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Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Ralph Hess sentenced Christine Jane Howieson to two-and-a-half years in the Arizona Department of Corrections at the Camp Verde Judicial Facility on March 18.

Howieson, 45, was accused of taking more than $100,000 from her employer, Mountain Stucco, in Cottonwood, from September 1995 through July 2007.

In a plea agreement before Hess on Feb. 19, Howieson pleaded guilty to one count of theft, three counts of forgery and one count of taking the identity of another.

The two-and-a-half years is the mandatory mitigated sentence for Class 3 felony theft.

Howieson received four years probation on the remaining counts.

Hess found the fact that Howieson has family responsibilities and no prior record to be mitigating factors.

“You appear to be a very good person who clearly has done some very bad acts,” Hess told the defendant. “I don’t find a genuineness in your remorse. You don’t seem to be getting it and you will need some counseling.”

“With regard to the other charges, I believe probation is appropriate because it is the best means for repair to be accomplished and to begin the means to make restitution,” Hess said. “It [the sentence] allows you to be brought back [to society] to begin restitution.”

Restitution was set in the amount of $100,000, however, the court retains jurisdiction to raise that amount up to $500,000 upon further investigation.
“I came here today to tell Christine [Howieson] what I think of her but I’ve decided not to do that,” Mountain Stucco owner Robert Cunningham told the court before sentencing. “She knows who she is and what she did.”
In a voice choking with emotion, Cunningham told the court Howieson had been a trusted long-term employee and he had helped her deal with personal problems in the past.

“All she had to do was ask for my help but she chose a different avenue,” Cunningham said. “She lied, schemed and used my money to pay off her debts without me knowing it. This is a small business. We work closely together to run it. What kind of person can do that to another person? I have a hard time with that. This is a sad day for me.”

“He and his wife attempted to help you, maybe over and above what they needed to do and you repaid them with betrayal,” Hess told the defendant.
Hess asked the defendant if she had anything to say before sentencing.

“Just that I’m sorry. There is nothing else to say,” Howieson said.

Cunningham’s wife, Cynthia, said she wanted to thank Detective Monica Kuhlt, of the Cottonwood Police Department, for breaking the case.

“Chris [Howieson] has a hard time admitting her guilt,” Cynthia Cunningham said. “It’s sad that she isn’t forthright but Monica [Kuhlt] got an admission of guilt from her.”

“It’s been a long time coming, but we’re satisfied with the way things went down,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the experience wasn’t all bad for Mountain Stucco.
“It could have divided us but instead it brought us closer together,” she said. “Business people and the community rallied behind us and gave us a lot of hope. Our creditors worked with us too to get through this.”

Todd Etshman can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

At its March 18 regular meeting, the Cottonwood City Council got the Hwy. 89A update the Clarkdale Town Council had hoped to get on March 11.

The Clarkdale council update by Arizona Department of Transportation and S.J. Lewis Company representatives had to be postponed.

ADOT Engineer Tom Ward told the Cottonwood City Council of the benefits roundabouts provide.

The Hwy. 89A widening project between Cement Plant Road and Blackhills/Verde Heights Drive will have five of them.

Roundabouts keep traffic moving and have fewer conflict points and accidents than traffic light intersections, Ward said.

They also cut down on pollution since there is no stopping or idling on roundabouts.

“Roundabouts are relatively new to this area and have been an issue with some of the public,” Public Works Director Tim Costello told the council.
They’re also an issue for some council members.

“I don’t like roundabouts,” said Councilman Duane Kirby, who lamented the fact that he can hardly get to Hwy. 89A from his home near the construction site anymore.

Kirby said he’s heard some states in the East are doing away with them and he’d like to examine the data that indicates roundabouts are better and/or safer than stoplight intersections.

ADOT spokesman Bill Williams said he would provide it for him.
“Roundabouts have a level of initial controversy,” Costello told the council.

S.J. Lewis believes they could have the Hwy. 89A project done as early as December, far ahead of the scheduled April 2009 completion date.

The first roundabout at Cement Plant Road should begin by the end of March, Williams said. It will take approximately six weeks due to the small width of Cement Plant Road.

Succeeding roundabouts will take significantly less time to complete, but ADOT plans to allow motorists plenty of time to get used to the first one before beginning the rest.

“My concern is the educational component of the roundabouts since we have so many seniors here,” Mayor Diane Joens said.

