Authors Articles byRaquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson
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Raquel, a.k.a. Rocky, is a sixth-generation Arizonan who spent her formative years in the Missouri Ozarks. After attending Temple University in Philadelphia, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and has been in the newspaper business since 1990. She has been a sports editor, general-assignment reporter, business editor, arts & entertainment editor, education reporter, government reporter and managing editor. After 16 years in the Verde Valley-Sedona, she moved to Maricopa in 2014. She loves the outdoors, the arts, great books and all kinds of animals.

WASHINGTON, DC – JAN. 10, 2019: White House protest over government shutdown by furloughed as well as unpaid working federal employees, union members, contractors and supporters after rally at AFL-CIO - By BAKDC

The longest federal government shutdown has had a wide impact. Central Arizona Governments (CAG), a regional planning district, has had to institute an unpaid furlough for the duration.

CAG is comprised of Pinal and Gila counties, their respective incorporated communities, including Maricopa, and Native American communities.

“With the federal government shutdown, many of our funding agencies are being affected,” said Andrea Robles, interim executive director. “We have learned that CAG does not have access to the majority of our reimbursable funding sources including EDA, USDA, some transportation funds and EPA project approvals. The billings are booked to be paid to CAG, but the funds have been ‘frozen’ for the duration of the shutdown.”

Robles said the Globe City Council approved an “advanced payment” of $50,000 to CAG on Jan. 8 for administration of projects to cover operating expenses for January.

The partial shutdown is now 25 days long, surpassing the 21-day shutdown during the Clinton Administration that cost the government $400 million, according to the Congressional Research Service. The current shutdown, which started Dec. 22, came about over a stalemate between the Trump Administration and majority Democrats in the House of Representatives regarding $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

The unpaid furlough at CAG was put in place to decrease expenses while maintaining “the work that is required to keep up with our grants and projects,” Robles said. CAG staff will work a reduced workweek, Tuesday-Thursday 7 a.m.-6 p.m.

CAG helped coordinate planning of the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority and landed planning fund funds for a regional transit study. CAG’s Community Development Block Grant planning program distributes funds through the Arizona Department of Housing.

“Staff continues to look for additional funding sources to enable us to provide the best possible services to our cities and towns throughout the region,” Robles said.

A full-day, 6 a.m-6 p.m. preschool is in the works at MUSD.

Arizona Department of Health Services lists four operating preschools that are state-licensed to teach ages 3-4. Maricopa Unified School District wants to expand that.

MUSD started its strategic planning in August, and administration wants to have its state licensure for a full-day preschool by Feb. 1.

The district currently has a preschool at Saddleback Elementary School. It has been preparation for the larger program.

“I’m so, so excited that all the sudden something is happening,” said Pat Wilson, preschool teacher at Saddleback, who has been advocating for a full-time program.

“My hope is that this will be able to morph into a young-5’s program for those kindergarteners who are just on the cusp, that aren’t ready for kindergarten,” said MUSD Governing Board member Patti Coutré. “So then we’d have a young-5’s program so parents don’t have to pay the tuition.”

The governing board received an update on the development of the preschool at its Wednesday meeting.

“We want every student to dream, learn and become. In a practical sense, when they graduate high school, they need to be able to create, innovate, lead and succeed,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “Realizing that outcome begins in preschool.”

Krista Roden, director of Teaching & Learning, said the Preschool Planning Committee researched the community, made comparisons in other districts and surveyed Maricopa parent on whether a full-time preschool was needed.

The survey came back “overwhelmingly yes,” Roden said.

Krissta Roden

The committee worked through class space, food service and curriculum as it executed a state checklist.

“With that we know that we need to have some remodeling,” Roden said. “Very minimal. Along with that, we’re going to be doing some recruiting with [Human Resources Director Tom] Beckett coming up in January.

The district is hosting a Job Fair Jan. 26.

The plan is have a state walk-through in June in order to have three classrooms open for the new school starting in July.

The full-day program, which combines with child-care wrap-around from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., is for preschoolers ages 3 and 4 to be taught by highly certified teachers with both elementary certifications and early-education endorsements.

“It’s very, very important for us,” Roden said. “That kind of sets us ahead of the state with everyone else.”

The program expects to tout STEM activities, social development and emotional development.

“Competitive pricing is one of our sales points, as well,” Roden said, saying there are subsidies to help parents with financing.

Wilson cited early findings of an ongoing Harvard University early-learning study showing preschool leads to “greater cognitive abilities, better impulse control, more sociability.”

She also said it was early intervention for special education and drop-out rates.

“One of the charter schools has already jumped on board with this, she said, “and we need to get in the game immediately so we don’t lose any more students to any other school, including charter schools.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said participating in "60 Days In" was beneficial for his department.


When television producers first approached Sheriff Mark Lamb about doing a reality show, he was understandably hesitant.

It was early in 2017, and Lamb was still getting his feet wet as sheriff of Pinal County. But when Lucky 8 producers reached out again in the spring of 2017, Lamb was re-thinking the proposal.

“They wanted to show what a border-state jail felt like,” Lamb said.

Sneak Peek from Thursdays episode of 60 Days In

SNEAK PEEK! Don't miss Sheriff Lamb on Thursday at 10PM during the brand new episode of 60 Days In!

Posted by 60 Days In on A&E on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Lucky 8 produces “60 Days In” for A&E TV, and it is the network’s top-rated show. Now in its fifth season, the show sends a handful of innocent people undercover into jails. Posing as inmates, they gather information about other prisoners and staff from a vantage point usually unavailable to administration.

Previous jails filmed for the series included Clark County in Indiana and Fulton County in Georgia.

Lamb said he realized Pinal County Sheriff’s Office could gain great information at no cost to taxpayers. Filming at PCSO adult detention began in the fall of 2017 after PCSO and the TV producers did background checks on their faux inmates from diverse backgrounds.

“One had been in prison for 15 years,” Lamb said. “One was a police officer.”

The new season of “60 Days In” is airing now on Thursdays at 10 p.m.

After filming, the sheriff’s office debriefed the “cast” members and found consistent information from all participants. PCSO was instituting changes within a week. That included a body scanner purchase after learning the details of how drugs were entering the detention center.

“We didn’t get paid for the project, but we used the information to justify the purchase of the body scanner,” Lamb said.

Drugs, gangs and jail operations were focal points for PCSO in agreeing to do the series.

Had PCSO paid for a typical audit of the jail, “we would never get the intel that we got,” said Navideh Forghani, PCSO’s public information officer.

She said the department had also participated in A&E’s “Live PD” in the same way, weighing the pros and cons and seeing the benefits once they found a way to make sure everyone was safe. “Live PD,” she said, helped with recruitment, while “60 Days In” helped PCSO improve the jail.

While jail staff was as oblivious as the real inmates to the undercover operation, the sheriff said he had no intention of using the project as a “gotcha” against employees.

“We have 12-hour shifts for employees,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the programs were worthwhile.”

Lamb said his top priorities for any PCSO decision are employees, the agency, taxpayers and the county. He said he did not want the show to cost the department money. Any staff overtime required was paid by the producers.

While there were some things that went awry on the production side – participants forgetting their “back story,” for instance – there were not major issues for PCSO.

Besides the body scanners, the sheriff said the department has changed protocol, including improving the ability to lodge complaints.

Jezelle Magallanes (19) moves the ball past Willow Canyon. She scored the game-winning goal Tuesday. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Ranked seventh in the state in 5A, the Maricopa High School girls’ soccer team won an overtime match Tuesday against Willow Canyon, 2-1. The home win put the Rams’ overall record at 5-4-1. Outside of tournament play, they are 3-0-1. Maricopa and Willow Canyon held each other scoreless through a half. The Wildcats scored first, but Mariopa junior Saneya Cowing tied the game. During the 10-minute overtime, sophomore Jezelle Magallanes scored the game-winning goal.

Rachele Reese will be shifting from Leading Edge Academy to A+ Charter Schools. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa is gaining more educational opportunities this year as two new charter schools plan to open in July.

What: A+ Charter Schools Open House
When: Jan. 10, 6 p.m.
Where: Leading Edge Academy, 18700 N. Porter Road

A+ Charter Schools is set to build a facility to be open by July 24. It is enrolling high school and junior high students. An open house for residents to learn more about A+ Charter is set for Thursday at 6 p.m. at Leading Edge Academy.

“Our goal in the first three years is 300 students,” said Rachele Reese, assistant principal at Leading Edge Academy – Maricopa.

