in court for a hearing July 16 at 3 p.m.


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Maricopa Fire/Medical crews help AMR personnel at an incident earlier this year. Photo by Michelle Chance

Ambulances housed in city fire stations have until the end of summer to vacate, a fire official confirmed this week.

Brady Leffler, chief of Maricopa Fire/Medical Department, said American Medical Response units in stations 571 and 574 will need to find a new home on or before July 31.

The issue revolves around unsuccessful contract and licensing negotiations.

Leffler said the private emergency response company paid $330 per month rent in a previous contract first drawn up in 2010 with Southwest Ambulance and then Rural Metro Ambulance before being bought out by AMR.

Before that contract expired in 2014, Leffler said he began designing a new agreement that would garner a “reasonable amount” for rent.

The city’s economic development team was recruited to analyze the fair market value of the space AMR uses inside MFMD. Leffler said he took the average rent cost per square foot in the city and reduced that figure by approximately 35 percent.

“I was going to charge them for one-third of the livable space and it came up to about $2,355 a month,” Leffler said. “(AMR) opted not to pay that.”

AMR did not respond to an interview request.

A person claiming to be an AMR employee wishing to remain anonymous said moving out of the fire stations would create increased response times to emergencies in Maricopa.

Leffler said he doesn’t think that will happen.

“(AMR) is still bound by the state standards and requirements so it should not affect the service one bit,” Leffer added.

Hosting ambulance units inside city fire stations is rare, Leffler said. With the exception of Gilbert, most other Valley fire departments don’t do it.

The City of Phoenix employs its own ambulances, he added.

It’s unknown where AMR will base its local units after July, but the company’s absence from the stations creates an opportunity for the department, Leffler said.

On the fire chief’s wish list are two additional fire trucks that would one day fill the vacancies previously occupied by AMR.

“We can’t afford to do that right now and it’s something we’ll be looking at down the road, but it sure gives us another option,” Leffler said.

Although a licensing rental agreement couldn’t be made, Leffler said he wants to get a service-based contract regarding logistics and transport with AMR in the future.

Maricopa Unified School District board members Joshua Judd, Patti Coutre, AnnaMarie Knorr and Torri Anderson approved a resolution supporting teachers' campaign for better funding in April.

 

Teachers and classified staff at Maricopa Unified School District could see a pay bump next school year, according to district documents.

The MUSD Governing Board will vote to approve a 10-percent salary increase for teachers, academic coaches, school counselors, “related service providers” and teachers on special assignment during a meeting May 30.

Classified staff could see 5 percent added to their hourly pay rate, if approved.

The board will also consider a 10-percent hourly increase to the paychecks of its bus drivers and mechanics in the district transportation department.

MUSD administrators would receive a 5 percent salary increase under the proposal.

Documents stated the increase would cost the district’s 2018-19 maintenance and operation budget more than $2.5 million.

Earlier this spring, districts experienced a teacher walk-out that left schools empty statewide. Educators in the #RedForEd movement demanded better funding for classrooms and themselves.

Teachers received a 1 percent pay increase last year.

Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature approved this month a plan that included a phased increase for public school teachers – a term they left to districts to define.

By 2021, educators would see a 19 percent average pay increase.

Under the statewide budget for FY 2018-19, the Legislature approved a 9-percent increase in teacher pay; with 5 percent being added each of the following two years.

However, how much and who that money goes to is ultimately at the discretion of school boards.

The Board will vote on the salary recommendations at the District Administration Building, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy., May 30 at 6:30 p.m.

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce will not renew its lease for office space on Honeycutt Road this September.

In a news release published Friday, Chamber Board President Chris Cahall said the organization that promotes small and medium-sized businesses in Maricopa will operate “virtually” after its lease expires Aug. 31.

Meetings are proposed to take place at member businesses and, possibly, the Central Arizona College campus in Maricopa.

“We’ve got to evolve in order to keep up with how the world is changing, and I think this is going to be an awesome change for the Chamber and the membership,” Cahall told InMaricopa.

Cahall would not confirm if the Board’s vote was unanimous, instead saying the decision was approved.

The chamber’s evolution outside the budget-binding confines of its $2,300 monthly rent payment will allow it to focus those funds on member services, Cahall added.

Currently, three-quarters of members’ dues are allocated to rent and the executive director’s salary.

A minority of in-office visits involve visitors inquiring about member business information. Cahall said 90 percent of Chamber foot traffic is to the visitors’ center – a local tourism effort defunded by the City of Maricopa.