ADOT intends to address that, Williams said, and has set up a roundabout navigation and education Web site at www.azdot.gov/Roundabouts.

Work on the 2.2-mile Hwy. 260 project from Thousand Trails to Western Drive in Cottonwood is also progressing on schedule.

“In the past 30 days, crews have succeeded in clearing brush, removing culverts and excavating areas near bridges,” Williams stated in a press release.

Traffic has not been impacted nearly as much as it has on Hwy. 89A since the construction activity is off the existing roadway but as the project proceeds toward Western Drive later this spring, motorists may experience delays due to lane restrictions.

ADOT and the Prescott National Forest want the public to know that Forest Road 9606J, which provides access to the Black Canyon River Access site and the Black Canyon Wash shooting site near Cottonwood is closed due to its proximity to the construction area.

With a nonprofit corporation being formed to raise money for a new library, what role does the Camp Verde Library Commission play?

It was a question the commission took to the Town Council last week in a discussion of how the nonprofit could potentially work.

Some of the commissioners told the council they felt like they were being left out of the loop.

Mayor Tony Gioia told them to remember that everyone’s ultimate goal was the construction of a new library, and that commission members should feel comfortable raising money anyway they can.

Linda Harkness, an officer of the forming corporation, told the library commission that she welcomed its involvement in the nonprofit and stressed that she wanted to work together, not face off as adversaries.

While the town could raise money to build a new library, there are limits on what a government can spend before it triggers certain requirements under state law. The town can spend a maximum of $250,000 on architectural services and $500,000 on engineering costs. A penny more and the town would be required to start a bidding process between contractors vying for a project.

While a nonprofit would likely put out a bid request just to keep prices competitive, Harkness said she thinks a nonprofit could get additional cost savings from a contractor than the town government — savings possibly as much as 15 percent.

Just because the town could theoretically spend $750,000 on a library, it’s doubtful that architecture or engineering costs would be that much on a project of this size.

Nor does it mean, as Gioia pointed out, that the town would have anywhere close to that much money available for a library.

There’s also the question of what role the nonprofit would play in the future operations of the new library.

Would it manage it as part of the contract to raise money and get it built? The library commission questioned where that would leave library employees who currently work for the town.

This and other questions made it clear that there’s a lot to work out until there’s enough money to actually build a library, something that could take years.

at 567-3341, or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Faced with a November recall election following charges of mismanagement, Camp Verde Sanitary District Board member Al Dupuy defended his board’s actions last week.

Dupuy and Board Chairman Rob Witt are the focus of a recall initiated by a grassroots citizens group unhappy with the direction the board has taken and their heavily increased tax bills paying for a sewer expansion project.

Dupuy said he’s willing to work with anyone who has ideas on how to help the sanitary district, including the Sanitary District Fairness Group, the organization responsible for the recall.

Both Dupuy and Witt offered a vacant seat on the board to the opposition group’s president, James Strava, and vice president, Bill Mitton.

Mitton turned it town due to other obligations, Dupuy said.

Strava said he believed he could help the board if he took the seat, but declined citing personal reasons that don’t allow him the time needed to serve as a board member.

Strava said that he also is planning to take a less active role in the leadership of the Sanitary District Fairness Group in the coming months, and offered his support to anyone who could step up and aggressively pursue the group’s objectives.

The recall petition listed seven complaints against Dupuy and Witt.
Dupuy said he was worried that some members of the public have painted him as a man who doesn’t care about the tax burden on district.

In a public statement last week he answered the charges one by one.
? Abuse of tax levy authority.

Dupuy said that as a special taxing district, the sanitary district has the authority under state law to enter into an agreement with a private entity for the construction of a sewage collection system and wastewater treatment plant.

The Fairness Group has expressed concerns over a $6 million private loan obtained by the district last year that leaves district members with the bill.
? Failure to disclose future tax levies during the budget process.

Dupuy said all budget decisions and financial agreements were discussed in public meetings, as was the $6 million loan.

“The board has always been upfront that certain taxes will need to go up,” Dupuy said. “Unfortunately, no one can predict exactly where they will go.”

? Inappropriate allocation of district assets.

Dupuy said that to the best of his knowledge, the district’s funds are being used to complete the $15 million sewer expansion project.

? Inadequate record keeping and financial reporting.

Dupuy said that other than a few minor issues, a recent audit of the district found no serious problems with the board’s financial reporting and no evidence of intentionally mishandling funds.

The audit confirmed that the district’s books were in the clear, noting a few issues with internal controls over handling finances.

