Mon, Feb

A-frame signs have never been allowed under Camp Verde’s town codes.
Nevertheless, they were allowed through an agreement with the town when Highway 260 bypassed Main Street and businesses felt they needed an extra tool to bring customers in.

More recently, the town became concerned over the L-word, “liability.”
The town’s Main Street is narrow, and there’s not much space between store fronts and asphalt; when the road was widened, the issue became more pronounced.

Many of the A-frame signs downtown sit in the town’s right-of-way areas, space near the road owned by the town.

If someone were to get into an auto accident because their vision was blocked by a sign, or if someone was hurt in any other way, the town could find itself involved in lawsuits.

Liability is an increasingly realistic concern of modern life, but when the town tried to enforce its rules over A-frame signs, there was an outcry from the Main Street business community.

After two years of wrangling through the town’s Planning and Zoning Committee, the Town Council finally decided to temporarily allow the signs for a few businesses on Main Street, the idea being that the signs would be removed when the economy got better.

This decision created an outburst of anger from merchants not included in the new rules; proponents argued that A-frame signs should be allowed for all businesses, not just Main Street businesses that fell under the new rule.
The outcry, which included Main Street protests, was enough to get the Town Council to reconsider their decision.

While the rules haven’t been changed yet, the council decided last week to suspend enforcing the rules for 30 days to try and work with the business community to develop an ordinance that’s fair to everybody.

Vice Mayor Brenda Hauser said it was important to find a solution that could soothe the charged emotions that have been tied up in this issue.

Mayor Tony Gioia said he realized that signs were important for every business in Camp Verde and wanted to find a fair solution.

Councilman Ron Smith told the public he was committed to getting to that fair solution soon; he doesn’t want the new council seated in June to inherit this problem, which has taken more than two years of the government’s time.

Town Attorney Bill Sims said that the town should ensure that businesses with signs in the town’s right-of-way should work out an agreement to indemnify the town from any liability while the council works to hammer out a new process for the A-frame signs.

Parents and teachers know the students at Mingus Union High School are hard-working students. Now, thanks to the Strive for .5 program, everyone knows.

More than 300 sophomores, juniors and seniors received recognition and reward for their academic achievement Feb. 18. Strive for .5, sponsored by the Cottonwood Journal Extra, honors those students who increase their grade point average by half a point from one semester to the next. It goes on to reward students who do it twice, or three times, which is a stupendous feat, according to Director of Student Services Diane Uidenich.
One student did, however, achieve Strive for .5 for the third time: Abriana Serna. She received $100 from the Cottonwood Kiwanis Club. The Harman Avera Art Award of $40 went to junior Arturo Munoz.

Also part of the program are students who attain and maintain a 3.5 or better GPA.

Each student recognized received congratulations from the staff, the board and the administration along with a specially designed T-shirt and loud applause from the audience and their fellow recipients.

Certified Nurse Assistant instructor Kay Cooper stood on the sidelines at the end of the bleachers during the program. She was there to support five of her nine students who achieved a Strive for .5 award.

Another senior who received a large round of applause was Brian Connolly. He was recognized as a first-time Strive for .5 recipient.

Connolly has cerebral palsy as a result of a diabetic coma he suffered as a young child. He will graduate this year.

“The kids in class all work with him along with his wonderful aide, Carol Wilt. He has to work for his grades just like everyone else. It’s a struggle, but he’s made it,” mother Maria Connolly said.

Tasili Epperson designed the portrait of Bob Marley on the bright yellow T-shirts with the quote “Man is a universe within himself.”

Guest speaker, Tamara Addis, followed on the same theme that one can be or do anything no matter what life throws out. She talked about her road to Mingus — the successes, the trials, the good and bad experiences. She came to Mingus to teach mathematics in 2000.

“I grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional household. At the age of 17, I ran away from home,” she said, while explaining how nervous she was to speak before such a large group.

She graduated from high school and received a letter from the college she wanted to go to, but her mother told her she couldn’t go, so she walked out.

Addis enrolled at Santa Monica College and walked onto their track and made a reputation for herself. After two years, California State at Northridge asked her to come run for them. She did.

“I ran, studied and worked,” Addis told the students at Strive for .5.