Reese has been on staff at Leading Edge full-time for three years. Next school year, however, she will be an administrator at A+ Charter Schools.

Corporate board members are Rebekah Krueger, business manager of Arizona Charter Solutions, management company of Leading Edge Academy, and Laura Newcomb, owner and president of Autism Academy for Education and Development (AAED), with three campuses in the Valley. Newcomb also built the framework for special education still in use at Leading Edge.

Reese said Newcomb approached her about creating a high school. Reese told her that would be a good idea if it was in Maricopa.

“We need options in Maricopa if nothing else,” Reese said. “We also need to try to bring back some of the kids that are going out of town.”

A+ Charter Schools incorporated as a nonprofit in 2017. The governing board includes Mat Reese, principal of Leading Edge Academy – Maricopa (and Rachele’s husband), Derrick Jamerson, principal with LEAD and AAED, and Krueger.

“We wanted to start small,” Rachele Reese said. “I want to get to know the family and the kid and then really start creating that infrastructure that you need when you start a school before building.”

The charter was approved by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools on Dec. 10. According to application materials, A+ Charter intends to start with grades seventh through 10th and then add 11th grade and 12th grade by 2021. It is intended to focus on workforce readiness.

“One of the things that I have always noticed from high schools is the fact that when you finish high school, the advisor can give you a test and then say, ‘These are your skills,’” Reese said. “But there is really no real-life idea of what that job is going to look like.”

She said she wants to take the culture and positive attitude of Leading Edge to A+ Charter Schools. Mat Reese said A+ Charter will also seek membership in the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

What: Heritage Academy Job Fair
When: Jan. 8, 5 p.m.
Where: HomeSmart Success, 19756 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite 100

During the same meeting at which A+ Charter was approved by the state board, Heritage Academy received the OK to expand to Maricopa and increase its enrollment. It, too, is targeting middle school and high school students.

Heritage Academy Inc. has been in business 23 years. The Maricopa campus is to start with sixth through 10th grade and grow to sixth-12th by 2022. It is planning for 500 students.

With a more public outreach to families, Heritage Academy compiled a list of 1,340 Maricopans interested in a charter high school, according to its application. It expects to open with a staff of 39. Heritage is hosting a job fair Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at HomeSmart Success.

School is expected to start at Heritage Academy July 22. It does not have school on Fridays and takes two-week breaks for fall, winter and spring.

Corporate Board members are Diane and Jared Taylor. Governing Board members are Raymond Jones, Travis Moore, Marie Renard, Eve Seaman and Jared Taylor.

A+ Charter may be built near Banner Health off Porter Road. Heritage Academy has a location at Adams Way and Conner Drive.

Crews prepare the rails to be the new home of the Zephyr. Photo by Jim Headley

Placing rails from 1946-47, city crews prepared for next week’s moving of the Silver Horizon California Zephyr Friday morning to the former Rotary Park.

The Zephyr railcar has been in place next to the Amtrak station since 2001. Maricopa Historical Society purchased the car from Pinal County in 2017. The construction of the State Route 347 overpass across the Union Pacific tracks hastened the removal of the car.

Society President Paul Shirk said the Zephyr would be removed by crane on Jan. 10. The railcar, which weighs 116,000 pounds, will be hoisted onto a truck and driven east to its new home next to the old swimming pool. There, the cranes will again lift the car and place it on the newly installed rails.

By coincidence, the rails are the same age as the railcar. The California Zephyr ran the Burlington Northern route from Chicago to Los Angeles starting in the ’40s and retired in 1970. It appeared in the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor.

The removal of the Zephyr on Thursday morning will cause traffic restrictions on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and parking restrictions around the area. At 86 feet in length, it fits in the space of a basketball court, Shirk said.

“I went out there and measured to make sure,” he said.

The removal is slated to start around 10 a.m.

The Zephyr does not have electricity, a situation that will soon change. Shirk said the Society expects to have historical information on display inside and eventually use it to host events again.

The Zephyr needs to move now while there is still space for the required cranes next to the site of the overpass construction. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Concept for future landscaping at the home of the Zephyr. (City of Maricopa)

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InMaricopa readers turned their attention to tragedy, transportation and economic development in 2018. Here are some of our most-read stories of the year:

10. In December, readers were outraged by details of child abuse accusations against a Maricopa couple. Describing being hit, taped and deprived of food and water as punishment, three children were removed from the home.

9. An August crash that killed Maricopan Johnnie Verdoza and another man on State Route 143 drew widespread attention for the alleged actions of others in the car, also from Maricopa, who reportedly hid the bodies and left. However, the unsustained accusation of hiding bodies was not ultimately among the charges by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office against the driver. Manslaughter charges against Thomas Sikes, now 23, are still in Maricopa County Superior Court, with trial set for April. He is also charged with endangerment and leaving the scene of an accident involving death or injury.

8. Apex Motor Club and the City of Maricopa stuck to their guns in lawsuits filed over granting a use permit for the construction of a private race track on the west side of town. Apex finally broke ground on the complex in November.

7. Gone, gone, gone. Several structures bit the dust in the Heritage District in 2018. Most, like the Copa Center, the former county jail and F.O.R. Maricopa food bank, were taken down to make way for the overpass. Some homes were simply condemned as blight.

6. Readers were touched by the story of a Maricopa family seeking justice for a son killed by a hit-and-run driver in Phoenix in July. Though devastated by the loss of Joseph Schott, 27, mom Sue Ball was amazed at Maricopa’s “overabundance of love and support.”

5. Teachers found empowerment in 2018. Maricopa educators tentatively organized a non-disruptive walk-in and soon gained the courage to join a statewide walk-out that shut down some schools for several days during the state budget talks. It was all a battle for better funding of education, with mixed results.

4. Elections were mostly friendly at the local level, but Maricopa was no stranger to political divisiveness in the midterms. Republicans and Democrats, from constable to Congress, engaged in Maricopa town halls to debate hot-button issues. While District 11 remains legislatively Republican, state leadership will have a different look in 2019.

3. Transportation – from the overpass to a lingering lawsuit over the funding of roadway improvements – was catnip to Maricopa readers. Pinal County appealed a tax court decision that would undermine efforts to widen State Route 347, and construction work on the overpass project was beginning to have an impact on in-town traffic by year’s end.

2. The development of Edison Pointe south of Fry’s Marketplace had the keen interest of Maricopans, who wanted to know which businesses were opening and when. Ross, Goodwill, Planet Fitness, Dollar Tree, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, WingStop and Wynn Nails & Hair were all completed and open in 2018, with more to come.

1. InMaricopa’s most-read story of the year involved the violent murder of a beloved resident and the subsequent arrest of her grandson as the main suspect. Vicky Ten Hoven died Jan. 28 at her home in Rancho El Dorado. With aid from other law enforcement agencies, Maricopa Police Department took custody of Marcos Martinez, who is being prosecuted for homicide.

Cadet Dylan Hill (left) and Corpsman Brianna Barnes visit with Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey (ret.) while back in Maricopa for the holidays. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


Maricopa High School graduates now in the U.S. military dropped in on their former Junior ROTC instructor while home for the holidays.

Brianna Barnes, a Navy corpsman, and Dylan Hill, a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduated from MHS in 2018 and participated in the school’s Air Force Junior ROTC program.

“It’s a lot of training,” Hill said of her experience at West Point, where she often sees MHS’s other cadet, John Blodgett, who graduated in 2017.

“A lot of the training the whole Army goes through with their basic training is the same for us,” Hill said. “The only difference is that during the school year we have military training on weekends. So, that can be anywhere from running 12 miles to going shooting and things like that. It’s pretty cold right now, so that complicates it a little bit.”

Barnes said there are high expectations of those aiming to be hospital corpsmen, a rank that has earned 23 Navy Medals of Honor. “The standards are really high, so we have to be on top of our game all the time,” she said.

Barnes said she chose the Navy because she wanted to work in the medical field, but medical school felt out of reach. As a hospital corpsman she will get training and experience. She is stationed in San Antonio, Texas.

“I have a month left to train, and then I’m off to Cuba,” Barnes said.

Former MUD Business Services Director Aron Rausch


After a decade as Business Services director of Maricopa Unified School District, Aron Rausch abruptly resigned this month to go into retirement.

Rausch, who was hired by MUSD in 2008, dated his resignation Dec. 12 to go into effect Dec. 19, the day of the most recent board meeting and before the end of the semester.

MUSD spokesperson Mishell Terry said Wednesday an interim director had not yet been chosen. Rausch said he did not suggest a name for his temporary replacement.