“How are we able to provide optimal benefits if most of our membership monies are going to a facility and only 10 percent of the people walking through the door on an annual basis are looking for membership information?” Cahall asked.

The Board’s answer is to wave good bye to its brick-and-mortar, an idea first proposed in a meeting with members two weeks ago.

“We think (having meetings at members’ businesses) will allow our networking events to be more member-centric on their turf,” Cahall said.

In addition to its member services like the networking and ribbon-cutting events, Cahall said the Board has proposed implementing an annual business speaker, as well as educational opportunities for members.

The Chamber’s monthly breakfast will still be held at Elements Event Center.

Cahall said the Board has also discussed using a portion of member dues to revamp the Chamber’s website, and is open to hearing ideas from members.

While it prepares to spend its last few months in its office space, the Chamber is also hunting for its new leader.

The Board is accepting applications for the new executive director until June 1 at 5 p.m., according to the news release.

The person who fills that role will eventually work from a home office after the Chamber moves out. Cahall said a candidate living in Maricopa is preferred.

The board president said he’d like to see the new director establish a visible presence in the community.

“I really want that executive director to be out with the members and be out finding members, and spreading the message of our small and medium-sized business community through Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Chandler and attending networking events to assist and to continue to layer on member benefits showcasing the Maricopa chamber,” Cahall said.

Miguel Figueroa. PCSO photo

The man accused of killing his wife with a sword in 2016 will face 25 years to life in prison after admitting guilt in court Monday.

Miguel Figueroa pleaded guilty May 21 to the first-degree murder of Olivia Figueroa near the Heritage District in Maricopa.

As part of the plea deal, a kidnapping charge was dropped.

Figueroa also admitted guilt in the attempted aggravated assault of his son with a .22 caliber gun in the same incident. He agreed to serve six years in the Department of Corrections as part of the plea on that charge.

Pinal County Judge Kevin White said Figueroa’s admittance to the two counts resulted in an automatic violation of his probation, stemming from two drug paraphernalia possession convictions in 2015.

The disposition on the probation violation will be heard during sentencing June 18 at 1:30 p.m.

However, sentencing may be delayed by the defense counsel in a future motion which would ask to continue the court date in lieu of hiring an expert to identify the mitigating and aggravating factors in the probation case.

Figueroa’s plea comes nearly two months before his trial date in July. White vacated the trial Monday.


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Supervisor Anthony Smith talks about a recovering economy in his State of the County address. Photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce hosted its first State of the County address Thursday evening.

Former city Mayor and current Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith led the conversation May 18 inside Elements Event Center.

Smith touted Pinal’s progress since the economic downturn at the beginning of the last decade.

“We are the first county to recover all the jobs that were lost during the recession,” Smith said.

Pinal’s unemployment rate as the recession peaked was higher than 11 percent. It’s now 4.6 percent, according to Smith.

“That basically means everybody who wants a job, has a job,” Smith said.

Pinal tops the state in growth at 14.49 percent. Maricopa County is second. However, the rapid development brings to the county a fair share of challenges.

Smith said the county has included goals in its strategic plan to lessen tax burdens on residents.

By 2021, the goal is to have the property tax rate reduced to 3.75 percent. Smith said property valuations and state tax revenues are growing.

The biggest slice in the county’s budget, 62 percent of the pie, goes to law enforcement, the adult detention center and the judicial system.

Pinal County Sherriff Mark Lamb said since being elected in 2016, the county jail population has decreased by nearly 200 prisoners.

“It’s not because we’re not arresting people,” Lamb said. “We are protecting these communities, but we’ve been working well with the County Attorney’s Office and we’re reducing your cost for you, the taxpayer.”

Smith talked about problems the county plans to address in the Maricopa area, including State Route 347.

The solution in Smith’s eyes was, of course, last year’s two, successful RTA ballot initiatives that are meant to improve roadways across the county.

Smith often called upon the county’s “brain trust” to speak to the work county employees are doing to increase its job prospects, tourism and big business.

Those appearances featured presentations from County Public Works Director Louis Anderson, County Manager Greg Stanley, Economic Development Program Manager Tim Kanavel and Joel Millman, Workforce Development Program Management for Arizona@Work Pinal County.

A glimpse into Pinal’s ideal future included road improvements, solving chronic flooding issues, reversing the exodus of workers outside the county and local job creation.

Arizona House Rep. Vince Leach (R-District 11), Mayor Christian Price, Maricopa Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs, Constable Bret Roberts and city council members also attended the event.


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Firefighters knock down a vehicle fire on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. Photo by Michelle Chance

Fire crews responded to a fully engulfed camper trailer Thursday afternoon on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway about one mile east of White and Parker Road.

