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.

MUSD Board Vice President Ben Owens convinced two other members to vote for a $68 million bond. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A Nov. 5 election ballot won’t be asking voters for a $50 million, $65 million or $75 million bond for Maricopa Unified School District. Instead, three of the five members of the governing board opted to compromise for $68 million.

The two dissenting members, Patti Coutré and Joshua Judd, pushed for $75 million.

The bond is for construction of a second high school to mitigate overcrowding and for capital projects for aging buildings, like replacing heating/cooling units and roofs.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said a second high school alone will cost around $67-$75 million. The district received $26 million for construction plus funding for land from the state’s School Facilities Board. Under questioning from Coutré, she said a $68 million high school would be a small but comprehensive school that might serve 2,600 students but without some of the programs of the current high school.

Board Vice President Ben Owens proposed the compromise. He said he talked to several people who had signed petitions to put him on the board, and all but one favored the $68 million idea.

Coutré said her constituents stressed the fact they did not like the district continually coming back to them for funds. A $68 million bond, she said, will likely lead to another bond request or capital override in a few years.

Judd, who attended via telephone, warned the board that interest rates will likely rise from the current 3.25 percent to the average 5 percent. He asked for the $75 million with the rate locked in.

“Currently we are at record lows for interest rates,” he said. “The further and further we go out from putting this on the ballot next year, the more we increase the risk of looking at the interest rates which were presented to us when we were given information earlier.”

He said it could cost voters money by not being aggressive now. “I think that’s the most responsible choice. Someone could be conservative now, but it ends up becoming the bad choice two or three years from now when interest rates increase.”

Lopeman said $68 million could result in $20 million left over but not enough to meet all the capital needs.

“We could be at capacity in, say, five years and still have needs,” she said.

“We’re always going to have needs. That’s the nature of the beast, which is great because we’re an awesome district and this is where everybody wants to be,” Anderson said. “But we’re always going to have to keep going back to the voters.”

Anderson said she thinks the state will come through with more capital funding that might help with repairs.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said she could see the day in the next five to six years when the district will need another middle school or another elementary school. Though she implored the board to reach a unanimous choice, Coutré and Judd could not agree to do so.

MUSD is currently under an M&O bond that paid for more teachers, smaller class sizes and technology. The district may ask for a renewal in 2020 or 2021. If this year’s bond passes but there is not enough money for major capital expenditures like rooftops, HVAC and safety measures, the district may ask for a capital override or another bond.

Construction is continuing rapidly on the academic building at Heritage Academy. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With construction of its campus behind schedule, the new Heritage Academy will start the school year with classes off-site, according to information released to parents by Principal Kimberly Ellsworth.

The plan is to have classes at Elements Event Center, a conference facility at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. School starts July 24.

The charter school is a middle school and high school campus. Elements, a property of Ak-Chin Indian Community, has made space available for up to eight weeks if necessary.

Elements has four main rooms with a total capacity of about 395 people. The largest room can be divided into smaller spaces.

“After speaking with Elements at UltraStar, we are confident in the facilities, set up, staff support and safety of this temporary location,” Ellsworth wrote. “We are excited to work with them, and we think the scholars will enjoy the learning experience at this facility.”

Classes will be moved to the new campus as soon as it has a certificate of occupancy.

Heritage will host a Meet the Teacher Night July 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Elements, 16000 N. Maricopa Road.

The school broke ground in March. The campus is being constructed at 41001 W. Lucera Lane off Adams Way at Porter Road, not far from Saddleback Elementary and Leading Edge Academy – Maricopa to the west, Legacy Traditional School to the south and Sequoia Pathway Academy to the north.

Heritage Academy construction on June 27
Heritage Academy construction on June 11. Photo by Kyle Norby

As part of its Memorial Day ceremonies, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12043 dedicated a flag receptacle in which people can properly dispose of the Stars and Stripes.

The VFW had been using boxes to encourage people to turn in their worn flags, but Mike Kemery said people kept throwing trash in them. Vet Dave Hixon started looking for donations, and his company, Can Do Home Repair Inc., donated the red, white and blue, metal container.

It is bolted down in front of the Maricopa Veterans Center.

“We thought, ‘Wow, that old building never looked so good,’” said Kemery, who is now judge advocate with the VFW Department of Arizona.

U.S. flags can be deposited in the receptacle at any time. Veterans will collect the flags and dispose of them according to flag etiquette, which is to burn them.

Per the VFW:

  1. The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
  2. It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.
  3. Place the flag on the fire.
  4. The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
  5. After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished, and the ashes buried.
  6. Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.

Since the new box has been installed, the number of flags being brought to the center has increased.

“When we move to our new building, that’s coming with us,” Kemery said, referring to the veterans’ future center at what is now the city library.

The U.S. flag was established by the Flag Act, passed by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. It established the 13 stripes and the blue field bearing 13 stars. Subsequent flag acts dealt with changing numbers over time. Text in the Flag Act of 1818 established the tradition of adding a star to the flag on the next July 4 after a new state joined the union.

“The Mysterious Origins of the American Flag”


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Tailgate cookouts, flying motorbikes, waterslides, fireworks – it’s all part of the plan for the Fourth of July.

The City of Maricopa’s annual Great American 4th is on Independence Day at Copper Sky. This year, there will be some additions to the festivities.

That includes the “Great American Tailgate,” allowing attendees to grill up food and enjoy their own beer at their vehicles before the traditional fireworks display. At past events, Community Services Director Nathan Ullyot said, beer-drinkers had been segregated into a beer garden.

“This way, more people can be in our fields just possibly using our facilities,” he said.

A $30 ticket for the tailgating includes a beer-and-wine permit. The tailgating area is the south parking lot by the ballfields. Those with tailgating tickets can show up as early as 1 p.m. to pick their prime parking spot for viewing the fireworks that evening.

The tailgating area is first-come, first-served. Tents, tables, chairs and grills are all allowed in the parking spaces and on the nearby soccer fields. It is a 21-and-over event, and staff will be checking IDs. Tailgate Passes must be pre-purchased in person from Becky Squires at the Copper Sky front desk.

At 5 p.m., a VIP Pool Party gets started in the Aquatics Center. Advance tickets are $15. Copper Sky annual members get five bucks off.

IF YOU GO
What
: Great American 4th
When: July 4, 5-10 p.m.
Where: Copper Sky Regional Park
How much: Free (fees for parking, Tailgate, VIP Pool Party, waterslides)
Info: Facebook.com/COMCSRC

Electric Blue DJ Eric Chudzik gets revved up at 5 p.m. That is also when kids and adults are invited to enjoy the bounce house waterslides with a $5 wristband. For annual members, it’s free.