“That’s up to the leadership that’s there,” he said.

Friday, the district posted an immediate opening for the position. The salary range is $78,750-$102,751.

Rausch said he and his wife Becky wanted to spend more time with their daughters and grandchildren, who live in the north Valley. “We had been planning this for a couple of years. I’m excited.”

In his resignation letter addressed to Board President AnnaMarie Knorr, Rausch also said he wanted more time for “woodworking, attending sporting events, hiking and volunteering, and of course maybe a little bit more time chasing the white ball around the golf course.” The two-page letter touted the long list of accomplishments of the finance department during his tenure.

Rausch is a lifetime member of Rotarians International. Thursday, he said he fully expects to continue that community service, but “we’ll see if we stay in Maricopa.”

His wife is an academic coach at Butterfield Elementary School.

Rausch’s departure was part of a personnel schedule on Wednesday’s agenda. He was not in attendance. Knorr gave the board the uncommon reminder to not speak of any listed employ by name but rather by number. Board members approved the schedule without comment.

Thursday, already out of town, Rausch said he might take part-time work in the future but described his departure from MUSD duties as “divorcing” himself from the district.

Rausch has been a chief finance officer under various titles and at various locations for 28 years. He was an auditor for nine years in Washington state. He was CFO of schools for 16 years, including the Walla Walla School District.

He left Walla Walla after not seeing eye-to-eye with a new superintendent and started as business director for MUSD in the middle of the semester. He was the district’s seventh business manager in five years.

MUSD earned awards from the Government Finance Officers Associations and Arizona Association of School Business Officials for each of the past 10 years.


Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition

Released Nov. 12, U.S. Department of Health released an updated version of its “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.” It reflects the extensive amount of new knowledge gained since the first edition, released in 2008. Here are 10 areas of knowledge covered in the guidelines:

  1. Preschool-aged children (ages 3-5 years) should be physically active 3 hours throughout the day to enhance growth and development.
  2. Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 1 hour or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily: Aerobic, muscle-training or bone-strengthening.
  3. Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.
  4. Adults should do at least 2.5 to 5 hours a week of moderate-intensity, or 1.25 to 2.5 a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
  5. Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
  6. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
  7. As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multicomponent physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
  8. Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.
  9. Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.
  10. When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

This item appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

A variety of Caterpillar equipment moves dirt on the large parcel that is planned to be Apex Motor Club.

As Apex Motor Club begins to rise out of 278 acres on the northwest corner of State Route 238 and Ralston Road, Club members have specific expectations for the private racetrack.

Joe Rueda of Scottsdale drives a BMW M3 as a dedicated racecar and a Porsche as his street car.

He has been involved with Apex Motor Club since Jason Plotke, Matt Williams and Jim Beatty first started talking about the idea. Rueda became a member as soon as the club officially formed three years ago.

“We would drive on other racetracks, and it was so much fun, but it was so far away,” he said. The site in Maricopa, he said, was perfect.

“You can’t drop a racetrack in the middle of a residential area,” Rueda said, “so the land in Maricopa was perfect and the size was perfect.”

There are three fundamentals club members will expect from Apex, said Rueda, whose car enthusiasm began with his childhood Matchbox collection.

1. One is visceral connection. He bought his first car two years before he could legally drive it and learned how to maintain and fix it. The experience of driving a car, tinkering with it to improve its handling and then driving it again to see if the tinkering helped is an integral part of a private track.

2. Drivers also want a course designed for car people by car people. Apex is expected to be a place where they interact with their cars in a way they cannot on the street. Rueda said today’s sports cars far exceed what drivers can do with them on a public road. With so much automatic response now, he said, the automotive industry is taking away the driving experience in day-to-day life.

3. The most important aspect of a car club, he said, is the camaraderie with other enthusiasts and being able to compare experiences. Many of the friends he has made over the years have come through the car culture.

Rueda said the positive response the project received from City Hall and from the residents was fortifying when the legal opposition arose. “It made it easier to plow through,” he said. “If [the City] had waffled a little, I don’t know if we would have had the confidence to keep on going.”

Plotke, who is president of Private Motorsports Group, said the plan is to open Apex “early next year.”

“We’re not developers that are going to move on to the next city and sell this,” Plotke said. “We want to have our kids and their kids work here and have something that a lot of people can enjoy for a long period of time.”

Plotke said Apex intends to be involved in the community and involve the community in the facility, such as police training. Even beyond that, Rueda said philanthropy is important to all the members of the club. He expects that to become evident in Maricopa.

This story was published in part in the December issue of InMaricopa.

At the State of the City event in October, Mayor Christian Price announced changes in the business license process for the City of Maricopa.

That amounts to eliminating business licensing and creating instead a business registry.

Nov. 6, staff detailed how a registry would work. The process is set to go into effect Jan. 1.

“We believe that good, business-friendly regulations, while ensuring public safety and strong customer protections, just make good business sense,” Price said.

Economic Development Director Denyse Airheart said the state’s transaction privilege tax process now makes city licensing redundant. The registry, she said will allow City Hall to track the types of businesses in town.

“This is a voluntary program,” she said.

The Business Registry Program will be an online process. Instead of $50 for a business license, companies can register for $10 annually. The BRP will not eliminate the necessity of permits and zoning.

Information asked on the one-page, online Business Registry Program:

New or existing business
VA or Nonprofit
Full name of business owner/representative
Primary phone
Primary email address
Business name/DBA
Physical address of business
Business sector
Description of business
Transaction Privilege Tax identification number
Acknowledge legal disclaimer

“The goal is to make conducting business in the City of Maricopa as easy and simple as possible,” Airheart said. “So the businesses and entrepreneurs of the community drive innovation, and we want to make sure their experience here is a positive experience.”

The current system captures “a ton of data,” she said. “It’s very deceiving but it’s multiple pages with multiple attachments, and it could be a little bit frustrating for individuals.”

The hope is that the new BRP will make the process as simple as possible for the business owner while still capturing key information for City Hall.

Price called it, “User-friendly, less expensive and much faster.”

Nonprofits and veteran-owned business are exempted from the $10 annual fee.

When questioned about the verification process for businesses claiming to be veteran-owned or nonprofit, City Manager Rick Horst said, “We’ll take them at their word… Frankly, if they’re not honest, it’s going to catch up with them sooner or later.”

In December, the City will notify active and inactive business license holders about the change. It will also be notifying chambers of commerce and business-resource groups.

“One of the biggest things we’ve heard from the local businesses is ‘Marketing, marketing, marketing. How can people find out about me?’” Airheart said. “This is going to be a great way. If we know about you, we can be a great tool to get your information out to the public because this is going to be accessible to everyone.”

While business licensing is no longer deemed necessary, it did provide information the city still needs, such as “accurate revenue projections for budget preparation,” Price said. The registry is expected to provide that kind of information.

He said the City should expect speed bumps with any new process and has asked staff to report back a year after launch to discuss what does and does not work.

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

Economist Elliott Pollack says 2019 will be a good year.

Economist Elliott Pollack is bullish on 2019.

“Enjoy yourself,” he said. “It’s going to be great year.”

The CEO of Elliott D. Pollack and Company presented his annual economic forecast to Pinal Partnership at Rawhide Friday morning.

A recession is anticipated, but Pollack said it would not happen in 2019 though it is possible later.

“Not all recessions are the same,” he said. “What you’re looking at is short and shallow.”

With home prices now back above recession levels, Arizona real estate has fully recovered, Pollack said.

Taking nearly a decade, the recovery was old but strong, he said. Consumer confidence is high, and labor is coming back. The greater Phoenix area is responsible for 88 percent of the state’s job growth.

Lack of labor is a concern nationwide, however. Pollack said there are 7 million unfilled jobs in the nation. That means companies will have to pay higher wages to fill those jobs, causing the employment-cost index to rise, which leads to higher prices.

The stock market has been a roller-coaster ride this year. Pollack said though bear markets are reason to be concerned, “the stock market is a bad predictor of recession.”

In attendance, Maricopa City Councilmember Marvin Brown said he was concerned about the national debt, which is now at $21.9 trillion. It is a problem of many nations.

“The U.S. is the prettiest house on a very ugly block,” Pollack agreed. “Ultimately some generation is going to pay for all this debt, but it’s not your generation.”

With representatives of Central Arizona Project and Global Water in the room, he also pushed back on the notion that Arizona will soon face a water shortage. He said farmers and ranchers continue to turn their homes over to development, which uses less water than agriculture.