The roadside blaze closed portions of the highway in both directions for more than an hour. The Maricopa Police Department re-opened the road at approximately 3:40 p.m.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, said MPD Patrol Officer Jeff Brooks.

The camper trailer was reportedly being hauled east toward Casa Grande. Maricopa Fire/Medical Department and Ak-Chin Fire Department responded to the scene.


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Fans enjoy the long-drive competition during Tuesday's finals. Photo by Michelle Chance

Ak-Chin was the latest tour stop for the World Long Drive competition. Airing live on the Golf Channel May 15, the event was the first national sporting event broadcast in the Maricopa area. Long Drivers Will Hogue and Phillis Meti took home the top title in the Men’s and Women’s divisions. The competitions began last week on a field north of UltraStar Multi-tainment Center.

About 10 percent of the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce's membership attended the Thursday morning breakfast. Photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce is in transition as it once again searches for a new executive director.

Members are brainstorming the Chamber’s evolution and plotting its own survival.

“We are open to ideas; it’s just how do we get these ideas done with the budget that we have and without a captain running the ship?” Chamber Board President Chris Cahall asked members during a meeting May 10.

Former Director Terri Crain resigned last month and is volunteering part-time until the Chamber finds her replacement.

Cahall prompted suggestions from members on who would they would like to see fill that role.

However, in talks about the Chamber’s future, Cahall revealed what’s next could be more complicated than a simple personnel search.

“Everything is on the table,” Cahall explained. “Even closing the chamber.”

Working with a $100,000 annual budget, the Chamber sinks most of it into rent, utilities and the director’s salary, Cahall said.

It’s left with a $20,000 chunk to invest in member services every year.

Cahall urged membership and the Board to innovate the chamber to become a relevant asset to local business owners. There are up 250-300 chamber members; Nearly 30 attended the meeting Thursday morning.

Members answered back with a variety of suggestions, including leaving its space on Honeycutt Road to alleviate overhead costs, increasing the salary and insurance package for its future director and lending an olive branch to local chambers in an effort to combine membership dues, among others.

Chamber member Tom Buessing offered to donate office space from his own company, Highway 238 Industrial Park.

“We can’t dissolve this chamber; it’s not an option,” Buessing said.

UltraStar Multi-tainment Center General Manager Adam Saks suggested adding health insurance to the future director’s benefits package to attract a highly qualified applicant.

Saks echoed other members who said they’d like to hire a candidate who will end the revolving door of high-turnaround hires that have plagued the Chamber in recent years.

Saks also took aim at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Maricopa Power Networking Group, describing the separate chambers as “the biggest detriment to what’s been going on” with perceived fragmentation among the groups.

“Much as the community and the city work together to always weave that fabric tighter, the chambers are just shooting holes in each other, and the fabric is falling apart,” Saks added.

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Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board Member Julia Gusse was in attendance. The Maricopa city councilwoman is also a member of the Maricopa chamber.

Gusse said the Hispanic Chamber was created, in part, to break down language barriers she said the Maricopa Chamber could not tackle.

She said Latino business owners in the city felt disenfranchised.

“I made this recommendation (in the past) to the Chamber that they needed someone who spoke Spanish and not someone necessarily who’s Hispanic,” Gusse said.

Cahall responded to Gusse, saying the Maricopa Chamber offered a seat on their Board to the Hispanic Chamber, but the offer was not taken.

County Supervisor, Anthony Smith, a former Maricopa mayor, suggested the Chamber find ways to compromise with its counterparts and combine.

Smith also voiced his concern over what he called the city council’s “lack of support” toward the Maricopa Chamber.

“I think any city that wants to have strong economic development must have the coupling between city leadership and the business community, and I don’t see that 100 percent from the Maricopa City Council,” Smith said. “To be honest with you, that is unhealthy.”

Mayor Christian Price, a Chamber member, suggested revolutionizing what the Chamber has grown accustomed to in its practices by unifying chamber factions.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and we’ve got to tear it all down and restart it. That doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bath water,” Price said.

“It’s going to take all of these groups coming together, and that will help us as a chamber on how we need to function and operate.”

The Chamber Board will meet next week to review director applications.


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Photo by Michelle Chance

Competitive long drivers swung into action Friday morning at Ak-Chin’s inaugural Smash in the Sun event on a custom field north of UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. The community partnered with the World Long Drive organization to host the four-day competition – a portion of which will be aired live on the Golf Channel May 15 at 5 p.m. Male and female long drivers on Friday and Saturday compete in the qualifying series for a chance to advance to the 2018 Volvik World Long Drive Championship. See schedule here and here.