Recreation Coordinator Matthew Reiter said there would be a limited number of vendors, and few selling food items. Attendees are encouraged to bring in their own food.

“There won’t be a vendors row out there,” he said.

That leaves more room for family fun and games, starting at 5:30 p.m.

Vince Morgan of Brigade FMX will put on a freestyle motocross show starting at 7:45 p.m. Reiter said that exhibition will be near the fireworks area on the south side of the park.

The fireworks show gets started at 9 p.m.

Those who are not tailgating can park in other parking lots for $5. Free parking with a free shuttle to and from the event will again be available at Butterfield Elementary, 43800 W. Honeycutt Road, Santa Rosa Elementary, 21400 N. Santa Rosa Avenue and Maricopa Ace Hardware, 21542 N. John Wayne Parkway.


This story is in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Newly reopened Native Grill & Wings was among food establishments earning excellent scores. last month.

The 20 establishments inspected by Pinal County Environmental Health Department in the Maricopa area from May 16 through June 15 all received excellent marks.

EXCELLENT [No violations found]
Circle K (Honeycutt Road)
Circle K Made to Go (Honeycutt Road)
Circle K (south)
Denny’s
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Domino’s Pizza (twice)
Good 2 Go Store
Helen’s Kitchen
Honeycutt Coffee
IHOP
JB Farmer’s Convenience Store
KFC/Long John Silver’s
Li’s Garden
Maricopa Shell – Dairy Queen
Native Grill and Wings
Raceway Bar & Grill
Rob’s Convenience
Sunrise Cafe
Sunrise Preschool
Walgreens

SATISFACTORY [Violations corrected during inspection]
None

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT [Critical items noted during inspection cannot be corrected immediately requiring follow-up inspection]
None

UNACCEPTABLE [Gross, unsanitary conditions necessitating the discontinuation of service]
None


This item appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Clear, blue skies are expected this week in Maricopa.

After an elevated weekend, temperatures are expected to return to normal by Tuesday in time for a typical Fourth of July in Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service.

Today is sunny and hot with a high near 111 degrees F and 5-15 mph winds that will gust as high as 20 mph. Tonight will have a low around 77.

Tuesday, the forecast sees sunny skies, a high near 109 and continued breezy conditions. The overnight low will be around 75.

Wednesday, look for sunny skies and high near 108 and winds up 15 mph. The nighttime low will be around 71.

Independence Day will likely be sunny with a high near 107 and 5-10 mph winds. The night is forecast to be clear for fireworks-watchers and low around 72.

Friday, expect sun and a high near 107 and calm breezes. The overnight low will be around 74.

From this distance the weekend looks hot and mostly sunny throughout.

 

While many Maricopa commuters have fantasies about the stoplight on State Route 347 at Riggs Road going away and becoming an overpass, the state looks set to create another stoplight on SR 347.

A project in the works would put traffic lights at the intersection of Old Maricopa Road, which is about halfway between the Riggs Road intersection and the Interstate 10 exchange. It is in Maricopa County within the Gila River Indian Community. In fact, Old Maricopa Road is an access to Wild Horse Pass Casino and other GRIC properties.

“We had zero control over this,” Mayor Christian Price said, anticipating blowback from Maricopa drivers.

Brandon Nguyen, an environmental planner with Arizona Department of Transportation, sent out a letter to stakeholders describing the scope of the project. A three-way traffic light would allow traffic coming off Old Maricopa Road to turn left. Currently, those drivers can only turn right.

“These improvements are needed to minimize traffic delays and to reduce the frequency and severity of crashes at the intersection,” Nguyen wrote.

In recent years, wrong-way drivers or impatient drivers have caused fatal collisions at that intersection. Price said he understood the safety concerns because there have been four incidents that triggered a warrant for a traffic signal there.

During special events at Wild Horse Pass, temporary traffic lights at that intersection are already used at a cost of about $18,000 for GRIC. New lights would function the same way but on a permanent basis. Nguyen pointed out that because the work would be entirely within an existing right of way, no easements would need to be acquired.

The City of Maricopa has been pushing ADOT and Maricopa County to get on board with Pinal County’s idea of widening SR 347 in both directions from Maricopa to I-10. What impact a new traffic light may have on those designs is not clear. But it is apparent the opinion of the City of Maricopa had little bearing on the decision.

“The City has no official statement, as that project is a collaboration between ADOT and the Gila River Indian Community, and we have not been part of the planning of the project,” spokesman Adam Wolfe said.

Though having no authority in the decision-making, Price said he did speak to planners to ask for concessions.

“When I found out about this, I knew we couldn’t stop it from happening, but I could go and voice my concerns,” Price said. “I asked them, ‘Can it be a light that is fluid? Can it be red only when someone is coming out of an event?’”

His idea would have the lights only stop traffic on SR 347 during events. The rest of the time, the intersection would function just as it does now, with SR 347 traffic not stopping and no left turn allowed off Old Maricopa Road.

The project is planned to start May 2020, with construction lasting six months. ADOT is seeking feedback from stakeholders on the project through July 6.

The transition of the intersection into a traffic signal will include the “obliteration” of current roadway markings, installation of traffic poles, conduit and controller cabinet, restriping, removal of “No Left Turn” signs and installation of new, larger “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs “to meet current design standards.”

Nguyen anticipates single-lane closures on SR 347 and lane shifts on Old Maricopa Road during the construction of the intersection. There may even be a short, full closure of the road when pole mast arms are put in place.


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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UPDATE: Joshua Call died of his injuries. Friends and family are planning a candle-light gathering in his memory at Raceway Bar & Grill on Papago Road, Tuesday, July 2, at 7 p.m., with the candle-lighting starting between 7:45 and 8 p.m. Donations for the family are welcome.


Joshua Call (Facebook)

A 30-year-old Maricopa man is on life support after falling from a roof during construction work Friday.

According to Maricopa Police Department, the cause of the accident is under investigation and involves Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He reportedly fell from a high elevation through the roof into the interior of a home under construction and suffered severe head injuries.

The incident happened around 12:42 p.m. on West Mediterranean Way in Sorrento.

He was transported with life-threatening injuries to a trauma center in Chandler. Friends are identifying him as Joshua Call.

Tracey Lopeman is beginning her second year as superintendent of MUSD. Photo by Kyle Norby

 

How would you describe your first full year at MUSD?
I’ve been able to meet so many great kids and great families along the way and really enjoy the benefits of a close relationship with city partners and business partners. So, it’s just been a wonderful experience.

How did that come about, being able to grow those relationships with the city, for instance?
Well, we started off by having a large stakeholder meeting where we articulated the Maricopa Why. And we invited the mayor, the city manager. We had police representation there. We had city agencies like Be Awesome, parents, students, of course, teachers and administrators. That was in August of last year. They took us up on the invitation, and we were able to identify all the dreams we have in common for the kids of Maricopa. When you have those kinds of commonalities, it’s a pretty good start.