“Water flows toward money, and money is in industry and housing,” he said. “There will not be a water shortage in the greater Phoenix area in my lifetime or the lifetime of anyone in this room.”

Pollack also said the media is making more out of a trade war than it deserves. He called it a trade skirmish that “would have a minor impact on the U.S. economy.” Further, he said, China cannot win a trade war because 20 percent of its gross domestic product comes from exports while in the United States it is less than 10 percent.

Real estate in the Valley and Pinal County is in a good situation. New home inventory is low with no signs of an oversupply of homes. Builders are battling supply-side constraints, meaning production is unable to keep pace with demand.

Pollack predicted the entire demand for new housing will be from the millennial generation. “There’s going to be a lot more of them, and a lot more of them will be buying houses.”

The impact of the Great Recession on millennials is still playing out. That generation saw greater acceptance of large amounts of student debt, delayed marriage, often moved back into the parental home to save money and became less materialistic than their parents’ generation.

A new report by Bank of America found millennials now prioritize home-ownership over marriage and starting a family. No. 1 on their list of priorities is being able to retire.

While many millennials still believe outmoded information about homeownership, probably passed down to them by their parents, their buying behavior will dictate the future economy.

Pollack told real estate agents to expect millennial homebuying to “skyrocket over the next five years.”

Photo by Dean Crandall


As Copper Sky looks for more revenue streams, a proposal to change rates and fees is before the public. Maricopa City Council approved the policy in November and is scheduled to vote on the fee changes Jan. 15.

Community Services Director Nathan Ullyot called them “significant changes.”

The shifts in the proposal are meant to herd members toward an annual membership, which will be less expensive, especially for couples. The proposal does not include monthly rates but increases the six-month membership fees for couples and families and increases for daily punch passes.

“We’re really looking to add value to your Copper Sky membership,” Ullyot said.

A point of contention has been the change for senior citizens. Under the current rates, single seniors and senior couples pay 40 percent less than the adult fees. But senior rates are excluded in the proposal. The new fee schedule puts them level with military veterans, which is a 10-percent discount.

City Councilmember Nancy Smith, expressing concern for retirees on limited incomes during the November meeting, encouraged seniors to offer feedback about the proposal. Joan Koczor of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee also reached out to constituents on her senior-activity newsletter urging seniors to get involved.

Copper Sky Resident Memberships

Monthly                              1 Adult                 2 Adults               Family
Current                                      $35                        $55                        $65
Proposed                                   N/A                       N/A                       N/A

Six months                        1 Adult                 2 Adults               Family
Current                                   $180                       $280                       $420
Proposed                                $210                       $336                        $420
($35/mo)              ($56/mo)               ($70/mo)

Yearly                                 1 Adult                 2 Adults               Family
Current                                  $338                       $540                       $676
Proposed                               $336                       $504                       $672
($28/mo)              ($42/mo)               ($56/mo)

However, unlike the current schedule, a department proposal would allow scholarships for membership fees. The scholarship is based on federal income guidelines. Those who provide proof of income at 100 percent the poverty level (one person $12,140) could get another 30-percent discount along with the standard senior discount of 10 percent. Those at 200 percent the poverty level can receive 15 percent off.

Proposed Discounts
Veterans/Seniors            10%
Youth/Students               50%
Group                                 1-10%
Corporate                          1-50%

According to city numbers, more than 1,400 of the 1,800 senior memberships are paid for through programs like Silver Sneakers, Optum and Silver and Fit. Some insurance companies are changing their funding of those programs or even switching programs.

Ullyot will discuss some of the proposed solutions for senior memberships with the Age-Friendly Committee at its Dec. 17 meeting.

The proposed fee schedule was post Oct. 31, and residents are asked to respond within 60 days of that date.

Punch Passes and Daily Rates

20 punches                        Adult     Youth   Senior
Current                                   $50        $38        $40
Proposed                                $150      $75        $120

Day Pass                              Adult     Youth   Senior
Current                                    $5           $3           $4
Proposed                                 $10         $5           $8

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

It’s not unusual for a large corporation to experience technical difficulties, but the communication issues at Maricopa Unified School District this week had a dark source.

“We noticed extreme spikes of data usage and pockets of data being dropped onto our network with traffic that was not supposed to be there,” district spokesperson Mishell Terry said.

Schools reported intermittent phone and Internet outages, and the tech department monitored network traffic to find the hack. The intrusion affected communications district-wide.

By Thursday, the Internet was running again but the district was still troubleshooting issues with the phones.

“CenturyLink teamed with our technology crew to make network changes in order to block the attack,” Terry said. “There are still some glitches in our phone lines due to the changes to our network.”

The source of the hack?

“We haven’t identified the software used for the attack.”

Linda and Rich Huggins bring Christmas into their home along with Santa and Mrs. Claus every year. Photo courtesy Random Shots

Every year, Santa and Mrs. Claus appear for a month or two at the Desert Cedars home of Rich and Linda Huggins.

Q&A with Santa & Mrs. Claus

Q: Some people leave out cookies and cocoa for Santa. What treat would you really like?
SANTA: Tacos! We don’t have tacos at the North Pole, and Santa loves tacos.

Q: How do you decide who gets on the Naughty list?
SANTA: I leave that to Mrs. Claus.

Q: How long does it take you to get dressed for your Christmas Eve journey?
SANTA: About 20 minutes. I have two elves to help.

Q: What part of your outfit takes the longest?
MRS. CLAUS: The belt. It’s very heavy and very authentic.

Q: What do the reindeer like to snack on while they are waiting for Santa?
SANTA: Apples and carrots.

Q: What is your favorite song of the season?
SANTA: “White Christmas.” I like all of them.

Q How do you stay organized and keep track of so many children?
SANTA: Mrs. Claus keeps the books, and Santa checks the books.

Q: How do you choose your elves?
MRS. CLAUS: It’s a very popular thing to be an elf. We have to rotate every week.

Q: Does Santa really give naughty children coal for Christmas?
SANTA: Mrs. Claus does.

Q: What does Santa do after Christmas?
MRS. CLAUS: We’re going on a cruise!

Usually for four weekends (this year it’s five), they welcome young visitors, listen to their Christmas wishes and send them off with a candy cane. It has come to be known as Santa’s South Pole vacation home as he prepares for the big night.

Starting the week after Thanksgiving and continuing through the weekend before Christmas, Santa and Mrs. Claus are available Friday and Saturday 6-9 p.m. and Sunday 6-8 p.m. at 44267 W. Cypress Lane.

“Normally, we call it the 12 days of Christmas, but this year it’s 15 days because of how the calendar falls,” Linda Huggins said.

Since moving to Maricopa in 2005, the Hugginses have presented the Claus couple. Several families have told them they are the real beginning of Maricopa’s Christmas season.

“We had 75 kids the first year,” said Linda Huggins, who chairs the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission. “Last year, we had 885. We keep track by the number of candy canes we give out.”

When it was time for Santa to get a new outfit last year, they turned to local Amanda McVay of Amanda Sews. This year, it was Mrs. Claus’ turn to get a new ensemble from Amanda Sews after dramatic weight loss over a dozen years.

Happily taking the title of “Maricopa Santa,” they are also seen at public events such as the City Hall tree lighting, Merry Copa and Shop with a Cop. But sitting down with children and even having their picture taken with them is the heart of what they do.

“We take time with every child,” said Rich Huggins, who owns Maricopa Pool & Spa.

Maricopa Santa has a website operated by Linda’s son Ken Bobertz and a Facebook page, even getting “reviewed” by visitors.

Like Beth Mundell, who shared, “They are the best and benefit the community,” and whose cheer team members from Rockstar Arizona led the parade for Santa’s arrival Nov. 23.

The event involves three houses on Cypress Lane. The Hugginses said they always register their home for the City’s Holiday Homes on Parade, not to win but to be on the map.

“We have close to 100,000 lights,” Linda Huggins said.

There is no charge to visit with Santa, but the Hugginses are asking visitors to bring unwrapped toys to benefit F.O.R. Maricopa’s annual Christmas project. Anyone who brings a toy will receive a raffle ticket. The Hugginses also sponsor a family for Christmas.

Rich and Linda said it is their way of giving back.

Linda Huggins said she was on the welfare roles 35 years ago. She and her children were fortunate enough to be sponsored for Christmas by Catholic Charities, receiving dinner and presents.

“I promised God I was going to give back,” she said.

“We have memories that will last a lifetime,” Rich Huggins said.

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

Pima Butte Elementary is again an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

They don’t just teach students.