Then she took an education course and the course of her life changed. Her first teaching job was at the 66th Street school in Los Angeles, which was in a not-so-good neighborhood. Police helicopters often flew over the school looking for criminals who would seek refuge on the campus, knowing the police would not shoot at them because of the children.

“We even got combat pay. It was quite an experience,” she said.

After surviving a rollover accident during an earthquake, Addis came to West Sedona School and taught physical education, then to Sedona Red Rock High School to teach math.

“Believe me, my struggles made me who I am today, and I know there are students here who are having similar struggles,” Addis told the audience, citing that if she could survive what happened in her life, anyone can survive the trials of their life.

“My advice to you today is to get involved in school. You are the master of your own universe,” Addis said.

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

It took two years to craft a town ordinance about where A-frame, or sandwich board, signs are allowed in town limits. It took two weeks to draw a firestorm of criticism from local business owners opposed to the new rules.

The Camp Verde Town Council will revisit a discussion about the controversial signs at its Wednesday, March 4, meeting, said Mayor Tony Gioia.

The council passed new rules in January that limited the areas that could display the signs to businesses that have a door facing Main Street. It was originally conceived as a temporary measure to allow businesses suffering in a poor economy a way to draw in customers until things improved, and the town could provide more permanent signs.

But the new rule, which limited signs to certain businesses on Main Street, drew immediate protest from merchants like Donna Stilwell, owner of D&N Tire, a business located off of Main Street. Stilwell spent last week standing by her A-frame sign on Main Street holding protest signs decrying the Town Council’s decision.

Stilwell’s protest vigil was lent support by a phalanx of downtown merchants who filed into last week’s Town Council meeting to express displeasure with the new rules.

Several people argued that it wasn’t fair to prevent struggling businesses from advertising; others argued that it wasn’t fair just to allow a few Main Street businesses the right to use the signs when every business in Camp Verde could use the help.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that small business is not in [the Town Council’s] best interests, and we are tired of being misled,” said Bill Carter of Camp Verde Realty, speaking on behalf of the Camp Verde Merchant’s Committee. Carter said the informal body of merchants was prepared to retain an attorney if its members were left unsatisfied.

The town is in a tough spot.

While there is concern about keeping control over the style and quality of signs that could line the town’s streets, many of the A-frame signs could sit in the town owned right-of-way alongside the street, opening the door to legal liability if a sign was found to contribute to an accident.

While not every A-frame sign would necessarily be on town property, several members of the business community defended the need for the signs.

Andy Dickey with Verde Barbell Gym said that his business, located on First Street, depends on the ability to use every marketing tool it can.
The merchants fighting for their signs also found support with shopkeepers who are allowed A-frame signs on Main Street.

Therese Tobish with Ancient Bear Gallery said she didn’t think it was fair that others couldn’t have a sign when her family’s business could.
Stilwell told the council she was still “mad as hell.”

While the council wasn’t allowed to discuss the issue last week because of the state’s open meeting laws, Gioia told the protestors that their point had been heard loud and clear.

The council is expected to readdress the matter next month.

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Jerome State Historic Park will be closed to visitors for the immediate and possibly long-term future. The Arizona State Parks Board decided Friday, Feb. 20, to close the park this week.

“The board decided to close the park, along with McFarland in Florence and Tonto Natural Bridge in Payson because of needed repairs,” State Parks Public Information Officer Ellen Bilbrey said Monday, Feb. 23.

She said right now the closing of the three is a safety issue. They will be closed first to make the repairs, but also because the state is going to “Sweep $27 million out of our account Saturday, Feb. 28,” Bilbrey said.

One wall at the Jerome park’s building is caved in and the roof is in disrepair, she said. However, the park is also closing because of the budget crunch. According to state park officials, the parks that will be closed could possibly reopen once the financial woes have passed.

“We are closing. That’s it. We’ll be closed by no later than the end of the week,” Jerome Park Ranger Nora Graf said. “As far as I know, that’s the plan.”

Of concern to the town of Jerome is the drop in visitation to the town. Mayor Al Palmieri said it will be a big loss.

“The park draws a lot of people, so it’s going to hurt us. A lot of people you talk to in Jerome have either just come from the state park or are going to the state park,” Palmieri said. “I just don’t see the sense in closing those buildings and leaving them there — empty.”