What in your background prepared you for some of the challenges you’ve faced in the past year?
Actually, as a school-level administrator, I spent a lot of time building relationships with parents. It always came back to those core values – if we all want what’s best for kids, the differences we bring are less disruptive and can be turned into the strengths of the final outcome. I came into the work in Maricopa ready to meet people and ready to listen. From our beginning, starting with the Maricopa Why, and having superintendent’s advisory councils with certified, classified staff, parents and students, it really fit well with all my professional experience but also my professional passion.

What were some of the district’s successes during the past year?
It’s a pretty long list. For starters, we have a new website. It’s a much more effective representation of who we are to the rest of the world. We are launching a preschool in July. From the day I started, we had to begin planning for growth at the high school. Of course, that’s a multi-year project. We have been rewarded from the School Facilities Board $23 million to begin that project. The Legislature funded that, so we know we have a future for a high school vision as well. Plus, we had to have an intermediate plan that was agile. If you go over to the high school right now, you’ll see there are 16 classrooms, some of them are brand new, some of them are one-year used, gently used, pre-owned. We’re proposing a 5-percent raise, and we believe our board is going to definitely approve that when they adopt the budget, so we have been able to effectively allocate our resources to get the money back in the classroom, keep the money in the classroom.

When did you know you would need a new school? Was that before you took the job?
Before I arrived, the early spring of 2018, the district completed a demographic study. It was very evident then that a new high school was going to be necessary. Really, I think that just validated what everybody knew.

Can you describe what funding options are available, including the bond?
I mentioned we have the $23 million from the SFB. The board has given very serious consideration to calling for a bond election. That decision is on the horizon. But we began capital planning with a Capital Planning Committee last fall. We’ve had probably a half-dozen meetings with a diverse group of stakeholders, faith-based, business, elected officials, teachers, administrators, parents and students to develop consensus around what was most urgent, in addition to a high school. Our buildings are anywhere from 10 to 12 to 15 years old, so roofs and air conditioning are also a necessity. So is transportation. So is security. Those kinds of things, that’s all part of the funding needs that we have in addition to a high school.

Is there a certain tact you expect the district to take if they go for a bond when you just had the voters approve an override?
We’re committed to communicating the value of education, not only to the individual student or the individual family but the value of an educated population here in Maricopa. What it brings in terms of wealth to the community. If a child has a high school diploma, they have a certain expectancy for income, and how that is so exponentially increased once they have a college diploma. The more educated our city is, the more tax revenue there is, the less crime there is, it’s a more attractive place to live. We don’t want to just sell a bond. We want to promote the idea of making Maricopa a destination city. Part of that is doing our part as a district to educate our children.

While this was your first year as superintendent, there were also changes among the administrative staff. How did that work, with you bringing them up to speed while also still learning the ropes yourself?
I’ll go back again to what we articulated in our strategic plan. We have some very clearly articulated vision and mission statements, and that produced some very powerful goals and strategies. It minimizes the time you have to get people on board because we already did that. We already spent a tremendous amount of time and energy and dedication to articulating what we want for this community. We identified blocks and obstacles, so that already captured any resistance we might face, any obstacles along the way. So, we’re prepared to link arms, not only as professionals but with our parents, with our students, with our elected officials, with our business partners, with our faith-based partners. We’ve got the path already laid for us.

What was your biggest surprise of the last year?
Probably just how many great kids I met. I’ve had a couple of surprises actually. I thought I was going to be stuck in my office all the time. My admin assistant and I made plans to get me out into the schools. I was surprised at the welcome. I was surprised at the warmth. I was surprised at the partnership that I felt continued beyond the articulation of the plan, the partnership that continued beyond the superintendent’s advisory councils. It just was personal. I was surprised at the personal nature I was able to enjoy. It really drove me to get out there more and to listen more and to get out there the next time. It’s just an upward spiral.

Where would you put the level of transparency now compared to when you first came in?
Transparency is a priority for us. We have applied that concept and that philosophy across all departments and throughout all levels. We want to be open and communicative with our parents and with all the constituents in Maricopa. In terms of our communication, part of that is just being available. The website is better, as we mentioned, but we also made sure we had a human answering the phone. We had one of our stellar, superstar Maricopa Unified office people picking up the phone every time someone called. That’s the first part of transparency, saying, “We’re here to listen.” So, we can have a two-way conversation. We’ve also this past spring changed some of our administrative procedures to create greater transparency around our budgeting processes, the way we’re allocating resources and how we’re sharing leadership and ownership in much greater fashion at the school level.

 


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Crew work in the early morning at the Heritage Academy sight.

Heritage Academy is scheduled to open its Maricopa campus July 24, but the charter school is still under construction.

The school, prepared for sixth through 11th grade (intending to add 12th grade next year), is awaiting five permits. Ten permits have been issued for the project, and there are 35 inspections yet to be conducted.

The property at 41001 W. Lucera Lane is on land owned by Our Lady of Grace parish in Glennwilde.

The 13,525-square-foot gym and a 29,359-square-foot academic building have been issued permits for commercial new building, sprinkler system and fire alarm. A 16,101-square-foot addition to the academic building has not.

Each of the first two commercial permits took two and a half months to be issued. The commercial permit for the addition was submitted April 17.

The campus plans also eventually include a 16,454-square-foot auditorium and a football field.  Low Mountain Construction has the campus marked for completion in October.

Representatives from Heritage Academy did not respond to queries about contingency plans. A weekly newsletter stated, “We will have a better timeline of completion once the steel is finished.  In the meantime, we are making some back-up plans, just in case, so we can ensure school will begin on time.”

The school has been busy hiring faculty and orienting scholars. Students have been auditioning for fine arts programs as well.

Another planned charter high school and middle school, A+ Charter Schools, opted to postpone its construction until next school year.

Low Mountain Construction is putting up the campus buildings.

When the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board approved the 2019-20 budget Wednesday, it did so without the agreement of Board Member Patti Coutré.

She said some of the listed savings were coming on the backs of full-time substitutes. “I have a hard time with this,” she said.

“When this program was set up years ago, when we started the pilot program, it was successful,” Coutré said. “So much so that we put full-time subs in all our schools and two at the high school. If it’s working, I don’t understand why we have to pull it.”

Business Director Jason Harmon showed the district saving $1.07 million with changes to the budget, including $131,000 from altering the full-time substitutes program. The full-time substitutes had benefits through MUSD, but will now go through a third party, smartSchools, for appointments and benefits.

