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?Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Board member Lori Simmons announced Wednesday, July 21, she would not run for re-election when her term expires in December.

Simmons said she decided to leave the board to spend more time with her family. Her oldest son has three years left at home before he graduates high school “and I don't want to miss a minute of it,” she said.

A strong supporter of unification between COCSD and Mingus Union High School District, Simmons has sometimes been at odds with a majority of the board, but said her decision to leave had nothing to do with any action of the board.

The board voted earlier this month to discontinue efforts toward unification over Simmons' objection.

“There is a great relationship amongst the board members. We work beautifully together,” Simmons said. “We may not always agree with each other, but we respect each other and work very well together.”

Three seats on the board come open Friday, Dec. 31, including those of Simmons, Jason Finger and Janice Rollins. Finger and Rollins could not be reached for comment as of press time.

People who may wish to run for Simmons’ seat in the Tuesday, Nov. 2, election must complete paperwork and turn in petitions with at least 73 signatures on or before Wednesday, Aug. 4, according to Robin Bascom, administrative assistant to Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter.

If no candidates step forward to run, Carter will make appointments to the board, Simmons said.

Simmons said she is proud of several board accomplishments during her five years of service, including increased teacher pay, improved classroom rigor and upgraded science and technology programs.

The district computer lab, for example, will be staffed with certificated teachers instead of classified staff starting in 2010-11, she said.

She sai d she will miss interacting with district administrators, including Superintendent Barbara U’Ren, she said.

“I will absolutely miss the opportunity to make a difference in the education of the 2,500 or so children of the district. Now I'll just be the loudest parent at board meetings,” she joked.

Simmons urged district parents to become actively involved in the education of their children by attending board meetings and investing time at the schools their children attend.

Simmons did not rule out the possibility of running for election to an area school board in the future, but has no political ambitions beyond that, she said.

She thanked her husband, a local educator, for making it possible for her to attend board meetings and other activities required of her office.

“God Bless Mark [Simmons]” she said. “I couldn’t have done this without him.”

Simmons has three children, all of whom attend COCSD schools and participate in numerous extracurricular activities.

Updated building codes adopted by Cottonwood City Council on July 6 will keep the cost of homeowner’s insurance at a minimum, Development Services General Manager Dan Lueder said.

They will also allow people to build structures using alternative methods like rammed earth and straw bales.

The new codes, which take effect Friday, Aug. 6, replace versions adopted by the city in May 2004, Lueder said.

“The city gets graded by the Insurance Service Organization every five years,” he said. “By adopting the newer codes, the city will get a more favorable rating.”

The rating given to the city directly impacts what people and businesses pay for insurance. The new code gets Cottonwood a rating of “excellent,” which keeps insurance costs as low as possible.

Had the new codes not been adopted, the city’s excellent rating would have dropped to “poor,” Lueder said.

Waiting longer to adopt new codes makes it tough for builders to catch up with all the changes. Adopting new codes every five years allows builders to keep pace, building inspector Joe Steinke said.

“The codes are always changing and adapting as a result of newer technology and lessons learned from natural disasters,” he said.

The biggest drawback to the codes adopted in 2004 was the absence of regulations requiring water sprinkler systems in manufactured homes, Steinke said.

The new codes spell out exactly what inspectors will be looking for, which makes it easier for builders and homeowners to know what is expected of them, Lueder said.

Another benefit of the new code is that new energy efficiency standards will keep the costs of utilities down, he said.

The city enforces the code by reviewing building plans and conducting frequent field inspections.

Violations are first discussed with the builder, who is given a chance to correct the problem. A “stop work” order may be issued to compel a builder to fix the problem. If the problem persists, the builder must explain to a hearing officer, who can make orders and issue fines.

Children who live in Bridgeport east of the Verde River could begin attending school in Cornville instead of Cottonwood depending on the outcome of a border review by Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, Superintendent Barbara U’Ren said.

The Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is studying changing the boundary for Oak Creek School. If approved, students in Bridgeport east of the Verde River would attend school in Cornville.The change in attendance boundaries would not come prior to the 2011-12 school year if it happens at all, U’Ren said.

COCSD Board of Governors directed the superintendent and her staff to pursue the review during its regular meeting July 13.

“We’re in the very early stages of the process,” U’Ren said. “We’re very excited about the possibilities.”

Should the board vote to change the boundary it would impact scores of students who live in Bridgeport and in the Rocking Chair Road neighborhood, she said.

Instead of attending Dr. Daniel Bright School, Cottonwood Elementary School and Cottonwood Middle School, the new boundaries would require many students east of the Verde River to attend Oak Creek School in Cornville.

U’Ren said parents will have several chances to voice concerns about the proposal, the first at a COCSD board meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 10, at district headquarters, 1 N. Willard St.

The board wants to review the issue because a move in boundaries would equalize the number of students at each of the schools in the district, U’Ren said.

“Oak Creek School has space for children and we need to have more children for that school to operate more efficiently,” she said.

The change would benefit Oak Creek School by eliminating some combined classes where students of different grade levels attend the same class. In classes which are not blended, teachers can focus on the needs of students in a single grade level, she said.

The change may cause some parents to be concerned Oak Creek School will not be as accessible to them as the schools in the city.

“On the other hand, they may also see Oak Creek School has that rural atmosphere with an excellent education,” U’Ren said. “They might like that K-8 delivery.”

Other parents may be concerned about the increased distance from home to school because Cottonwood is closer than Cornville for many of the affected students. However, it will take buses nearly the same amount of time to transport students, whether they attend Oak Creek School or a school in the city, U’Ren said.

“Everybody is probably very happy with the school they are attending presently,” she said. “I think there will always be the concern that it’s new — it’s a change.”

The Cottonwood Youth Advisory Commission, a group responsible for helping Cottonwood City Council understand issues important to local children, loses several charter members this month, including two who were there from the very beginning, City Representative Hezekiah Allen said.

Charter members of the city of Cottonwood’s Youth Commission Mayra Garcia, left, and Jill Peterson retire from their advisory position this summer to pursue their college educations. Among their  responsibilities as youth commissioners was choosing activities and equipment attractive to the city’s young people for the Cottonwood Recreation Center.Mayra Garcia and Jill Peterson, both 18, graduated from Mingus Union High School in May and are preparing to head for college. Both said they will leave Cottonwood with many good memories and a sense of accomplishment about their five years in service to the city.

“Mayra and Jill have been a rock,” Allen said. “I could always count on their great ideas and their passion to get things done.”

Among the first commissioners when council created the group in 2005, Garcia and Peterson were eighth-graders with a lot to learn when it all began, Garcia said.

The first priority for the commission, Garcia said, was to establish a new recreation center where area children could have fun.

Sitting for an interview at the recently opened Cottonwood Recreation Center, Garcia and Peterson said being in the new center was like a dream come true.

“We were so young when we first talked about it,” Peterson said. “To see this grow from the little seed we helped plant until now, when we’re getting ready to go off to college, seems like perfect timing.”

“I feel so inspired,” Garcia said. “It’s like we’re sitting in our dream.”

The commission advised council about the design of the center. The group suggested the climbing wall and helped select video games that allow youngsters to race on stationary bikes or show their moves on a lighted dance floor, Allen said.

Garcia said she was proudest of some of the special events the commission hosted during her tenure, including a Valentine’s Day dinner dance at Verde Valley Senior Center that was right on target for those who attended.

“A lady told me she hadn’t been out in the last five years,” Garcia said. “It’s incredible to know an event we planned could be so meaningful for someone.”

In addition to hosting dances, the commissioners held free movie nights and mentored other Cottonwood youngsters through their work with Boys & Girls Clubs of Northern Arizona. They hosted fundraisers to help pet owners cover the cost of spay and neutering their pets. They participated in the annual Relay For Life and sponsored the city’s summer youth camp.

Both commissioners said their time and experience with the city gave them a big advantage when they were looking for places to attend college.