Park rangers will be reassigned.

With pending cutbacks, the Mingus Union High School Governing Board plans to eliminate a longtime negotiation tool used at the school.

The Interest Based Negotiation process uses an independent facilitator to help in negotiation between administration and staff on issues such as salary, benefits and general working conditions. The historic cost for the facilitator to come up from Phoenix is approximately $22,000 a year.

Board member Jim Ledbetter brought the subject up at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting when the IBN process came up for approval for 2008-09, saying that IBN was very costly.

“The price is half a teacher’s salary. I respectfully submit this is not a year to do IBN,” Ledbetter said.

He asked for a proposal on how to go forward with a Mingus-specific plan that would replace IBN. The board removed the item from the Jan. 8 agenda and decided to have it placed on the board’s Thursday, Feb. 12, meeting along with consideration of the IBN process.

Board president John Tavasci Jr. said he did not approve of IBN, but staff participation in the process should be maintained.

“This doesn’t need to be a subcommittee of the board but a plan directed by the superintendent,” Tavasci said.

Board member Andy Groseta said he did not want to wait too long to have a negotiation plan in place.

“I’m in favor of a well orchestrated, well organized process where everybody’s involved,” Groseta said.

What Groseta stated is the same thing the teachers are wanting. Laura Logsdon, president of the Mingus Union Education Association, will present an alternative plan at the Feb. 12 meeting.

“We, as an association of teachers, will present a plan of our own that incorporates some of the mechanisms that allow for a process-based decision-making model,” Logsdon said. “We’re interested in keeping a process in place whether we’re facing a shortfall year or one in which we have money to spend.”

Everyone is looking at plans that will not cost the district money, but will be fair and objective, and will help reestablish a relationship of trust, she said.

“I think we’re on our way toward something that is going to be very workable,” Logsdon said.

Another action the board took to save money for the district was to have the board hear disciplinary issues rather than independent hearing officers. They heard their first case Feb. 5.

Other items to be considered on Thursday’s agenda include:

  • To prioritize a list of reductions for the fiscal year’s 2009 budget
    Change orders for the bond and prioritize the remaining bond project
  • Horizontal lane movement for 13 teachers
  • Board designees to sign purchase order requests not to exceed $4,999
  • The Superintendent’s Advisory Team to gather information from staff in the budgeting process

A presentation by Interim Superintendent Nancy Alexander on a budget override for November 2009

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

With a 4-1 vote, the Camp Verde Town Council voted last week to reinstate the town’s Housing Commission.

The commission was set to be abolished after the town decided last year to eliminate the entire Housing Department as a measure to help plug a $500,000 budget hole.

Town Manager Mike Scannell said at the time that while the decision was regrettable, it’s rare to find a Housing Commission in a town the size of Camp Verde. The commission protested the decision; every commissioner except Greg Blue voted to recommend against their dissolution. Blue said that as a developer, he may be able to work on housing issues with more freedom than he could as a public official.

The members of the Housing Commission made impassioned pleas to the council last week; they argued that even without a Housing Department, it was still important that local government keep a mechanism in place to deal with housing issues.

There was some discussion about forming a nongovernmental citizens committee, but in the end, the council voted to keep the commission, reducing the frequency of its meetings to four times a year.

Housing Commissioner Linda Buchanan expressed her displeasure at the way the town had handled dismantling the department and commission.
“There was no letter of appreciation,” Buchanan said. “ … [The council] really left us hanging.”

Buchanan questioned how the town could afford not to pay a relatively small sum to keep a Housing Commission, if not a department, to address very real concerns when it comes to a basic human right like having a place to live.

Housing Commission Chairman Jeremy Bach reiterated the importance of housing in his argument before the council and questioned why the council would eliminate his commission before some of the others, like the Trails and Pathways Commission.

Bach said he meant no disrespect to other commissions but felt housing was more important than trails.

Vice Mayor Brenda Hauser, who has never supported getting rid of the Housing Commission, said the decision was made because of the town’s financial situation; she believes that the current slump will eventually end, and the town will once again be able to put more money into housing.