? Unauthorized destruction of public records.

Dupuy said that if the complaint was concerning the destruction of tapes after meeting minutes were transcribed, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office had already talked with the board about the issue.

Dupuy said the tapes were used to help record the minutes of meetings, and to his knowledge, the district no longer destroys any tapes.

? Withholding meeting minutes and other public records.

Dupuy said that, to his knowledge, the district has always allowed public records requests. He pointed to one instance where the minutes of a five-and-a-half-hour meeting were not recorded within 72 hours, and the attorney general considered it a “blip on the radar.”

“In other words, [the sanitary district] has a good record with minutes and public record compliance,” Dupuy said.

? Failure to keep the public properly informed of district business.
Dupuy said that the board holds public meetings every month, and that at most of those there are television cameras and newspaper reporters present.

“The decision to build a larger plant and increase taxes has always been done in public,” Dupuy said.

Dupuy also directly addressed personal criticism against his role on the sanitary district board.

“There is a perception that I personally don’t care about the burden the tax increases have put on the people within the district, but this is simply not true,” Dupuy said. “I am willing to listen to any and all suggestions that will help reduce our taxes. I am willing to work for and with district members that are willing to offer positive suggestions to improve our current situation.”

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A structural failure early this year during the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant has left the Camp Verde Sanitary District with the bill — for now.

The district has to have someone fix the walls of the new aeration basin that cracked and bowed during a testing phase.

The district hired an independent engineer which the district thinks puts the blame for the failure squarely on the shoulders of the project engineers, Phoenix-based Coe and Van Loo.

Coe and Van Loo is reviewing the independent engineers report and hasn’t yet accepted any official responsibility for the problem.

While district board is confident that someone eventually will be held financially liable, construction of the project can’t proceed much farther without the needed thousands of dollars in repairs.

If the project were to be put on hold until the board had a check in its hands, it would likely cost the district more money for having to demobilize construction workers while waiting for repairs and then pay to bring them back, board member Al Dupuy said.

“I’m not comfortable fronting the money for repairs,” Dupuy said. “We need to be more aggressive in pursuing those at fault.”

Construction on another part of the sewer project, the expansion of sewer lines in Camp Verde, is expected to resume shortly, board member Gregg Freeman said

In early March, The Arizona Republic reported the state’s budget shortfall is up to $1.2 billion.

How to cope with budget shortfall challenges is a frequent topic at city council, town council and government meetings across the Verde Valley, too.

Add Yavapai County to the list of governments facing uncertain economic times in the first quarter of 2008. County leaders are concerned with keeping the budget under control.

Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis said the shortfall amounts to about $6.4 million this year.

“Yavapai County is experiencing tax revenue shortfalls much like the state and other cities and towns,” County Administrator Julie Ayers said.

Although county agencies have trimmed approximately $1.5 million in the past month, Davis said that won’t be nearly enough.

“They’ve [agency heads] got to take another look. I think it’s better that they decide what to cut than the board,” Davis said.

Ayers said departments have analyzed where to make cuts and will continue to do so.

However, Ayers said the county is now focusing on the creation of the 2008-09 budget and departments may find that budget even tougher than this year’s.

On Jan. 29, Ayers told the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors the county is experiencing a recession.

“We’ve got to cut out unnecessary things,” Davis said from Phoenix on Friday, March 7. “The county should live within its means. It should be as accountable as a private business or a family.”

Asked if shortfalls had to be dealt with now, Davis said it “depends on whose philosophy you use. Mine is that cuts do have to be made now.”
Ayers said that based on need, some county positions can’t go unfilled but otherwise the county has a “hiring chill.”

One major item that cannot be cut is the jail district. Ayers told the board another $1.8 million is needed to keep the jails operating.

“There are not a lot of options there. Violators must be incarcerated. We’re still challenging the jails to come up with better efficiency and service since we’re operating in a deficit,” Davis said.

Craig Sullivan, director of the County Supervisors Association of Arizona, told the Board of Supervisors that to deal with the budget shortfall at the state level, counties may have to bear more of the burden for such costly items as prisoner incarceration.

“They’re contemplating sending more prisoners to our jails,” Davis said.
Davis did not want the county’s financial situation to sound entirely bleak, however.

“Sometimes a controversy can cause people to step back and see how to improve business. We just have to clean it up and make it more efficient,” he said.