Garcia, who plans to attend Santa Clara University on a full scholarship, said her credentials as commission president probably made the difference in her bid for the scholarship.

Peterson, who wants to pursue a career in medicine beginning at Grand Canyon University, said she’s ready for new challenges thanks to the experience she gained as a commissioner.

Neither said they planned to return to Cottonwood to live and work.

“But I’ll always a have little place in my heart for Cottonwood,” Peterson said. To volunteer for the youth commission, call Allen at 639-3200.

Cottonwood’s newest magistrate lacks a law degree but possesses all the formal training and experience required to rule on matters expected to come before her, including requests for extensions of time or to modify installment payment schedules.

Cottonwood Municipal Court administrator Janie Randall was given the position of associate magistrate at the recommendation of Magistrate A. Douglas LaSota at the Cottonwood City Council meeting July 6. Randall’s duties as associate magistrate will include hearing cases in LaSota’s absence.Court Administrator Janie B. Randall will add the responsibilities of associate magistrate to her list of duties starting Thursday, Aug. 5, following a unanimous vote of the City Council on July 6.

“I hate to say it because it’s such a cliché, but this one’s a no-brainer,” Councilman Terrence Pratt said in support of Randall’s appointment.

Randall told council she’s ready to step in for Presiding Magistrate A. Douglas LaSota when needed and said she was grateful for the opportunity to serve.

Hiring outside lawyers as temporary judges when LaSota is ill, on vacation, overbooked, or recused from ruling on a case costs the city thousands of dollars each year, LaSota told council.

The promotion, which Randall accepts without any additional pay, will save the city the money of hiring an outside lawyer and speed up the time it takes to process cases, he said.

A 14-year veteran of municipal courts in Yavapai County, Randall graduated from Pepperdine University with a bachelor of arts and University of San Diego Lawyer’s Assistance Program with a certificate of 150 hours litigation training.

A former volunteer mediator for Prescott Justice Court and Superior Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Office, Randall enjoys experience working face to face with advocates engaged in courtroom battle.

She is of Hispanic descent and speaks Spanish, two attributes the city desires in an associate magistrate, LaSota told council.

“She will add diversity to our court,” LaSota said, making it more user-friendly for litigants.

A mother of four, Randall and her husband raised their children to engage in public service. Two serve in the Army, and a third plans to enter the Peace Corps. Their fourth child plays college football.

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” celebrating its 50th year in print, attracted her to pursue a legal career when she was a young girl, Randall said.

Through the narration of a young girl, the novel tells the story of her humble country lawyer father who tries to help a black man wrongly accused of rape avoid conviction.

As a child, Randall enjoyed the full run of a courthouse with her friend, whose father was an attorney. Twice each week, she watched the legal process from behind the scenes and found it fascinating.

“For me, it made me passionate about working in the law,” she said. Although she was originally headed to law school, a serious illness required Randall to stay at home and care for her ailing mother. She decided to scale back her dreams of a career as a lawyer.

Instead, she eventually found work as a paralegal, then took a job in court administration and never looked back.

When sitting as magistrate, Randall said she plans to “listen to the needs of the public that has to come before me and do my best to make findings based on what is in the best interests of justice.”

A $1.3 million condominium development for airplanes and airplane-related business at Cottonwood Airport won final plat approval by unanimous vote of the Cottonwood City Council on July 6, but questions were raised about the fairness of the deal.

Developer Bob Backus received final plat approval for a set of five already-constructed airplane hanger condominiums located on Airpark Road and connected to the Cottonwood Municipal Airport at the City Council meeting on July 6.The five-plex airplane hangar, which the law treats as a condominium because it consists of five walled-off sections within a single, 10,000-square-foot building, must form a nonprofit association and record bylaws to begin operation, City Attorney Steve Horton told council.

Tenants are expected to consist of people who own their own airplanes and aviation-related businesses, developer Bob Backus told council.