“I can’t put a dollar figure on a person,” Coutré said. “These are people that have been working for the district full-time with benefits, and now we’re going to say, ‘Hey, we need to save some money, so you can purchase benefits through smartSchools, and you can still sub, we’ll still call, but you’re not guaranteed a job anymore.’”

The full-time substitutes were told of the situation in May at a face-to-face meeting with Human Resources Director Tom Beckett after being asked to sign a “Notice of Appointment” in February for the upcoming school year.

Substitute teacher Idressa Calland felt it was a virtual breach of contract. “This is immoral, unjust and disheartening,” Calland said in the wake of that meeting.

On Wednesday, Beckett conceded it was late notice.

Budget Highlights

  • The primary tax rate will decrease from 4.1596 to 3.7908 this fiscal year.
    • The secondary tax rate will decrease from 3.0408 to 2.9675. Included in that secondary tax, a scheduled increase in the M&O override from 1.3261 to 1.3426 is counterbalanced by drops in Class B bonds from 1.2693 to 1.1968 and desegregation from 0.4454 to 0.4125.
    • Average teacher salaries are going up 6 percent. The average teacher salary will be $50,376.
    • The estimated reserve is $682,224.
    • Weighted student count is 10,024, up from 9,504.

“We have made the contingency that we are going to place each of those full-time subs that were with the district on top of the priority list for that individual school where they are at,” he told the governing board. “They will be first-placed when there is an opening at their school site.”

Beckett said there would not be a guarantee of 180 days, “but we’ll do our very, very best.”

While Calland said there was no illegality involved, she was not happy with the manner it occurred. She said the teachers should have been told in March.

“It’s just how they gave us contracts and let us go three days before school ended,” she said. “People lose sick time and opportunities to apply for open positions.”

Wednesday, Coutré questioned whether the district was actually saving $131,000 with the move. “Because my understanding is that these employees will be able to continue to work through smartSchools as subs. Basically, we’re still going to be paying them, but we’re going to be paying them through smartSchools. So, we’re still out that expenditure. The only thing we’re really saving would be the benefit costs that they are no longer receiving.”

However, Board Member Torri Anderson, a former teacher, supported the change.

“To have a full-time sub on each campus is a Cadillac model that we can’t afford to do when there are other things that we need to stretch our money to do,” Anderson said.

She said some of the substitutes were doing work other than substitute teaching in classrooms.

“If substitutes weren’t being used correctly, that seems to be a management issue and something that maybe the district needs to streamline,” Coutré said.

When Superintendent Tracey Lopeman explained approving the proposed budget was more about “form and format” rather than the details, which can be changed later before the final vote, Coutré said that was a moot point. The rest of the agenda, she said, included personnel and other expenditures.

“We’re spending the money,” she said.

The board voted 3-1 to approve the $50 million budget for FY20.

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Photos by Kyle Norby

James Reid brought his juggling act back to Maricopa Public Library Thursday, also entertaining children with yo-yo tricks. The presentation was part of the library’s annual Summer Reading Program.

Glenn Morrison, constable for the local justice court, is among six constables suing Pinal County.

Constables are fighting with Pinal County over salaries and have now filed a lawsuit.

Claiming the Board of Supervisors did not follow the law when it set constable salaries in 2018, the suit, filed June 14, seeks restoration of lost income. At issue is the decrease in salary of three of the constable positions, “even though the gross workload was increasing.”

State statute requires supervisors to set salaries at a regular June meeting prior to the January commencement of term. The constables claim the board violated the law by not setting their salaries until August 2018, as a consent-agenda item after the Primary Election.

“We realized it had not been done for the new districts, so processed it at the August Board meeting,” County Manager Greg Stanley said. “The agenda was posted prior to the Primary Election, and Board approved it as posted.”

Last fall, the county consolidated eight precincts to six, renaming some of the precincts in the process. Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court, for instance, became Western Pinal Justice Court just as Glenn Morrison took office as constable.

The county then lowered the salary of the highest-paid constables. The Western Pinal constable went from $61,208 to $50,029. The salary of the Casa Grande constable was lowered from $61,208 to $49,939. The salary of the Apache Junction constable dropped from $61,208 to $50,480. The salaries of all six constables now equal $300,000.

“The County’s action in setting the salaries was both unfair and illegal,” the suit claims, further emphasizing the constable positions have not received a raise since 2010.

Previously, the eight constable salaries combined for $321,000. Constables in the smallest precincts made as little as $13,050. Three of the constables made between $32,000 and $36,100. The small districts were combined or folded into a larger district to create the six current precincts.

Though only three constables are impacted by a salary decrease, including Morrison, all six signed onto the suit. Morrison deferred comment on the case. One of their attorneys, Stephen Tully, said they are seeking a raise in salary back to its original rate and back pay.

The state statute does not define a remedy when this section of the law is violated, but Tully said that is not unusual.

“Clearly, the legislators didn’t pass a law that is a violation but has no penalty, no enforcement,” he said.

When the Board of Supervisors approved its 2018-19 budget, it stipulated the six constable salaries combined not exceed $300,000. City Manager Greg Stanley noted increasing the total above $300,000 would require an amendment to the budget.

Tully said when talks with the county “didn’t go anywhere,” the constables opted to take their argument to court to make the county comply with the statute. “I imagine they’ll get it right next time.”

Felicia Williams (right) resigned this month, to be replaced on an interim basis by TOSA Marchelle Hasan (left).

Maricopa Unified School District is looking for another principal.

After 10 years as principal of Saddleback Elementary School, Felicia Williams submitted her resignation June 13. Her last day was Friday.

“I have been offered a position outside of MUSD that is in the best interest of my family,” she wrote.

Wednesday, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board accepted the resignation without docking her a contract assessment with less than a month before the next school year starts.

The board approved Marchelle Hasan as interim principal at the campus. She has been teacher on special assignment (TOSA) at Saddleback since 2013.

Hasan has a doctorate in educational leadership, a master’s degree in education/curriculum and instruction and a Bachelor of Science in elementary education. She has more than 18 years of experience in education.

Danica Gutierrez is a National Finalist in MLB Pitch, Hit & Run. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

 

A 12-year-old Maricopa girl is heading for Cleveland next week to compete during MLB All-Star Week.

In the MLB Pitch, Hit & Run competition, Danica Gutierrez beat out the 11-12-year-old crowd in the softball division at Chase Field. Her results qualified her for the national tournament during All-Star week.

“It was awesome,” said Danica, who plays club softball for the Gila Riva Chaos and some club baseball and also plays for the Maricopa Wells Middle School softball team.

This was the third year she has competed in Pitch, Hit & Run. She is typically a pitcher but said her best event was batting.

Now she’s preparing for Cleveland.

“I practice at home, I practice on the field,” she said. “I’m hitting off a tee, and I’m working on my agility.”