How did they do that?

Butterfield Elementary’s successful strategy to rise from a C to an A school:

  • Revamp the master schedule
  • Use data results to set grade-level and school-wide goals
  • Use results-based funding to equip third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students with 1-to-1 laptops
  • Reconfigure classes to better prepare students

Learn more about Butterfield’s turnaround in the next issue of InMaricopa.

Maricopa’s A-rated elementary schools can teach other educators how to improve their schools.

Butterfield Elementary had the most dramatic improvement, moving from a C to an A. It is the first A-rating for the Maricopa Unified School District school. Butterfield was not a “bad” school a year ago. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman pointed out its C rating was just five points away from a B.

Similarly, other elementary schools in the district were only a few percentage points from the next grade up this year.

Maricopa Elementary was 0.5 from an A. Santa Rosa Elementary 0.89 away from an A. Santa Cruz Elementary was 1.88 away from an A. Saddleback Elementary was less than 3 points from a B.

“I think the district as a whole is really doing well,” said Betty Graham, who teaches fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary. “They’re working wonders, going up and up and up.”

Pima Butte, like the high-achieving charter school Legacy Traditional, is more old-hat at receiving A ratings, but it had to rise above a B last year after missing an A by just 4 percentage points through the more demanding AzMerit test. With ratings reliant on results of AzMerit, there was a lot of pressure on third, fourth and fifth grade students and their teachers.

“That A rating didn’t come easy,” PBES Principal Randy Lazar said. “It was a lot of hard work on behalf of our teaching team as well as the assistants with our students and also the support of our parents. It was a collective effort by our entire team.”

“We prepare with our rigorous curriculum each and every day in preparation for the big event,” said fifth-grade teacher Jessica Ansley.

Lazar said a brand new language arts curriculum and a relatively new math curriculum have helped create a very comprehensive academic experience and prepare the students for AzMerit or any other test.

Pima Butte was an A-rated school before there was an A rating. The state’s first rating system gauged schools on whether they met or exceeded the standard. PBES was an “excelling” school. When the grade ratings began, eyes lit up on campus.

“We were going to get an A, I remember that,” Graham said. “That’s what was on our minds, the kids’ minds, everybody’s mind. We were going to do it. They had an A; we were going to get it.”

Ansley called it teaching vigorously bell to bell.

At Pima Butte that means “lots of repetition,” third-grade teacher Denise Palmer said. “There’s no down-time, really. Coming from second to third grade is a big transition for these kids, so from the first day in, we’re hitting the ground running.”

The students do hit the books, but they also experiment with what they’ve learned in the classroom through hands-on activities. Positive reinforcement works wonders in galvanizing students to achieve.

Lazar said his main advice for other Arizona elementary schools trying to rise to a higher grade is to focus on student growth.

“We get our test results from the spring and then look to see how did each student perform,” he said. “If we have students that scored minimally proficient, that’s the group you want to put a lot of attention on the next school year. The way the state calculates the letter grade is when you have kids grow. It’s a growth model as far as earning the points.”

Meanwhile, he said, it is also important to maintain kids who are already at proficient or highly proficient.

A voter-approved override helped fund carts of technology in Netbooks and Chromebooks. The new equipment allowed the students to get more practice in the basic use of a computer. Lazar said that is key when taking the online-based AzMerit.

“Our whole focus last school year was just doing the best we could to prepare our third, fourth and fifth graders for AzMerit,” Lazar said. “Also what helped – AIMS Science, which is given in fourth grade, we were able to earn points for that, so that was factored in.”

There is also a lot of communication between teachers at different grade levels, Palmer said. Teachers share ideas that worked or didn’t work, they share information on the best approach for certain students, and they share ideas among campuses within the district.

Graham said she goes back to her students’ third-grade teachers to compare notes as a way to measure how students are progressing.

“And we’re very competitive, in a good way,” Graham said.

Pima Butte has approximately 465 students enrolled, about 100 of whom live outside the school’s boundaries. Because the override allowed the creation of new teaching positions, every classroom is in use.

MUSD Board Member Joshua Judd, a teacher in another district, said Pima Butte is the reason his children attend MUSD and are involved in Maricopa. “Pima Butte pulled my children into the city,” he said.

“We do what we need to do, and we do it in a fun and engaging way,” Ansley said.

There is no time for “filler.” Coloring days, extra recesses, non-curriculum videos – not at Pima Butte.

“My kids know,” Palmer said. “They will tell you, ‘Gotta do the work before we can have the fun.’ That’s the way it is. That’s how life is, isn’t it?”

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

Linda and Jenny Zarogoza in their Homestead home with some of the weighted blankets have have been making for the Autism Academy. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


Jenny Zarogoza’s grandson has autism. Her sister Linda Zarogoza’s grandson was diagnosed with cancer as a baby.

The Homestead residents both understand the need for a child’s stress relief. That is the purpose of weighted blankets, which have trended upward recently after being used only as a therapy tool for many years.

What’s not stress-relieving about a weighted blanket is its cost, with prices usually ranging from $100 to $250.

The Zarogozas sew. A lot. Their Maricopa business, Mythical Gardens LLC, creates cosplay and steampunk outfits, but learning of the benefits of weighted blankets for children with autism, cancer and sleep disorders, they set their sewing skills on a new task.

They created a side interest, Mythical Children, to make weighted blankets for the students at the Autism Academy. Jenny’s grandson attends Chandler campus. There are four campuses in the Valley, each with around 200 students.

When Jenny offered to make weighted blankets for the school, administrators asked for only nine, not wanting to be a burden on the Zarogozas. Instead, they set a goal for 250.

“The beads for the weighted blankets are costly but well worth it for our children,” Jenny said. “My sister Linda is sewing up a storm and my daughter Mayling weighing all the beads out. This is a huge project and any help will be appreciated.”

They are asking for help in the form of funds (they have set up a account for the project), as well as donated blankets, fabric, thread, scissors, ribbon, quilt blocks and other necessities. That includes pellets, which are used as the weights while adding sensory texture to the blankets.

“We’re at a stand-still right now until we can get more pellets,” Jenny Zarogoza said. “Once we get more pellets, we’ve got like 60 blankets to finish up.”

Linda Zarogoza said they have also heard from therapists “who want to use them for the patients when they come in. If they just lay it on their laps, it will calm them down, so they can have a communication.”

While studies on the efficacy of weighted blankets have had mixed results, a 2014 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found children with autism favored the weighted blankets over other blankets. The weighted blankets are described by many in the field as feeling like a hug, giving a sense of security and reduction of anxiety.

Weighted blankets typically should be about 10 percent of the child’s weight. That weight, of course, changes as the child grows. Jenny Zarogoza said they are constructed as an insert that can be removed and more pellets added to increase the weight.

They have the measuring and sewing time down to two hours per blanket.

The sisters said any funds left over from the project will go directly to the children’s programs. 
Mythical Children c/o Mythical Garden
20987 N. John Wayne Parkway, B104-153
Maricopa AZ 85139


Community of Hope's 14th annual Living Nativity is outside the church across the street from Maricopa High School. File photo

For 13 years, Community of Hope has presented its Living Nativity program, even as the church changed locations to 45295 W. Honeycutt Ave. Three years ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints next door began a traditional Creche display of scores of nativity sets from around the world.

This year, the two are joining forces to present a unique and spiritual reflection on the beginnings of Christianity. Both churches will have their programs Dec. 8 from 5 to 8 p.m.

Community of Hope Pastor Rusty Akers said both are come-and-go events, with his 14th annual living nativity cycling through several performances during the evening. Church members perform the roles in an outdoor set with narration from the New Testament.

“It’s become a Christmas tradition for many people,” Akers said. “If you’ve never been, we’d love to invite you out.”

Bishop Brian Hoffman said the Creche Festival had more than 100 nativity sets on display last year and he expects even more this year. Besides the United States, the sets come from Mexico, Israel, Europe, South America and elsewhere. The tour is self-guided and at your own pace.

“These are depictions from the life of Christ,” Hoffman said. “So, sit back and remember the purpose of the Christmas season.”

Both churches are on Honeycutt Avenue across from Maricopa High School. After visitors enjoy one program, they are invited to walk next door to experience the other. Both will have refreshments and children’s activities.

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.



Both sides in a lawsuit against Pinal County over a tax to improve roads are now waiting for a judge to decide whether that tax can continue to be collected during appeals.