 

Customers stand outside waiting for inspections to end at Dollar Tree. Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa’s second discount store held its grand opening and ribbon cutting Thursday morning.

However, Dollar Tree’s newest customers were ushered out of the 10,000-square-foot building soon after doors opened.

City building inspectors and the fire marshal temporarily closed Edison Pointe’s latest retail shop for a little more than an hour to perform final inspections. They did not explain the timing.

Deputy Fire Marshal Eddie Rodriguez with the Maricopa Fire/Medical Department said Dollar Tree received approval by both agencies.

“Everything is OK. They’re opened up again; business is going good as usual,” Rodriguez said.

The store is located at 20595 N. John Wayne Parkway south of Fry’s Marketplace.

Emergency personnel responded Tuesday to a call of a near drowning in Desert Passage. Photo by Michelle Chance

Emergency crews responded to a drowning call in the Desert Passage subdivision Tuesday afternoon.

The Maricopa Fire/Medical Department and an American Medical Response Transportation ambulance arrived around noon at a residence near the 40200 block of West Art Place.

MFMD Capt. Jay Evans said an 8-year-old boy was in stable condition after his parents reported the child being under water for approximately less than 10 seconds while they were swimming together.

Evans said the parents were concerned about secondary drowning after the “slight submersion,” but after an evaluation by medics, the child’s vitals were found to be in good condition.

The child was not transported to a hospital, Evans said.

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce Board announced it will hold a meeting this week “in an open conversation on the future growth and projects for the Chamber.”

A portion of that growth will be within the Chamber’s personnel, specifically attributed to its future director.

The Chamber recently advertised the full-time position online and set no deadline for submissions.

The breakfast mixer will give members the opportunity to lend their voice in the hiring process and other Chamber matters.

“I’m hoping we have a good amount of people there and we can discuss or address anybody’s concerns,” said Board Chairman Chris Cahall.

Cahall said the director’s salary range still needs to be decided but could be between $30,000-$40,000.

Former Chamber Director Terri Crain resigned last month to accept a position elsewhere. However, Crain is working part-time at the Chamber on a volunteer basis, Cahall said.

The meeting for Chamber members May 10 will be at Elements Event Center at 7 a.m.

“The Board (is) going to be in the room and we’re going to tell everyone that these are the things that the Board has been working on, trying to figure out and what we need to do,” Cahall said. “It’s not the Board’s Chamber, it’s not the City of Maricopa’s Chamber, it’s the memberships’ (Chamber).”


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Photo by Michelle Chance

Drywall dust has settled in a new community within the Santa Rosa Springs subdivision.

Costa Verde Homes cut the ribbon on its new development called Oasis at Santa Rosa Springs May 3.

The cozy community of 109 homesites sold 13 homes before its models opened. A grand opening for the public is scheduled for May 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Santa Rosa Springs is southwest of the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Porter Road intersection on the south side of the railroad tracks.

As Maricopa recovered from the burst bubble of the housing crisis, many builders began their migration back to the city last year to resurrect abandoned projects in existing subdivisions – portions of which were left as virtual ghost towns.

The newest builder attracted to Maricopa is Costa Verde. Around for the past two years, the Arizona-based company has built one other community in Buckeye.

“I think our contemporary look and feel (separates Costa Verde from other developments),” said Susan Paul, vice president of sales and marketing.

The two model homes are a preview of options for potential homebuyers who might be interested in updated exterior and interior design.

A departure from the aesthetic of homes built 15 years ago, Costa Verde Homes feature squared corners and sinks and other modern options. All homes are Energy Star certified; come with stainless steel appliances, as well as front and backyard landscaping, Paul said.

Oasis at Santa Rosa Springs includes four floor plans: two single-story and two two-story homes. The price point ranges from $180,000 to $232,000.

Paul said first-time homebuyers and empty nesters are part of their target demographic.

“We’ve also seen a couple of move-up buyers as well,” she said.

The public can visit the Oasis at Santa Rosa Springs sales office, 42332 W. Ramirez Drive, prior to the grand opening Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

After a false alarm Wednesday, the Maricopa Unified School District announced Thursday it would reopen at the end of the week.

All nine of MUSD’s school sites will resume classes May 4, according to a district statement.

“We are excited to begin the teaching and learning process again with our wonderful students,” the statement read.

Like the announcement May 2, Thursday’s statement confirmed students and staff will not need to attend additional school days to makeup for the week-long absence due to the teacher walkout.