The expansive hangar was constructed more than 20 years after the developer leased city-owned property along the runway at Cottonwood Airport for a 100-year term starting in December 1983.

The developer pays a minimal annual lease payment to the city to occupy the land, but spent $1.3 million during the last two years to build the hangar complex, Backus said.

During public discussion, Cottonwood resident Bob Oliphant urged Backus to agree to modify his development company’s 100-year lease to include a $13,000 annual ground lease payment the city could use to create jobs and other economic development.

“I would ask Mr. Backus to agree to rewrite the lease so the citizens of Cottonwood can get a fair return,” Oliphant said.

Oliphant argued Backus holds what amounts to ownership of the property but pays virtually nothing for it.

Community Development Director George Gehlert reported some have urged the city to require its property be used to support economic development, but this was not contemplated when the lease was first signed in 1983.

Backus told council he believes the hangars will attract financially secure people who will invest in the local economy. Backus Family Investments’ development of the land already provided many local jobs, he said.

“We certainly want to see the property be used to create jobs and I believe that it will, but I can tell you one thing that’s not going to happen,” Backus said. “We’re not going to pay $13,000 a year.”

Under the final plat, council has the right to review the qualifications of subtenants wanting to lease the hangars.

A firefighter exits the burned mobile home in Verde Villages 1 covered in insulation and soot Monday, July 5.A mobile home to a family of four burned in a residential fire, which began at approximately 1:45 p.m. on Monday, July 5.

The owner, right, of a home which suffered a total loss in a house fire in Verde Villages 1 is comforted by a neighbor Monday, July 5.The home was located on Emerald Court, in Verde Village 1.

Area firefighters finish extinguishing a residential fire which burned through the above-head crawlspace of a mobile home in Verde Villages 1 on Monday, July 5.Firefighters from Verde Valley Fire District and Cottonwood Fire Department arrived on scene to find smoke pouring out the eaves and roof vents of the affected house.

All the members of the family escaped the fire and were uninjured. The house is likely a complete loss, according to VVFD Assistant Chief Mike Flummer.

VVFD fire investigator Dave McIlroy, said firefighters found evidence the fire began outside the house on a deck at the front door.

After speaking with the homeowner, investigators concluded the smoldering fire in the attic began when embers from an improperly extinguished cigarette blew up into eaves of the home, causing a smoky burn in the attic which quickly spread to both ends of the mobile home.

A Verde Valley Fire District firefighter, covered with soggy insulation, removes his respirator after battling a fire in a mobile home on Emerald Court in Verde Villages 1 on Monday, July 5.Neighbors comforted the couple who owned the home as firefighters put out the fire.

"They are the nicest people," next-door neighbor Ed Blauvelt said. "They were always willing to help anybody."

Firefighters pull   hose into a burning mobile home on Emerald Court in Verde Villages 1  on  Monday, July 5.Trauma Intervention Volunteers came to offer assistance to the family after firefighters were finished on-scene. Verde Valley Ambulance Co. arrived to evaluate the physical condition of firefighters who worked inside the smoky structure.

Traffic backed up on State Route 89A for about 45 minutes Tuesday, June 29, while Cottonwood Police Department cleaned up an accident involving one of its own officers, Public Information Officer Sgt. Gareth Braxton-Johnson reported.

The  two-vehicle injury accident was reported shortly after 2 p.m. near the highway's intersection with Candy Lane

An investigation at the scene determined a white 2004 Cadillac and a Cottonwood police patrol vehicle collided when the Cadillac, driven by an 83-year-old man, made a left turn in front officer, who was traveling westbound on State Route 89A.

The officer attempted to avoid the collision by swerving out of his lane, according to Braxton-Johnson. However, he was unable to avoid the collision and struck the rear passenger side of the Cadillac

The officer was transported by ambulance to the Verde Valley Medical Center for minor hand and wrist injuries suffered from the airbag deployment. He is expected to recover.

The driver of the Cadillac did not report any injuries. Traffic on State Route 89A was diverted for approximately 45 minutes for the completion of the accident investigation.

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