The Goldwater Institute’s suit against the county and the Arizona Department of Revenue remains alive after a Maricopa County Tax Court ruled against the county in the case, Harold Vangilder et al. v. Arizona Department of Revenue et al., earlier this year. The defendants are preparing to file an appeal in the Arizona Court of Appeals Division 1.

The tax-court judgment was officially filed Nov. 15.

“It’s unfortunate the county is going to waste taxpayers’ money appealing this case when they’ve already wasted taxpayer money on the issue they were warned was illegal before the election,” Goldwater attorney Timothy Sandefur said.

At the center of the argument is Prop 417, approved by county voters in 2017. It is the funding mechanism for Prop 416, which is a plan to improve several roadways in Pinal County, including State Route 347. The Goldwater Institute, a conservative thinktank that litigates public-policy issues across the country, spoke out against Prop 417 during the campaign.

Joseph Kanefield, attorney for Pinal County, asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Whitten to stay the enforcement of the tax-court ruling and allow the collected monies to continue to be put into escrow until the case is finally resolved.

Whitten took up the motion Monday.

“He’s a judge who takes his time to weigh all the consequences of his decision,” Sandefur said.

Sandefur’s stand is that Pinal County opted to ignore the appropriate method of collecting sales tax for a funding project and instead devised a “scheme” that would exclude big-ticket businesses like auto dealerships, farming equipment dealers and others selling items that would generate more than $10,000 in sales tax. Kanefield argued the proposition as voted on by the public was not in the form as presented to the tax court by the plaintiffs.

“We believe the tax court erred in his ruling in terms of what was presented to the voters versus the resolution originally proposed by the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority,” Kanefield said. “Ultimately, the way the tax was structured was within the scope of the state statute that allows the RTA to propose a tax at a variable or modified rate, which is exactly what they did.”

Kanefield said if Judge Whitten rules against his motion to stay the enforcement of the tax-court ruling, he will include that issue with his appeal to the higher court.

Collection of the tax has never been suspended.

“A general principal of tax law is you don’t enjoin or stop the collection of a tax that’s being challenged in court,” Kanefield said, “because the ramifications of that are pretty severe.”

Meanwhile, Sandefur has an appeal of his own after the court denied his motion to collect $12,000 in attorney’s fees from the defendants in the case.

Pinal County has until mid-December to file its intention to appeal. Kanefield said he may ask the appeals court for an expedited process. He estimated the briefings could be completed by spring, “unless we can get the court to act quicker.”

The Casa Grande chapter of CVMA hosts the John Wayne Poker Run. Submitted photo

A Pinal County chapter of Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association is revving motors for the second John Wayne Poker Run on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway on Saturday.

The event starts with registration at 9 a.m. at the Dunkin Donuts, 1306 E. Florence Blvd. in Casa Grande, followed by kickstands up at 10 a.m. The event is a fundraiser for homeless vets, at-risk vets and suicide prevention, CVMA member Rhiannon Williams said.

“Most of the stops will be in Maricopa,” she said. Though the chapter is based in Casa Grande, “there’s a decent group of us in Maricopa.”

CVMA, a 501(c)19 organization, expects to rally at the New HQ at around 10:45 a.m. Then it’s onto Raceway at 11:45 a.m. The itinerary brings them to Cowtown at 12:45 p.m. and then to Eva’s, 665 N. Pinal Ave. in Casa Grande around 1:45 p.m. There, they will hand out awards and hold a 50/50 raffle.

Riders draw a poker card at each location, and the one who has the best hand at the end of the run is a winner.

Cost to participate in the poker run is $15 per rider and $5 per passenger. Williams said those who are not motorcyclists are invited to participate in the raffle.

The poker run is also a way for the CVMA chapter, founded in 2017, to interact with the public and spread the word about the organization.

This year, the 12 Days of Christmas will be 15 days at the Huggins home. Photo by Kyle Norby

If You Go
What: Maricopa Santa
When: Nov. 23-Dec. 23, Friday-Saturday 6-9 p.m., Sunday 6-8 p.m.
Where: 44267 W. Cypress Lane
How much: Free (please bring an unwrapped toy)

Santa and Mrs. Claus are getting ready for the 2018 Christmas season. This Friday launches their annual 12 Days of Christmas, inviting children to “South Pole Vacation Home” in Desert Cedars.

The home of Rich and Linda Huggins at 44267 W. Cypress Lane will be open Fridays and Saturdays 6-9 p.m. and Sundays 6-8 p.m. through Dec. 23 for children to visit with Santa. This year is special as the calendar allows five weekends, or 15 Days of Christmas.

The visit with Santa is free. Those who visit are asked to bring an unwrapped toy to benefit F.O.R. Maricopa Food Bank’s Christmas program.

The big opening celebration Friday will have Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving on a Maricopa Fire/Medical Department truck escorted by cheerleaders from Beth Mundell’s RockStar Arizona.

“We take time with every child,” said Rich Huggins, who owns Maricopa Pool & Spa and is known as Maricopa Santa.

Every child also receives a candy cane. All who bring a toy will receive a raffle ticket. The winning ticket for a 40-inch television will be drawn Dec. 23 at 7 p.m.

Maricopa Santa has a website operated by Linda’s son Ken Bobertz and a Facebook page.

The event involves three houses on Cypress Lane. The Hugginses said they always register their home for the City’s Holiday Homes on Parade, not to win but to be on the map.

“We have close to 100,000 lights,” Linda Huggins said.

Photo by Kye Norby

Both Santa and Mrs. Claus will be in their finest ensembles. Last year, local seamstress Amanda McVay of Amanda Sews created a new outfit for Santa as his previous clothes were getting worn out by time and the many children who have been on his knee.

This year, McVay made a whole new outfit for Mrs. Claus after having to take in the old dress a few times due to dramatic weight loss.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” Linda Huggins said.

She said many parents have told her the visit with Santa after Thanksgiving has become their families’ traditional way to start the Christmas season.

“We had 75 kids the first year,” said Linda Huggins, who chairs the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission. “Last year, we had 885. We keep track by the number of candy canes we give out.”

Rich Huggins has been Maricopa Santa since they moved to Maricopa in 2005. They opened their Desert Cedars home to visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus in 2006. After Christmas, they head off on vacation.

But even when visiting Caribbean shores in his vacation togs, there’s no mistaking Santa. Just as he does when he helps the mayor light the tree at City Hall or helps local fire and police departments with their Christmas programs, he always draws a crowd.

Learn more about the Hugginses in the December issue of InMaricopa.


Maricopa Agricultural Center hosted its annual Fun Family Farm Day on Saturday. Residents of all ages experienced old skills like pumping water and milking a cow, but also climbed on new farming equipment and learned about agricultural science. There were also live animals and a tour of MAC’s facilities.

Butterfield Elementary showed off its new banner designating it as an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

How did they do that?

Butterfield Elementary’s successful strategy to rise from a C to an A school:
*  Revamp the master schedule
*  Use data results to set grade-level and school-wide goals
*  Use results-based funding to equip third through fifth grade students with 1-to-1 laptops
*  Reconfigure classes to better prepare students

Arizona Department of Education announced school letter grades during Fall Break at Maricopa Unified School District. For at least two campuses, that resulted in a buzz of emails, texts and phone calls to make sure everyone heard the news they had achieved the top rating.

Pima Butte and Butterfield elementary schools were given A ratings. Wednesday, the district and governing board formally recognized their achievement during a board meeting.

Butterfield Elementary had the most dramatic improvement, moving from a C to an A. It is the first A-rating for the school. To be sure, Butterfield was not a “bad” school a year ago. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman pointed out its previous C rating was just five points away from a B.

Similarly, other elementary schools in the district were only a few percentage points from the next grade up this year.

Maricopa Elementary, which achieved Lighthouse status, was 0.5 from an A. Santa Rosa Elementary 0.89 away from an A. Santa Cruz Elementary was 1.88 away from an A. The only MUSD elementary with a C, Saddleback Elementary was less than 3 points from a B.

“I think the district as a whole is really doing well,” said Betty Graham, who teaches fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary. “They’re working wonders, going up and up and up.”

Pima Butte, like the high achieving charter school Legacy Traditional, is more old-hat at receiving A ratings, but it had to rise above a B last year after missing an A by just 4 percentage points. With ratings reliant on results of the AzMerit testing, there was a lot of pressure on third, fourth and fifth grade students and their teachers.

“That A rating didn’t come easy,” PBES Principal Randy Lazar said. “It was a lot of hard work on behalf of our teaching team as well as the assistants with our students and also the support of our parents. It was a collective effort by our entire team.”