The last day of school is May 25.


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Cynthia Calhoun directing students. Photo by Mason Callejas

The curtain closed on Maricopa High School’s theater program in 2010 when low interest in enrollment could no longer sustain it.

Then came along Cynthia Calhoun.

At the time, she was already a full-time English teacher at MHS with doctorate and master’s degrees in literature, as well as bachelor degrees in English, Theater and Education.

With $12 and a loan from student council, Calhoun revived interest and took on the theater club as an extra-curricular activity in the days before the high school’s state-of-the-art performing arts center.

“We built this really kooky little set and we did William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors in the lecture hall,” Calhoun recalled.

Dressed in costumes inherited from Calhoun’s predecessor, the cast decorated their humble stage with the few props remaining from the shuttered program.

That spring, Calhoun wrote and directed a cabaret-style musical chronologizing Broadway’s biggest hits.

The following year, MHS drama found a home as it opened the PAC and its cozy Black Box Theatre.

Calhoun has since resurrected the theater program at MHS and developed it into an award-winning, competitive troupe, MHS Theatre Company. In her tenure, she has directed 11 plays and eight musicals while supervising four student-directed plays.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The 2017-18 school year was the first Calhoun spent teaching only drama courses full-time. And it will be her last.

In April, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board approved Calhoun’s resignation.

“A lot of the decision came down to just trying to manage my health because teaching is an incredibly physically demanding discipline – especially teaching theater,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome as a teenager.

The genetic condition causes chronic health issues in those affected and has spurred Calhoun’s three knee surgeries and a heart operation.

“I’d like to stave off surgeries for a long time and be there for my children, who are in elementary school,” Calhoun said with tears in her eyes. “I decided it was probably best for me to not work as full-time as possible. It sucks.”

Last year at the Arizona High School Drama Coach Convention, she was elected a representative to the Central Region of Arizona Thespians. Her students have gone on to earn scholarships and awards.

A break from the mainstage doesn’t include a permanent absence from her students, however. The celebrated theater teacher plans to register as a volunteer for the drama program at MHS next year.

Many of Calhoun’s students have been under her instruction their entire high school experience and have gained a sense of independence from it, like MHS senior Collin Martin.

Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

“She helped me discover my love for theater, and she’s also taught me many important life lessons, such as getting your stuff together before something big happens, or always act professional and how to have a certain manner about yourself that you can portray to other people to show you’re serious about something,” Martin said.

Calhoun said she hopes the next theater teacher will find ways to challenge the acting students while at the same time know how to have fun with them.

The effect her own compassion has had in the classroom is evident in Calhoun’s students.

“Not many theater teachers truly treat their students as not only professionals but also as equals, and she allows us to learn in so many different ways,” said senior Britney Montgomery.

Calhoun’s departing lesson comes from a line written by American poet Walt Whitman.

“He writes: ‘The powerful play goes on and you will contribute a verse.’” Calhoun said, adding, “And I always want to challenge kids to think about what their verse is going to be. They get to decide that – so, make it a good one.”

Photo by Mason Callejas

Reporter Joycelyn Cabrera contributed to this story. 


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa. 

 

Schools in the Maricopa Unified School District are scheduled to re-open May 3, according to an MUSD statement.

SEE UPDATE 

The openings come on the week anniversary of a statewide teacher walkout and a day after the state announced two K-12 budget bills.

School children will apparently not need to make-up missed days at the end of the year.

“We have calculated the instructional hours in our current school year calendar and have determined we have sufficient hours to conclude the school year,” according to the district statement.

The last day of school for MUSD students will remain May 25.

Rescheduling of events and activities postponed because of school closures will be communicated to parents and students by school principals.

The statement said the MUSD Art Walk originally planned for Thursday is cancelled and “will not be rescheduled.”

Some teachers have indicated they may stay out another day until the budget has passed. MUSD may allow a delegation of up to 10 teachers to travel to the capitol each day the Legislature is in session until the budget passes.

The closure has affected students in different ways.

“I think the walkout is great, I really respect what teachers are doing and I agree, I don’t think that they’re getting paid the proper amount,” MHS senior Ty Pen said. “Arizona’s one of the lowest funding in education. The only problem I’ve really come across is being able to find transportation to get to school [at CAVIT]. I hope that this movement didn’t go without purpose that the teachers get what they have been fighting for.”

“I think that the walkout is absolutely justified because out teachers work so hard and they do deserve a livable salary,” senior Rachel Knight said. “With that, I agree that AZ students deserve a fully funded education. Personally, it’s affecting me due to AP test preparation, less time in class means less instructional time to prep. However, teachers, such as [Aiden] Balt, are making sure AP testers will be prepared and confident come next week, despite the walkout.