Even with the elimination of the Housing Department, former Housing Director Matt Morris was assigned to spend 10 percent of his time on housing issues; the rest of his time will be spent devoted to rewriting portions of the town’s antiquated building and zoning codes.

Councilwoman Norma Garrison cast the lone no vote against reinstating the Housing Commission. She argued that while the decision to get rid of the commission was regrettable, it had already been made. Garrison said keeping the commission would cost more money when the town was already in dire financial straits, and this would mean the town would have to make cuts elsewhere.

In the meantime, Morris said he felt there was value in looking into forming a regional housing authority to work with issues in the Verde Valley.

The housing commissioners were upset, but they seemed pleased by the compromise to keep the commission intact after the motion made by Councilman Ron Smith was approved.

“You all have done a great thing here tonight,” Bach told the council.

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Fort Verde has avoided the chopping block — at least for now.

The historic Camp Verde landmark was one of eight state parks recommended for closure to help plug a hemorrhaging Arizona State Parks budget.

The eight parks, including Riordan, Lyman Lake, Homolovi Ruins, McFarland, Oracle, Tubac and the Yuma Quartermaster Depot, only account for 6 percent of annual visitation to the state parks’ system.

Fort Verde is the only state park currently facing the risk of closure; parks in Cottonwood and Jerome are not on the list.

Last week, the park system’s Board of Directors decided to hold off on shutting down the parks to try and come up with alternate measures to close their $650,000 budget hole, a result of state cutbacks in the face of severe financial deficits.

The issue is expected to be raised at the board’s next meeting Friday, Feb. 20, in Phoenix.

The fort was never built by the U.S. Army to last, but a group of citizens, looking to the future, helped preserve the last four 19th century buildings until they were transferred to Arizona State Parks nearly four decades ago.

If the park were to close, it’s unclear what would happen. The land and buildings could possibly resort to private ownership under agreements signed when the park service first took over the fort.

If the park service can avoid closing the state parks, they may look to other measures like cutting jobs or days of operation.

Already at Fort Verde, the park has lost its part-time employees; a potluck farewell luncheon was planned this past Friday.

Fort Verde Park Manager Sheila Stubler said that everyone was simply taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the park’s future.

In the meantime, the park is moving ahead with a current renovation projects unless the state says otherwise, Stubler said.

Park volunteer Peggy Morris was more vocal about her opinions about what the state parks’ board should do.

“They need to start at the top and cut the highest salaries,” Morris said. “They need to leave the park open and leave the people who keep them running from day-to-day alone.”

Morris said she was afraid that if the park were to shut its doors, the buildings might be subject to vandalism. She’s also afraid of what would happen to the park’s extensive library of information and the historical artifacts kept on-site.

The Camp Verde Town Council voted last week to send a letter to the state, urging it to keep the fort open; despite the state’s budget woes, the fort draws thousands of people to town who spend their money in local shops and restaurants.

Town Manager Mike Scannell suggested that the entire community should write their legislators if they are concerned over the future of the town.
Mayor Tony Gioia said he didn’t think the state park’s board was really intending to close the fort, but felt the town should be proactive in trying to protect it just in case.

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When it comes down to a real emergency, firefighters are often the first line of protection and defense.

In Camp Verde, that line is about to get a little stronger thanks to a $325,140 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Camp Verde Fire District was one of more than 100 fire departments across the country to receive a share of millions of dollars as part of the government’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant program.

The money will help supplement the recruitment and hiring of three additional firefighters for the district, according to district spokesperson Barbara Rice.

The grant was designed specifically to make sure communities get more “frontline” people working to protect communities. According to Rice, one of the main goals of the grant program is to help bring the district’s staffing standards more in line with those established by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, or OSHA.

The district will receive the money over the course of the next five years so that the cost of hiring new personnel can be spread across several fiscal years.

“Receiving these grant funds will allow Camp Verde Fire District to increase our staffing and response capabilities, thereby reducing response times [and] improving firefighter safety,” read a statement released by the district.

Camp Verde was one of six Arizona fire departments to get a piece of the FEMA pie; other awards went to firefighters in Chloride, Rio Rico, Lakeside, Avondale and Clarkdale.

Nearly $190 million was distributed to departments across the county for the 2008 grant cycle.

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