Lazar said his main advice for other Arizona elementary schools trying to rise to a higher grade is to focus on student growth.

“We get our test results from the spring and then look to see how did each student perform,” he said. “If we have students that scored minimally proficient, that’s the group you want to put a lot of attention on the next school year. The way the state calculates the letter grade is when you have kids grow. It’s a growth model as far as earning the points.”

Butterfield Principal Janel Hildick expressed a similar sentiment for Wednesday’s honor.

“It’s not just about how many students are passing but how effective we are as teachers, how our students are growing. This year we scored 49.3 out of 50 possible points for growing our students.”

Teachers credited improvements to the voter-approved override, which allowed for more technology and more teachers to reduce class sizes. Funds helped buy carts of technology in Netbooks and Chromebooks. The new equipment allowed the students to get more practice in the basic use of a computer. Lazar said that is key when taking the online-based AzMerit, which is the state standard.

The district’s high school and two middle schools received C ratings.

Learn more about Pima Butte Elementary’s success strategy in the upcoming December issue of InMaricopa.

Pima Butte Elementary is again an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Peed property was once envisioned as a site for City Hall. Now it sits without infrastructure and is used to store asphalt. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


From State Route 238 to Stanfield, the City of Maricopa owns a wide array of land parcels. Since 2004, the City has acquired about $143 million in property.

While there are parks, public buildings, streets, rights of way and other uses on much of the property, City Hall has some parcels listed simply as “miscellaneous,” and there are still undeveloped acres. The City has plans for some parcels, but others will sit empty for the foreseeable future.

“We are doing the city an injustice by not developing these properties,” Councilwoman Julia Gusse said. “Our predecessors did a great job of securing these properties for future development and growth; it’s time we put them to good use.”

One of the longest-held properties has been the most divisive and the least likely to be developed any time soon.


Called the Peed property and noted as miscellaneous, the 11-acre parcel on SR 238 cost the city $1.2 million in 2006.

“It has no water; it has no utilities,” Councilmember Marvin Brown said. “The city bought it because a former council member pushed the former council to do so.”

The property initially was brought to the council as 150 acres for a possible location of a city hall. At the time, the council was set to spend $14.6 million for it. Steve Baker, then-councilmember, was a real estate agent representing property owner Dennis Peed. While Baker recused himself from votes on the matter, it was a relationship that vexed residents and other Realtors.

After months of debate in 2006, the City ended up buying only the southern portion of the property abutting SR 238. Its continued lack of infrastructure keeps it on a backburner, but some current councilmembers have ideas.

Councilmember Nancy Smith said her vision of the SR 238 corridor is “something similar to the Price Road Corridor in Chandler. Basically, it would include light industrial businesses with high paying jobs.”

Vice Mayor Peg Chapados, who is leaving city council in December, said she, too, sees a major transportation corridor, “a development with elements that complement surrounding growth and that offers the benefits and accessibility of being on SR 238.”

Though there has been little recent city discussion about the Peed property, Councilmember Vincent Manfredi sees it being part of a thriving business park, though it is used as asphalt storage now. There are caveats.

“The city only owns a tiny portion of the surrounding area,” Manfredi said. “Much of the development of the Peed properly rests on the shoulders of surrounding development. Before anything can really be accomplished with the Peed property, there are some flood-zone limitations that must be corrected.


City Center as space for commercial and residential. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


In 2008, Maricopa acquired 129 acres off White and Parker Road for City Hall and a city center at a cost of $3 million. Five years later, the City Hall building ($14.5 million) and police station ($3.9 million) were completed, but there remain wide open spaces for development. What kind of development has been an ongoing discussion this year. Its full cash value now is $12.6 million.

Smith said her vision for city center correlates with an open house held earlier this year for public feedback. “It would include civic buildings, small businesses, diverse housing and restaurants,” she said. “It would be walkable, have open space and be a place to meet up with family and friends.”

Chapados said it should be an area “where people come to live, work, play, learn, socialize and recreate.” Manfredi said it could be something “similar to the Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix.”

Copper Sky is more than just a park but is intended for commercial development, including a hotel. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


In 2010, the City acquired part of Bowlin Plaza property that was to become Copper Sky and the police substation at Copper Sky. The cost of the five acres for the substation and 118.5 acres for the park was $6.8 million. Another $15.9 million was invested in the recreation center and aquatic center in 2014.

From the beginning, Copper Sky was seen as more than a park. A recent contract with Commercial Properties Inc. aims at commercial development on city land between the park and John Wayne Parkway, to be anchored by a hotel.

Chapados wants the area to create the “sense of place” developers have long talked about for Maricopa. “A robust combination of retail, a hotel or two, and possibly residential units that complement Copper Sky as an active, vibrant recreation and aquatic destination to be enjoyed year-round.”

Cecil Yates, property management director for CPI, told the Maricopa City Council he already had three hotel users interested. “They want to stick shovels in the ground as soon as possible,” Yates said.

“I think you’ll find that at the end of the day the City will sell that land, but it will be to restaurateurs, hoteliers, residential units, shops, all those type of things,” City Manager Rick Horst said. “The public benefit will come in a lot of forms, to include the revenues needed to support Parks and Rec and Public Safety, but also lifestyle.”

Estrella Gin Business Park. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


Maricopa purchased the Estrella Gin property for $3.1 million in 2011. It has been intended for a light industrial business park. Manfredi also imagines a container park.

“This property has a lot of potential, if we can find the right developer to work with us as a city,” he said.

But it has been a struggle to bring in companies. The City ended its agreement with The Boyer Company, which produced no tenants or buildings in four years, and Economic Development Director Denyse Airheart said the city may have a new developer on board soon.

“My experience tells me the market gets it right about 85 percent of the time, and government gets it right about 30 percent of the time, so we have to create partnerships,” Horst said. “There’ll come a time when we don’t have to do that anymore because the market will take over.”

Chapados said she would like the business park to complement “Maricopa’s Heritage District and rich history through design function, and tenancy.” She added it “is poised to be Maricopa’s first job-center/business-park destination that also offers a place to house historically significant components, like a museum. It’s easily accessible with room to grow and lots to offer.”

Maricopa is also heavily invested in the under-construction overpass that will re-create midtown. Smith sees an interesting future coming to the Heritage District that involves Estrella Gin property.

“It would be great to have a nice, historical-looking building that serves as a train depot, café and historical museum by the railroad tracks,” she said. “Close to this building is the pedestrian overpass that allows both communities north and south of the tracks to safely cross the railroad tracks, especially for the high school students who currently cross there.”


  • The area now called Pacana Park was acquired in 2006 for $1.8 million. It was 18 acres. In 2008, the City acquired 10 acres for $700,000 to expand Pacana Park to the south.
  • In 2007, the City – with its municipal fire department taking over for the Maricopa Volunteer Fire Department – purchased scattered pieces of property of 1-3 acres each for future fire stations. The stations have been built on Porter Road, Edison Road, Bowlin Road and Alterra Parkway. There remains one parcel lying well outside the city boundaries but in the middle of Maricopa’s future planning area. What is listed as the Stanfield Site is a one-acre, vacant lot on Pepper Place in Hidden Valley Estates. It was acquired for $10,000 on a quitclaim deed, costing the city nothing, and the council has started discussions of disposing of it.
  • The city acquired the building for the current Maricopa Public Library in 2009 with a sale price of $1.9 million, according to county records.
  • In 2010, Maricopa paid $3 million for a strip of land along the Santa Rosa Wash east of White and Parker Road and south of Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

Vincent Manfredi is a minority owner in InMaricopa.

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

The City of Maricopa helped Apex Motor Club break ground at 22408 N. Ralston Road. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


Three years ago, Jason Plotke and Matt Williams came to Maricopa to look at land for a potential private racetrack.

Thursday, they broke ground on the $33 million project.

“We stood out here three years ago and saw some farmland, and here we are today building a racetrack,” Plotke said. “That’s pretty darn cool if you ask me.”

Two years ago, as Private Motorsports Group, they publicly announced their plans to build Apex Motor Club on 278 acres they purchased as Enterprise 238 LLC. On the northwest corner of State Route 238 and Ralston Road, the property was envisioned as a racetrack, clubhouse, garage condominium and karting complex at a cost of $33 million.

A year ago, Private Motorsports Group had a city use permit but was also battling two anti-Apex entities in the courts. One lawsuit reached the state Supreme Court, where it was denied. The second has had a petition pending before the Supreme Court since August.