“I’m hoping the state legislators and Gov. Ducey will realize that this movement isn’t going away until there is a comprehensive resolution. Arizona schools and students deserve a competitive education and the teachers that lead that deserve a livable wage.”

Two other schools closed as a result of the #RedForEd movement.

Charter schools Leading Edge Academy closed April 26-27 and Sequoia Pathway Academy closed April 26 and reopened Tuesday.

Legacy Traditional School, Holsteiner Agricultural School, Camino Montessori, Mobile Elementary School District remained opened through the walkout.

“My mom has been a teacher in Arizona for about 14 years and I’m happy they are finally doing something to be getting paid what they are worth, MHS senior Baylen Redfern said. “My mom has worked a second job as a waitress up in town and working summer school to make ends meet. Teachers in general are underpaid and in Arizona it’s even worse.”

Joycelyn Cabrera contributed to this report.


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Marcos Martinez is accused of the brutal murder of Vicky Ten Hoven. (photos PCSO/Facebook)

The man accused of killing his grandmother earlier this year will undergo a mental examination to determine his competency to stand trial.

Pinal County Superior Court Judge Dwight Callahan ordered Marcos Jerell Martinez to a “full Rule 11 examination” in court Wednesday morning.

Martinez, with a full beard and long hair, appeared in a brown jumpsuit for his hearing May 2, but his cooperation with counsel has apparently been an issue.

Callahan recently approved a motion by the defense team to visit with their client at the door of his jail cell after concerns were filed that Martinez repeatedly “denies or refuses” to meet with attorneys, according to court documents filed in April.

The first-degree murder suspect submitted to a rule 11 pre-screening in March where a doctor recommended a full examination.

The state and the public defender’s office both nominated psychologists to fulfill the order.

Those results are expected to be reviewed in court June 27 at 9 a.m.

After the mental examination review hearing this summer, attorneys for Martinez are expected to file a motion to remand the case to a second grand jury for a new probable cause determination.

A grand jury indicted Martinez in February of premediated first-degree murder, punishable by death or life in prison, after the Maricopa Police Department forwarded additional charges of tampering with evidence and unlawful use of means of transportation in the same case. Martinez is held in the Pinal County Detention Center on a $1 million secured bond.

Martinez stands accused in the Jan. 28 blunt-force trauma death of Vicky Ten Hoven in Rancho El Dorado.


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Submitted photo

Golf’s longest drivers will compete in Ak-Chin’s first nationally televised sporting event May 15.

IF YOU GO
What: Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun World Long Drive
When: May 11-12, 14-15
Where: Ak-Chin Circle Field, 16000 N. Maricopa Road
General admission: Free

—-

What: World Long Drive Pro-Am
When: May 15
Where: Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, 48456 W. Hwy. 238
General admission: Free

Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun is a three-day World Long Drive tour event May 11-12 and 14-15 at a course grid north of UltraStar Multi-tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle.

It’s the second stop on the World Long Drive Tour, which began in April with Mesquite, Nevada’s Clash in the Canyon.

The sporting spectacle will feature men’s and women’s qualifying competitions.

The last day of the inaugural competition will be broadcast live on The Golf Channel and feature the final eight competitors, whittled down from a bracket of 32.

Ak-Chin Southern Dunes will also host a Pro-Am event the morning of May 15.

“It’s showcasing Ak-Chin and Maricopa as a destination,” said Brady Wilson, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes general manager.

The grid at Ak-Chin Circle was specially groomed for the event by Southern Dunes staff. Stadium seating will be constructed to hold 500 to 1,000 fans. Food and drink will be available for purchase.

Brady Wilson. Photo by Mason Callejas

The event is free and open to the public. It’s expected to appeal to golfers and non-golfers alike.

“If you’re not a golfer, the fun party atmosphere – along with seeing how far these guys hit the ball – and the national television aspect also makes you want to see it,” Wilson said.

It’s the first time the World Long Drive Association will make a tour stop in Arizona, according to its website. Wilson said it will return next year for the same event.

After Ak-Chin’s Smash in the Sun, the tour makes stops in New Jersey, Tennessee, Canada, the Texas/Oklahoma Border and then back to Tennessee before the Volvik World Long Drive Championship returns to Texoma Aug. 30.


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Jose Valenzuela is accused of the June 2015 murders of Tina and Michael Careccia. PCSO photo

A capital murder case nearing its third anniversary remained without a scheduled trial date Monday in court.