To reach Nationals, Danica had to work through layers of competition. That started at the local tournament at Copper Sky. She was among the top three in her age group to advance to the Sectionals at Casa Grande. There, she qualified to play at the MLB Team Championship hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

Competition came from around Arizona and New Mexico. Danica finished on top of her age division.

Other Maricopans competing at the MLB Team Championship at Chase Field were Kiersten Cope, who finished second in the 7-8 softball division, and Madison Brandon, third in the 13-14 softball division.

Winners at the Diamondbacks’ MLB Team Championships. Submitted photo

Winning the MLB Team Championship did not automatically qualify her for Nationals. MLB has 29 Team Championships and selects the top three scores across the country as National Finalists. Danica was No. 2 in her division and she will be joining players from Alabama and Washington in the finals.

Danica has played softball since she was 8. She previously played soccer, which was when her father noted her killer instinct.

“I saw how aggressive she was, in a good way,” Daniel Gutierrez said. “She was one of our top scorers. And when she was a goalie, she was always moving.”

Danica with her father Daniel Gutierrez Sr. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

She has also played flag football, volleyball and basketball.

“We like to stay busy,” Danica said.

Daniel and Monica Gutierrez moved to Alterra form Texas more than 13 years ago. Both of their children, Danica and Daniel Jr., were born here.

Danica’s father has always been her coach or at least an assistant coach. He said athletics is great for kids, and not just physically.

“It keeps them active,” Gutierrez said. “They make friends, they play with anybody. It keeps them from being shy.”

MLB Pitch, Hit & Run participants compete in softball and baseball in four age groups, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14.

In the pitching portion of the competition, they throw six balls at a strike-zone target. Hitting the zone is worth 75 points. In hitting, participants hit six balls for distance off a batting tee, with the top three measured distances counting toward the score. In running, participants are timed from second base to home plate.

The National Finalists were announced on television. The competition is July 8.

Danica competing at Chase Field. Submitted photo

The new fountain in The Villages beats the heat during a scorching weekend. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

High pressure will keep high temperatures a few degrees above normal through Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Today is sunny with a high near 107 degrees F. The overnight low will be around 70.

Friday, the forecast is for sunny and hot with a high near 111 and little wind. The night is expected to be partly cloudy with a low around 76.

Saturday is likely to be partly sunny with a high near 108. The clouds fully move in overnight, when the low will be around 77 and the winds gust up to 20 mph.

Sunday is expected to return to partly sunny and hot, with a high near 110 and mild winds. The nighttime low will be around 78 as the winds pick up to 15 mph and gust up to 20 mph.

Next week starts out with a scorcher, but high temperatures should be at seasonal norms by Tuesday.

MUSD Board Members Patti Coutre and Ben Owens disagreed with Board President AnnaMarie Knorr and Torri Anderson about the size of a proposed bond.

 

With governing board members divided on the issue, Maricopa Unified School District is taking a tortuous route toward a bond election this fall.

Estimated costs of a second high school combined with capital costs for aging buildings total $140 million.

As the high school is over-capacity by more than 200 students, all board members agree a bond is needed. However, the four attending Wednesday’s meeting split down the middle on the amount for which they should ask voters. Joshua Judd was out of state, but Board President AnnaMarie Knorr attended via phone.

Over the past months, the district has looked at capital-improvement bonds of $50 million, $65 million and $75 million.

“I would rather be conservative and go for the sure thing,” Board Member Torri Anderson said.

She initially supported the $50 million proposal but moved to the $65 million bond. She said she had talked to community members who told her they would not vote for anything that added more than $100 per year to their tax bill.

“I want to be respectful of those community members that are here now,” she said.

But Board Member Patti Coutré said asking for $75 million was not being disrespectful. She said asking for the top amount was respecting future generations of students.

Coutré and Board Vice President Ben Owens pushed for $75 million while Anderson and Knorr voted for $65 million.

Knorr said it was important for the board to be in unanimous agreement on an amount. The board requested a special meeting be arranged July 3 for another vote on the issue after they are all able to gather more community information. The deadline is July 8.

If the board seeks a bond election, it will be held Nov. 5 this year.

A second high school is only part of the capital-improvements challenge.

Estimated costs of a second high school combined with capital costs for aging buildings such as new roofs and HVAC total $140 million. The district will receive about $26 million from the state’s School Facilities Board.

The district conservatively is expected to grow 5 percent over the next few years, a number that is forecast to be closer to 8 percent to spread the tax burden to more properties.

Previous meetings, including a stakeholders’ forum Thursday, showed various scenarios of funding the first phase of a new school plus top-priority capital improvements.


Scenario 1
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $40,700,000
Minus SFB funds               $72,000,000 total

Scenario 2
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $32,200,000 (deleting solar with battery storage)
Minus SFB funds               $63,500,000 total

Scenario 3
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $24,700,000 (deleting energy- and water-saving initiatives)
Minus SFB funds               $56,000,000 total


“It’s a good idea to have energy projects at the front of the line, but you have such a capacity issue right now at the high school, that it’s probably going to push those kinds of things aside,” said Mark Rafferty, a partner at Facility Management Group, who made a presentation Thursday on the district’s lifecycle forecast.

He said all MUSD school are 12 to 16 years old, a time when most building systems “begin to go out of service.” That includes heating/cooling, roofing and interior finishes.

“At 12 years, they begin to go out of service. They begin to be a maintenance issue,” he said. “By 16 years, they are all out of service. All of your schools except the high school are between 12 and 16 years old.”

At last week’s forum, financial advisor Mike LaVallee, a managing director of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, reiterated the discrepancy between what is legislatively mandated to go in the voter pamphlet and what is the economic reality. Numbers presented to voters, he said, must include the 10-year average growth, a time period that included the great recession.

For MUSD, that would be a growth rate of 0.82 percent. Some districts, he said, had negative growth for the decade. During the past three years, however, the growth rate at MUSD has been at a 5-percent clip.

Tax value is usually 82-85 percent of the market value of a home. The average assessed value of homes in the borders of MUSD is $117,000.

But Anderson said there are several homes in Maricopa with assessed values of $240,000, “and those are our voters.”

LaVallee said there is a $12 difference for every addition $100,000 of assessed value.

Owens said the math indicates a $65 million bond would be $7 per month for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000. On a bond of $75 million, that moves to $7.5 or $8 per month.

“That’ not how people think,” Anderson said. “They think about the tax bill at the end of the year that says $240 or $260.”

Knorr said asking for a $65 million bond would pick up those voters who are on the fence about the full $75 million.

At the same time, she said, a “starter” high school is not workable because it would inherently involve inequality of opportunity between the two high schools. A starter school, for instance, would not have sports or arts programs.