Todd Etshman can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Newly appointed Cottonwood City Councilman Jim Chapman won’t have far to go to attend City Council meetings before or after work.

On Tuesday, March 5, the City Council selected Chapman, a cook at Murphy’s Grill, to fill the council vacancy created when Councilman Ron Hollis resigned for business and personal reasons in early December.

City Council Chambers are a short walk down north Main Street from Murphy’s Grill, in Old Town Cottonwood.

“I’ve always been interested in government and politics but it’s my first time doing something like this. I thought long and hard about it before throwing my hat into the ring but I wanted to do something for the community,” said Chapman, a single father of two young children. “It’s important to get involved and I want my children to know that.”

Chapman grew up in Tucson and is an eight-year resident of Cottonwood.
The council selected him over three other applicants including former Mayor Ruben Jauregui, Mingus Union High School Assistant Principal Kathleen Alexander-Young and Kent Hellman.

Candidate John Ask removed his name from consideration before the council meeting on Feb. 26.

“Coming straight from the public means I’ll bring a fresh set of eyes and I think I have good judgment,” said Chapman, who had been attending council meetings as an observer until he was appointed.

“I thought they were all good,” City Manager Doug Bartosh said. “I think it’s important to have a cross-section of the community and different perspectives on the council. The council liked his answers more but it was pretty close.”

The council questioned the candidates and heard candidate presentations on Feb. 26.

Bartosh said the primary function of council members is to develop policy for the city, represent Cottonwood’s residents and represent the city at various functions.

Although council members receive a small stipend for their service, Bartosh said council members take the job more to serve the community than for any financial gain.

Once he’s sworn in, Chapman said he wants to see the recreation center completed and would like to see sidewalks constructed in every neighborhood in the city.

“I look forward to working with you,” Mayor Diane Joens said to the seventh and newest council member. “I know you’ll keep us on our toes.”
Chapman was sworn in on Tuesday, March 11, and will take his seat on the council on Tuesday, March 18.

He will serve until the next municipal election in 2009. Voters will then select a candidate to fill the remainder of Hollis’ term, which expires in May 2011.

Todd Etshman can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

While the city of Cottonwood moves forward with plans for a recreation center, a new gym in town is preparing for an early fall opening.

A question has arisen as to why the need for both? Why have two places for residents to exercise and get fit?

In talking with the city’s Parks and Recreation Director Richard Faust and the owner of Rough Cut Health Club & Spa Laura Morrison, the two centers are also different.

Along N. Main Street the two red brick buildings at N. 10th Street are part of the Riverfront Commons commercial plaza. The largest building is the 50,000-square foot Rough Cut gym.

The gym will have many of the same amenities as the city’s 60,000-square foot Cottonwood Community Recreation and Aquatics Center.

The most obvious difference is that the two-story Rough Cut gym is a privately-owned, membership-only gym and the recreation center is open to the public and owned and operated by public tax dollars.

In November 2006, Cottonwood voters approved $17 million in bonding for the city to build the recreation center from an existing 1 percent sales tax and user fees.

“We are different because we are not for profit and we’ll be offering more recreation-type activities,” Faust said. Other than that, Faust said he could not comment on Rough Cut.

The recreation center will have a climbing wall, a water slide and a competition pool, along with walk/run track, a game room, a multi-purpose room, a catering kitchen and vending machines.

According to Morrison, some of the offerings will be the same at Rough Cut, such as a full weight room, aerobics room and three other group exercise rooms, a day-care center with play equipment, and showers and lockers.

Instead of a large swimming pool, Rough Cut will have four, smaller current pools. They will be for exercise only and people will be able to swim against the current. The pools will also be used for aerobics and arthritis-centered exercise classes. Other amenities include a Jacuzzi and a steam room.

“We’ll also have two, regulation-size indoor squash courts. We’ll be able to bring tournaments in. I also have plans for a juice bar,” Morrison said.

Another difference is a physical therapist with a separate therapy pool and treatment room. For those who want to refresh after a workout, Morrison has added a hair and skincare salon.

“My goal is to make it fun for everybody. My passion is physical fitness, and a health club has always been my dream,” she said.

While Morrison plans a fall 2008 opening, the recreation center will take a bit longer. The plan is to start construction in the winter of 2008-09 and open late 2009 or early 2010.

Both Faust and Morrison agree that there is room enough for both centers in the Upper Verde Valley.

“I think we’ll compete, but I also think we’ll have different clientele,” Morrison said.

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