Murder suspect Jose Valenzuela’s new lead defense attorney, Bobbi Falduto, argued her team would need until August 2019 to be prepared for trial.

Special Prosecutor Gary Husk said he was “troubled” by the requested 15-month continuance.

“That extraordinary delay is unwarranted,” he told Pinal County Superior Court Judge Kevin White in court.

Husk said the belated trial is difficult for the family of Tina and Michael Careccia, the couple Valenzuela is accused of murdering and then burying in his yard in 2015, “and, I, quite frankly, can’t blame them,” Husk added.

Husk said prosecution could be ready for trial in six to eight months. However, White’s judicial schedule is clogged with three capital cases around that time.

White suggested trial take place in September of this year, when his docket opens, but Falduto maintained her team needed more time.

“Judge, I’m not going to avow that I can do that, I just know I can’t. It’s right around the corner,” Falduto said.

Falduto cited her recent appointment in the case as one reason for her request for additional time to prepare. In late January, she took over for James Mannato, the former public defender who retired early this year.

Additionally, Falduto revealed she would present a new defense theory in trial.

“Mr. Mannato had the case at a certain posture, and I actually disagreed with his posture, so we have revamped some of the case strategy,” Falduto said.

Monday, Valenzuela’s attorneys motioned the court for access to counseling records of their client’s son, who may have been an eyewitness in the case, Falduto said.

White ordered the records be subject to protective orders and non-disclosure to the public.

Michael and Tina Careccia lived with family members two streets away from the man charged with their murders. (Instagram)

Falduto has until June 8 to submit a memorandum objecting to the state’s request for disclosure of those records. Husk has until June 22 to file a response.

The defense team also argued it would need additional time to interview an out-of-state witness and a medical examiner.

“Our defense team has met about once a week to get me updated and to update everyone else. Everyone’s taken on certain tasks so we are working this as quickly as possible,” Falduto said. “There’s a lot of amount of discovery, and I think some of the experts that we have spoken with are going to be key to putting forth our defense.”

With a September trial not an option, White said his schedule could accommodate a trial date next July.

Nevertheless, the judge held off from affirming a specific date in court April 30. The case is subject to reassignment under a new judge as White takes on a different assignment in the courts July 1 this year.

White said he’s inclined to keep the case, but he will consult with the schedules of the criminal judge and presiding judge in the event the case is handed over.

Valenzuela’s next hearing in court will be June 25 at 3 p.m.


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Miguel Figueroa. PCSO photo

 

The first-degree murder trial for the man accused of killing his wife with a sword in 2016 was rescheduled Monday afternoon.

Miguel Figueroa would have stood trial next week, but “unfinished” DNA disclosure reports from the state prompted defense attorneys to request a new date.

The state did not object and indicated the results could be disclosed later this week.

Judge Kevin White scheduled the new trial for July 18 at 9 a.m. It’s expected to last seven days and be juried by 12 people.

The reports in question center on DNA from the defendant and his alleged victim, as well as nail clippings, evidence from the presumed murder weapon and “defensive wounds,” said Figueroa’s defense counsel, Scott Johnson.

White vacated next week’s trial to allow Johnson and co-council Mark Benson time to “digest” the information included in the DNA analysis ahead of trial.

The judge attempted to schedule the new trial before his upcoming judicial reassignment July 1. However, multiple, upcoming trials and conferences reported between the state and the defense prevented a sooner trial date.

The state alleges Figueroa stabbed to death his wife, Olivia, in a desert area near Maricopa’s Heritage District two years ago.

Figueroa will be in court again May 21 at 1:30 p.m. for a status review hearing.


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Some area schools will remain closed Monday while others plan to hold classes.

Leading Edge Academy was closed Thursday and Friday, however the charter school plans to resume classes on Monday, according to a press release issued Friday.

Sequoia Pathway Academy and the Maricopa Unified School District will not re-open classrooms April 30 as teachers continue a statewide walkout, school officials confirmed Friday.

The strike that shuttered schools began Thursday and continues in many districts statewide.

Legacy Traditional School, Mobile Elementary School District, Holsteiner Agricultural School and Camino Montessori did not close this week and are expected to remain open next week.

InMaricopa will continue to provide updates about school closures as they become available.

Maricopa teachers were among those marching at the capitol Thursday morning, the first day of a walkout. Photo courtesy Jennifer Miller

Maricopa educators rallied afterschool Wednesday on the eve of the statewide teacher walkout.

The demonstration at Copper Sky Recreation Center April 25 included a march around the lake and speeches by various community members.