Owens said $75 million would give the district “the capability to do what is right and what we need to do.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said if the district successfully has a bond approved that provides less money than the necessary capital improvements demand, MUSD may have to seek a capital-improvement budget override.

Sunny days are predicted throughout the week as the days get hotter. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

 

Days will get progressively hotter in Maricopa during the week, according to the National Weather Service, heading into a simmering weekend.

Today is sunny with an expected high of 104 degrees F this afternoon. Tonight, the low will be around 67.

Tuesday, the forecast calls for a high near 106 under sunny skies. The overnight low will be around 69.

Wednesday is likely to be a near repeat, with a high of 106 expected during a sunny day and low of 68 overnight.

Thursday, too, is predicted to be sunny but with the high temperature increasing to 107 and winds increasing to 10 mph. Overnight, the low will be around 69.

Friday, the high is forecast to be near 108 with continued variable winds and mostly sunny skies. The nighttime low will be around 72.

From this distance, the weekend weather looks to have daily temperatures over 110, which may trigger another heat warning.

Maryeileen Flanagan points out her home on the I-11 map. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A new interstate highway planned through Arizona will sweep through Hidden Valley, and residents are irate.

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking feedback on the proposed I-11 corridor. It has primarily been promoted as the first direct connection between Phoenix and Las Vegas, though it ultimately could link Mexico to Canada.

More than 130 people have joined the “Stop I-11 in Hidden Valley” Facebook group, and they have begun meeting to strategize opposition to what is being shopped as the preferred route. Thursday, a group of about 20 gathered in Linda Sullivan’s house, which is near of the freeway’s path.

The freeway corridor is 2,000 feet wide and would necessitate the demolition of occupied homes.

“Some people have built their dream homes out here,” Sullivan said.

“The big intention of this freeway is to connect Nogales all the way to Vegas,” said Maryeileen Flanagan, who has been watching the project for years. “There’s a huge amount of goods transported via truck. This really is about the trucking industry.”

Flanagan’s home is in the path of the “recommended” alternative, which follows sections of the “green” and “purple” routes. She built her own house 1996.

Nevada completed the first leg of its part of the interstate, from Boulder City to Lake Mead, last year. Such a highway has been discussed in one form another for 25 years but was not formally designated until 2015. Flanagan said some of the data and maps of Hidden Valley being used in the study are outdated, according to recent reports from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

As the planned freeway from Marana to Buckeye comes through the Maricopa area, it is divided into three alternatives. What is called the “orange” alternative follows Interstate 8 to Gila Bend and then cuts north to Buckeye and on to Wickenburg. That alternative, however, has mostly fallen out of discussion because of the distance.

Santina Johnson, who has ongoing battles with Pinal County, believes the “orange” is being ignored because Maricopa, Casa Grande and Pinal County are pushing it through Hidden Valley.

Hidden Valley residents gather in the Sullivan home to talk strategy.

The shorter alternatives, “green” and “purple” go through the populated areas of Hidden Valley, following a path along Barnes Road east to west, passing south of the Nissan proving grounds until it reaches Amarillo Valley Road, where it starts to run northwest and passes through the Palo Verde Regional Park. It would cross State Route 238 at Mobile and continue on to Buckeye.

Johnson said residents of the City of Maricopa “are being fed the B.S. that the I-11 will take traffic off the 347.”

Janet Hedgpeth said no one in the county government would care if residents of Hidden Valley dropped off the face of the earth. Johnson described the area as having high numbers of senior, low-income, disabled and Hispanic residents.

Several members of the group wanted to plan confrontations with Mayor Christian Price and other elected officials in Maricopa and Pinal County, even introducing a recall of County Supervisor Anthony Smith, but others said it was smartest to go straight to the federal level and cut off the funding.

“We also need to make sure those are people who have the potential to have some impact in our behalf,” Hedgpeth said.

Flanagan has reached out to U.S. Congressman Tom O’Halleran and U.S. senators Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally. Sinema’s office responded immediately and said the senator or one of her representatives would attend a future meeting in Hidden Valley.

“We need to focus on our baby steps to get to our goal,” Sullivan said.

The public comment period ends July 8. A decision on the final route is expected in early 2020.

Flanagan said it comes down to money, inferring Pinal County wants the highway only as a driver of economic development. The county, she said, is the second largest in the state but has the least amount of available land for development and to make revenue, “because we have so much reservation land, state land, federal land.”

“So, they are desperate to do something to generate revenue,” she said. “They have to do something, so they can stay relevant.”

“It’s a good thing that people get up in arms, but the politicians don’t really give a damn what we think,” said Joe Abodeely. “What you have to do is something that affects them. For instance: ‘You going to be running for office next time? I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you don’t get elected.’”

I11study.com/Arizona

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Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate Mark Kelly dropped in on a meeting of the Blue Star Mothers of Maricopa on Wednesday. Vero Sanchez, president of the nonpartisan group, said the campaign reached out to ask if they could say a few words as he was coming through the area. Kelly, a 25-year Navy veteran and retired astronaut, is the husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. If nominated, he could face incumbent Martha McSally, a Republican who was appointed to the seat after the death of Sen. John McCain. Kelly told the group his mother was a Blue Star Mother twice over when he and his twin brother Scott were in the Navy. He said he decided to run for office because he was tired of the divisiveness and nothing being done in Washington.

The corn is high off Bowlin Road at Sorrento.

Weekend weather in Maricopa will be a little bit cooler and breezier, according to the National Weather Service.

Today, the high temperature is expected to be 105 degrees F with winds 5-10 mph. Tonight, expect the winds to gust up to 20 mph and the low to drop to around 67.

Friday, the forecast calls for a sunny day with a high near 103. Winds of 5-15 mph may gust up to 25 mph. The overnight low will be around 66.

Saturday will likely be sunny but the high will only be near 99. The nighttime low will be around 65 under clear skies with winds topping out at 15 mph.

Sunday also sees sunny skies ahead and a high near 100. The overnight low will be around 66.

Next week will start with clear skies and temps in staying in the low 100s.

Have you heard something or seen something that all Maricopans should know about?

Raquel Hendrickson

Tell us your story.

We are a small but busy newsroom, and news tips from the community are an important part of our news-gathering resources. We invite and encourage readers to send information to News@InMaricopa.com so we can help keep residents apprised of situations and issues.

If you witness a dangerous situation, contact us so we can gather the facts from the proper authorities. If you hear concerning rumors, let us know and we will check out their veracity. Have you learned about an important project that could impact Maricopa? Drop us a line. We also welcome photos and video legally and safely obtained.

We always want to hear the good news, too. We would love to know about happenings in your neighborhoods, on your streets, in your schools and in your clubs. If your child’s sports team is doing great, feel free to send us game scores and photos/videos, also at News@InMaricopa.com.