The legal battle took a toll and was something “we weren’t sure we’d ever recover from,” Plotke said. “We weren’t sure if we’d be standing here.”

He and Williams were pleasantly surprised by the positive response they received from City Hall for the project from its conception.

“I think it was three years ago Jason and Matt came and sat down with me,” Mayor Christian Price said. “They said, ‘We have this idea and we want to talk to you about it. What do you think?’ And I kind of remember the cringing look on their faces as though they were going to get this, ‘I don’t think we want you here.’ I don’t know if I surprised them or not, but I said, ‘That’s a great idea. When are you starting? We can do that tomorrow.’ I think they laughed at me.”

Making clear he had no hand in bringing Apex to Maricopa, new City Manager Rick Horst said his staff would stay a step ahead of the developers to make sure all permitting is correct.

“I feel like this is a catalytic project,” Horst said. “I feel the need for speed.”

Plotke, who is president of Private Motorsports Group, said the plan is to open Apex “early next year.”

“It almost brings me tears to stand here with all of you and share this moment with all this going on,” Plotke said Thursday morning, gesturing at active dirt-moving equipment on the Apex site. “We’re not developers that are going to move on to the next city and sell this. We want to have our kids and their kids work here and have something that a lot of people can enjoy for a long period of time.

“We want to be a vibrant part of the community.”

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Theatre Company launched “Peter Pan” Thursday night for its weekend production. Starring Taryn Story as Peter and Antonio Gonzales as Hook, the play puts its actors and stage crew to the test with very fun results. The well-known story follows the Darling children as they take up with an ageless boy for a bit of adventure. Using a bit of fairy dust, they fly to Neverland and have a jolly old time with its inhabitants of Lost Boys, warriors and pirates. While there are plenty of opportunities to ham it up for the high-energy cast, there are moments of genuine pathos with the worried Mrs. Darling (Kjirsten Lemon) and the core yearning of the Lost Boys for a mother.

This is Story’s first time in a starring role for the company, and she excels as the petulant, boasting, lonesome child that is Peter. As Hook, Gonzales is a preening, scene-stealing pirate captain, a role that is a near opposite of his previous lead role in last spring’s musical “The Baker’s Wife.” Tots in the opening-night crowd loved him, which is high praise. The Darlings getting to fly with Peter Pan are Genevieve Burno as Wendy, Simon Ty and John and Taya Johnson and Michael, and all are just as they should be. The play is full of action and colorful characters, and the cast goes at it with enthusiasm.

The play is directed by Alexandra Stahl, who draws from her cast a high level of performance that is now expected of MHS Theatre Company. Technical Director Kevin Piquette and his crew put together complicated set pieces that sometimes upstaged the actors with their cleverness. Sound and lighting were near perfect. “Peter Pan” continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and there is also a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5.

Senior Jake Meyer (75) celebrates a touchdown by senior Isaiah Crawford (1) in the first round of the state playoffs, a 42-7 loss. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School football team wound up its season with a loss in the first round of the 5A state playoffs Friday.

The Rams (seeded 15th) lost at second-ranked Williams Field, 42-7, the second time this year they fell to the Black Hawks. But it was a different Maricopa team, missing its starting quarterback and go-to receiver. Sensing the vulnerabilities, Williams Field clamped down on other key players and limited the Rams’ effectiveness.

Junior Daxton Redfern stepped in as quarterback as senior Jordan Huddleston was still not cleared to play after a concussion last week. Senior Jacob Cowing left the game with an injury of his own after grabbing a 38-yard pass on the game’s second play from scrimmage. The Rams could never quite regroup.

“Dax played hard tonight, made some good plays and made mistakes that a lot of young quarterbacks make without a lot of experience,” head coach Brandon Harris said.

Maricopa’s bursts of momentum were often stymied by penalties or turnovers.

The Black Hawks (10-1) scored on each of their three possessions in the first quarter to jump out to 21-0 lead.

The Maricopa offensive and defensive lines showed cracks throughout the first half as Williams Field led 28-0 at the break. That became 35-0 as the Black Hawks scored on their first possession of the third quarter.

The Rams’ only score came on an eight-play drive that started on the 12 yard line in the third quarter and ended in a seven-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Crawford at the beginning of the fourth.

After the game, Harris pulled aside the senior players, who comprised more than half the team. He told the remaining underclassmen to ask themselves who was going to step up next season to fill the vacancies.

“I’m going to work with the guys who are there,” said Harris, who was ending his first season as the Rams head coach. “I’m not going to shake trees or go around neighborhoods and trying to get kids. Whoever shows up is who we get. We’re going to work with who we got and make it work for the best.”

Maricopa ended the season 5-6 overall.

Weather for enjoying the outdoors is predicted this weekend.

A fine weekend is in store, according to the National Weather Service, and that may be welcome news to participants in Saturday’s Relay for Life and the Maricopa Mud Run.

Today, the high is 76 degrees F under sunny skies. Tonight also is set to be clear with a low around 50.

Friday is expected to be sunny with a high near 81 and mild breezes. The overnight low will probably be around 53 while the skies are mostly clear.

Saturday‘s forecast is for a sunny day and a high near 82. The night is expected to turn partly cloudy with a low around 52.

Sunday is likely to be partly sunny with a high near 81. The nightime low may be around 54.

Next week so far looks to be a mostly sunny affair with highs in the low 80s and lows in the low 50s.

Antonio Gonzales is Hook and Taryn Story is Peter Pan in the play to be presented by MHS Theatre Company Nov. 8-10.

One of the first curiosities Alexandra Stahl noticed on becoming the theater teacher at Maricopa High School this year is the affinity the MHS Theatre Company had with Peter Pan without producing the play.

Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up
When: Nov. 8-9 at 7 p.m., Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.
Where: Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: $5
Who: Taryn Story (Peter Pan), Genevieve Burno (Wendy), Antonio Gonzales (Hook), Simon Ty (John), Derek Blakely (Smee), Aidyn Curtis (Princess Tiger Lilly), Taya Johnson (Michael), Kjirsten Lemon (Mrs. Darling), Douglas Moulton (Mr. Darling), Brandon Korittky (Curly), Chief Great Big Little Panther (Nicholas Perez), Emma Schrader (Nana), Alexia Esquivel (Liza), Jae Luna (Slightly), Cannon Jones (Tootles), Julianna Goodrum (Nibs), Zephanie Coleman (Omnes), Hannah Panter (first twin), Alex Hurley (second twin), Kade Cruse (Gentleman Starkey), Tommy Dryden (Cecco), Miles Starks (Bill Jukes), Matthew Ferguson (Noodles), John Jackson (Cookson), Francis Trast (Skylights), Alex-Ann Velasco (Mullens), more than 50 others.

In past performances, company members have performed pieces from musical off-shoots of the J.M. Barrie story like Finding Neverland and Peter and the Starcatcher.

“They just seemed destined to do it,” Stahl said.

The troupe performs the play Nov. 8-10 as its fall production. It is not a musical but the play that originated in 1904.

Though it is her fifth year teaching (she was previously at Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley), this is Stahl’s first with MHS Theatre Company. She worked to get familiar with the program and the students during spring semester.

“Casting was a real process. These kids are insanely talented,” Stahl said. “I’ve never been so proud of a cast.”

Senior Taryn Story plays the title character.

“I really like how it’s written,” she said. “It’s written for kids, but there’s a lot that adults can take out of it.”

Aidyn Curtis is Princess Tiger Lily. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Junior Genevieve Burno, who just finished a production of Cabaret with Maricopa Community Theatre, plays Wendy, the eldest daughter in the Darling household.

“It’s timeless,” she said. “So much can be taken from it.”

Theater tech teacher Kevin Piquette brought in ZFX Flying Effects to mount rigging and teach four of the cast members how to “fly” and the tech crew how to fly them. All had to sign letters of indemnity.

“Logistically, it’s a nightmare,” Piquette said of soaring students, “but I don’t think you can do Peter Pan without it.”

The cave of the Lost Boys is part of the complicated tech for Peter Pan.


Theater teacher Alexandra Stahl talks to the cast during rehearsals. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.


The first Peter Pan, in 1904, was Nina Boucicault.

Nina Boucicault (1904)
Maude Adams (1905)
Zena Dare (1914)
Jean Forbes-Robertson (1927)
Eva LeGallienne (1928)
Mary Martin (1954)
Sandy Duncan (1980)
Cathy Rigby (1990)

Genevieve Burno goes up as flying director Wesley Miller of ZFX Flying Effects provides guidance during rehearsals for “Peter Pan.”