The activism driven by the #RedForEd movement has permeated the state, driving teachers and school staff into action.

Educators dismissed Gov. Doug Ducey’s salary proposal last week and are demanding increased funding for school children and competitive pay for support staff.

And although teachers were in high spirits and proud of their efforts Wednesday, a subtle unease crept in.

“I’m really proud that after all these years teachers are finally getting together and standing up for everything,” said Maricopa High School art teacher Maria Pour.

“I’m anxious because I know what the kids are going through. I’m anxious because I know the sacrifice that the teachers are making. I’m anxious because I just want a quick resolution and the very least time away from my kids and my classroom,” Pour added.

The walkout closed schools Thursday, and classrooms will remain empty Friday. The length of the walkout is unknown.

Pour said she believes her colleagues would endure a prolonged strike.

Maricopa teachers rallied at Copper Sky Wednesday evening. Photo by Michelle Chance

“I think it would be the overwhelming majority that would be for keeping the walkout,” she said.

Amalia Clark, owner of the Our Children Matter organization, attended the event with boxed food packs for children affected by the walkout.

The Maricopa Unified School District announced it would feed students while its nine schools are closed, but Clark said her agency would step in for those who need additional help.

“I think that a lot of people use the school system not only for learning, but they also use it for nutrition, and now that it’s closed down, they’re realizing there is a big importance to our school system,” Clark said.

Educators awoke Thursday morning and commuted to downtown Phoenix instead of their school sites.

They marched in a statewide demonstration to the Arizona capitol building alongside thousands of others.

Maricopa High School Teacher Jennifer Miller said the experience was “incredibly positive.”

“Teachers from all over the state are talking to each other and encouraging each other – even teachers from rival schools are here in solidarity,” Miller said. “I’ve never seen a group of educators this unified for a cause.”


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Teachers are having a RedForEd rally Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Schools are partnering with a local organization Wednesday to distribute student food packs on the eve of Arizona’s teacher walkout.

Maricopa Unified School District, Leading Edge Academy and Our Children Matter will dispense two-day food packs at three locations April 25:

  • Copper Sky: 5-6 p.m.
  • Pacana Park south parking lot (adjacent to Leading Edge): 6-7 p.m.
  • Park next to Santa Cruz Elementary school: 7-8 p.m.

MUSD will also serve students breakfast and lunch during the walkout that will close schools April 26-27 and possibly longer.

The Copper Sky distribution is in conjunction with a #RedForEd rally. Teachers will meet at 5 p.m. near the tennis courts.

 

Maricopa Unified School District will feed students breakfast and lunch throughout the walkout, according to a district press release.

“The district is making special arrangements to provide food service for our students who depend on us for breakfast and lunch,” the document states.

MUSD schools will close April 26-27; and could remain closed into next week as teachers statewide walk-out in protest of low pay and in support of increased salaries for support staff, funding for students and better working conditions.

All nine MUSD schools will serve breakfast and lunch at these times:

Breakfast: 7:30 – 8:30 a.m.

Lunch: Noon – 1 p.m.

Children are instructed to eat meals at the schools they attend — a parent or guardian must accompany them. Student supervision is unavailable and there will be no access to playground equipment. Meals will be available for purchase for family members.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Tortosa’s youngest royalty attended a tea party with Disney Princesses Belle and Cinderella Saturday. The event was hosted by Tortosa HOA by CCMC April 21. Children learned how to curtsy, bow and wave; and were also serenaded by Belle and Cinderella before the tea party.

 

The impending walk-out of local educators is expected to close all of Maricopa Unified School District’s nine schools Thursday and could also affect area charter schools.

Known agencies providing walk-out childcare:

Children’s Learning Adventure, 20600 N. John Wayne Parkway

520-214-5737

Registration fee will be waived, and all new families will receive their first day free.

Copper Sky, 44345 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

520-635-1511

Free childcare provided by Maricopa Springs Family Church and other local churches at Copper Sky from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. There are 500 spots available; seeking 70 childcare volunteers. Morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack provided.

Click here to register.

Rockstar Cheer, 12501 N. Murphy Road

856-624-3375

rockstararizona@gmail.com

Located at Rockstar Cheer gym from 7 a.m.–5 p.m. $25 per day, per child. Includes pizza lunch. Snacks and drinks for sale or bring your own. Ages: Kindergarten through eighth grade. 50 spots available.

Food Disbursement:

With help from Our Children Matter and Maricopa Pantry, food boxes will be dispersed at a #RedForEd teacher-led event at Copper Sky Wednesday at 5 p.m. to parents of affected students.


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