If you have an interesting event coming up, add it to our calendar at InMaricopa.com/Calendar. If you have an opinion on a relevant issue, we accept Letters to the Editor up to 600 words in length. If you are particularly knowledgeable about an interesting topic, reach out to us about writing a column.

If you have taken a local photo or video you are especially proud of, we would love to share it with our thousands of readers. Great photos by community members are often printed in InMaricopa magazine.

In a nutshell, if you see something, say something. It’s a community effort to be informed.


This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

After a blistering week, more clear skies and slightly less hot temperatures are in store for Maricopa. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Temperatures in the low 100s and lots of sun are in this week’s forecast for Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service.

Today is sunny with a high near 105. The overnight low will be 67 with increasing winds up to 15 mph.

Tuesday is expected to be sunny with a high near 104. The nighttime low will be around 65.

Wednesday‘s forecast calls for sunny skies and high near 104. Overnight, the low will be round 67.

Thursday also has a sunny forecast with a high near 106. The night will have a low around 67.

Friday, too, anticipates clear skies with a high near 104 but with more breezes. The wind could gust up to 20 mph. The overnight low will be around 68.

That is expected to start a warm, sunny weekend with temps just above 100 with no precipitation yet in the forecast.

For an after-dark cool-down, Copper Sky Aquatic Center hosted the annual Dive-In Movie as part of the Movies under the Stars series of outdoor movies June 15. Families swam in the pools and played on the splash pad while watching Aquaman on the inflatable big screen.

Blackstones Entertainment hosted a Juneteenth celebration at Pacana Park June 15, an annual event celebrating the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. The day included music, addresses, Maricopa-based vendors, a dunk tank and inflatable water slide. Traditionally celebrated sometime around June 19, it commemorates freedom of enslaved people in Confederate states during and after the Civil War. The proclamation was signed by President Lincoln in 1862 and ostensibly went into effect in 1863. Slaves in remote areas of Texas were the last to receive the announcement, in June 1865, two months after the end of the war, which became Juneteenth. (The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, outlawing slavery throughout the country, was ratified in December of that year.)

Best Dad in Maricopa winner Michael Sabo, with wife Jheymmy, daughter Belana and son Kenny, and presented a new grill by Maricopa Ace Hardware owner Mike Richey.

A resident of Maricopa since 2006, Michael Sabo was named Best Dad in Maricopa through an online poll at InMaricopa. The contest was sponsored by Ace Hardware to celebrate Father’s Day.

“It’s amazing,” Sabo said. “Very amazing.”

Sabo, a business analyst with two children, was nominated three times, and his wife Jheymmy reached out to every relative and friend she had across the country to urge them to vote. At stake was a Traeger grill with wood pellets, grill cover and Slot Dog.

“All of my co-workers were like, ‘You owe us a barbecue,’” Jheymmy said.

Sabo said they intend to grill up some carne asada Sunday, Father’s Day. He was one of 40 nominees who drew a combined 10,962 votes.

In nominating her husband, Jheymmy used many terms: “Supportive, determined, loyal, honest, role model, considerate, involved, grateful, strong family values, patient, easy-going.”

She said family has always been his top priority.

“His love and care for our wonderful children is unmeasurable,” she said. “I’m blessed to call him my husband and best friend.”

Tanya Dye also called him “an amazing man” in a separate nomination. “He has a way of conquering the mountains in life to obtain a master’s degree in finance, to teach his children the most important lesson is to never give up.”

The runner-up for Best Dad was local business owner Bo Johnson.

“He’s really good with the kids; it’s all about the kids all the time,” said wife Michelle.

Her nomination including a photo of her husband covering his daughter’s dance outfit with rhinestones.

“Most know him for Yogurt Jungle, but our kids know him as daddy and that title is even more rewarding for him,” she said.

“I was surprised at first, because we got so many votes right off the bat,” he said.

The second-place prize from Ace was a 240-piece Craftsman socket set and a 100-piece ratcheting screwdriver and bit set.

“Honestly, I’ll probably use this more than I would the grill,” Johnson said.

See all the wonderful nominees at InMaricopa.com/contests.

Best Dad Runner-Up Bo Johnson with wife Michelle, daughter Tessa, son Avery and Mike Richey.

Veterans and friends of Alex Beckley gathered to work at his home Saturday, two weeks after his death. Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

When Alex Beckley was killed in a single-vehicle crash on State Route 347 on May 31, he left behind a hole in the hearts of those who loved him.

Brenda Severs, also injured in the incident, was left to pull together the pieces. Uncertain what to do with the home they shared in the Lakes subdivision, she also saw a problem that added to her burden.

Alex had left behind a large hole in the backyard.

Severs said they had been planning to put in a pond as Alex settled into his new job at Compass Airlines, where he worked as a storage and material clerk under Bryan Moore. The freshly minted commander of American Legion Post 133, Moore rallied his fellow veterans and area businesses to lend a hand and get the yard back in shape.

Wildcat Landscaping of Maricopa donated the landscaping rock. Plants were donated by Leaf & Feather south of Maricopa. Pots and potting soil were donated by Home Depot in Chandler.

Moore put the word out to the American Legion and posted on the Maricopa Veterans Facebook page seeking volunteers, and more than a dozen veterans along with Compass employees and Rent-A-Vet showed up Saturday morning to shovel and rake.

Maricopa Veterans is a closed group on Facebook that was founded in 2018 with the intent of helping others, and it has grown to about 340 members.

“We’re really expanding. We’re really growing and we’re trying to do a lot of things,” Moore said.

They have helped an older veteran pack up and move to Washington. They have helped shape up the front yard of a Maricopa dad battling cancer. They have helped others move furniture.

The group’s motto is Semper Simul (Always Family). It is veterans helping veterans and the community at large. The group’s description states, “We are committed to continuing the spirit of service that was engrained in us from our time in the service.” Members must affirm they are veterans by answering membership questions before they are allowed into the group.

“When we have a veteran that’s in need, we jump in,” Moore said. “And that extends to their family.”

Investigators believe a blown tire caused the accident that took Beckley’s life.

Severs said she had been with Beckley six years, since they worked together at a JC Penney home store. Losing him has left her in a quandary over whether to stay or move.

“We’re still debating. We don’t know,” she said. “It’s hard because my two daughters, one is in Florida and one is in Vegas. So, then my work is in Ahwatukee, and driving back and forth, I’m a little bit skeptical about driving so far.”

With so much in her life up in the air, she’s found a rock of support among the veterans.

“Alex is no longer with us,” Moore said, “so now we’re going to try to take care of his family. That’s what we’re doing.”

Facebook.com/groups/MaricopaVeterans/

 

It’s not the first Maricopa subdivision to try to get out of an agreement with Orbitel Communications, but now Desert Passage Community Association is facing a lawsuit from the communications company.

Attorney Mark Holmgren called the evergreen clause “procedurally and substantively unconscionable.”

Orbitel attorneys filed a breach-of-contract complaint in Superior Court in May. They claim Desert Passage violated an agreement when it elected to terminate its cable service as of Dec. 21, 2018.

The suit seeks nearly $1 million in damages. The HOA’s attorneys, however, are challenging a common contract clause that has been a point of contention in community associations across the country.

Desert Passage (Smith Farms) is one of 11 homeowners associations in Maricopa that are “basic cable bulk-billed communities” through Orbitel. That agreement was for an initial seven years, starting in 2004, and renewed in 2011. Containing an “evergreen” clause, it renews automatically unless the HOA membership votes to terminate with a 60-day notice.

In an Oct. 18 letter notifying Orbitel of its pending termination of the agreement, Community Manager Debbie King stated, “The Board of Directors and the community per the contract have made this decision.”

King did not respond to a request for comment.

The details of the HOA decision were not defined until April, after letters were exchanged between Orbitel and Desert Passage and their respective attorneys. Desert Passage attorneys informed Orbitel a “duly noticed meeting” was held on an unspecified date prior to the Oct. 18 letter and the board obtained the required 67 percent vote against renewal.

In that April letter, attorney Mark Holmgren of Goodman Holmgren Law Group, representing the HOA, called the evergreen clause “procedurally and substantively unconscionable.”

Evergreen clauses are accepted in Arizona, but a handful of other states like California and Illinois have placed requirements of “conspicuousness” and renewal notification in their legislation. Courts have usually upheld the automatic-renewal clauses unless the language is ambiguous.

Orbitel received the initial notification of termination Oct. 18, more than 60 days before renewal was due to occur.

But the company wasn’t having it. The agreement with the HOA states the contract cannot be terminated until 67 percent of the homeowners in the association vote not to renew or extend the service. Orbitel claims there is no documentation to prove that happened.

“Orbitel responded with information indicating that, contrary to the terms in the agreement, the homeowners association had failed to obtain the approval of the Desert Passage residents for the cancellation of the agreement,” said John Schurz, president and general manager of Orbitel.

The company requested proof the HOA had taken a membership vote and met the required percentage to terminate. Claiming it received no response from Desert Passage, Orbitel then had its attorneys send another letter to the HOA in November. That letter also requested an updated count of “certificated residences” in the HOA.

Attorney Christopher Callahan of Fennemore Craig wrote that Orbitel’s billings for years had been based on 347 residences. “Orbitel has recently come to understand that there are presently more than 500 certified residences in Desert Passage, with more homes under construction,” he wrote to the HOA, meaning the HOA had been underbilled for years.

He also said the number of residences “is a matter within the exclusive knowledge of the Association,” which was why Orbitel was requesting the information.

However, in a March letter Holmgren stated the contract placed the burden of tracking the number of homes served and maintaining those records on Orbitel. Callahan said Orbitel did maintain the records of the 347 homes that it was billing but received no information on certificates of occupancy.

However, he said, Orbitel decided to do some calculations of its own. Those numbers showed 610 certificated residences, 22 homes under construction, eight lots being prepped for construction and 50 vacant lots.

Based on those numbers, he said, future monthly invoices would be for $11,840 instead of the $6,735 that had been billed.

It is not known what number of residences the HOA used for its calculation of 67 percent. In his sharply worded April letter to Callahan, Holmgren said “Orbitel has no right to review the ballots.”

While Holmgren said there is no longer a contract between Desert Passage and Orbitel, the HOA continued to pay Orbitel in January and February, and Orbitel continues to provide service.

The suit is seeking $6,735 for March, $11,840 each for April and May and then continued damages at that rate through what would have been the end of a renewed seven-year contract in 2025, plus attorneys’ fees. That comes to “at least” $970,888.

Holmgren laid out his dispute of Orbitel’s argument in the April letter. He claimed the language of the agreement indicated only one seven-year renewal, “not continued renewals,” and even cited KB Home as agreeing with his assessment.

“KB Home says the intent of the [agreement] was to allow Orbitel to recoup its investment in original infrastructure, and that the original term would have been sufficient,” Holmgren wrote.

He said any ambiguity in the contract was the fault of Orbitel.

And, Holmgren said, even if the agreement allowed for automatic renewals and even if the terms were not ambiguous, Desert Passage followed the correct procedures to terminate the contract.

Orbitel is part of the City of Maricopa’s origin story. The company was called in by developers in 2001 to help establish communication infrastructure ahead of thousands of homes. The company received a cable TV franchise in 2004, with those early contracts requiring Orbitel to have cable service in place before homes were built.

Later adding telephone and high-speed internet service, the company was acquired by MCG Capital Corporation in 2007. Schurz Communications acquired Orbitel in 2012.

Schurz, the general manager, speaks of Orbitel’s relationship with Desert Passage in the present tense.

“We are hopeful we can reach a speedy resolution to the matters at issue in the complaint,” Schurz said, “and we are committed to fulfilling our service obligations to the community residents and will continue to do so.”

Dustin Meyer (PCSO photo)

A 22-year-old man was booked on suspicion of aggravated assault after being accused of choking his girlfriend three times.

Maricopa Police were called to the home on West Cowpath Drive at around 1 a.m. Tuesday. There, a woman told officers Dustin Meyer had tried to strangle her after an argument.

Meyer stated he was attacked first and was trying to defend himself.

The woman told police they got into an argument after Meyer refused to leave the house. She said the argument ended up in her bedroom with Meyer pinning her down on the bed while putting both of his hands around her throat. She said he choked her three times and she could not breathe.

According to the report, she used a key to defend herself, “digging her key into multiple locations of Dustin’s body.”

The woman reported diminished hearing in her left ear and a headache. Police noted abrasions on Meyer.

Police took Meyer into custody on an anticipated charge of aggravated assault per domestic violence.

Modular buildings wait in the sun in the parking lot at Maricopa High School to be used as overflow classrooms in the coming school year. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With the excessive heat advisory ending tonight, the weekend outlook for Maricopa still includes triple digits and lot and lots of sun, according to the National Weather Service.

Today is partly sunny and hot with an expected high of 113 and winds reaching 15 mph. Tonight will likely be mostly cloudy with gradual clearing and a low around 71. Winds could gust as high as 25 mph.

Friday is forecast to be sunny with a high near 105 and continued breezy conditions. The nighttime low will be around 69.

Saturday is expected to be sunny with a high near 104. The overnight low will be around 71.

Sunday is also likely to be sunny with a high near 105. The night temperature will drop to around 70.

The pattern will continue into next week with daily temps expected in the low 100s.