Mon, Feb

With a jury now in place, opening arguments are expect-ed to begin this week in Camp Verde in the manslaughter trial of motivational speaker and self-help author James Arthur Ray.

The trial, which is expected to last for the next few months, will also be broadcast on live television.

James Arthur Ray, 53, was charged with three counts of manslaughter after Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York, and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside a sweat lodge at Angel Valley Retreat Center in October 2009Ray, 53, was charged with three counts of manslaughter after Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York, and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside a sweat lodge at Angel Valley Retreat Center in October 2009.

The center was the site of a $10,000-a-head retreat hosted by Ray’s organization, James Ray International.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow gave the go-ahead last week for the trial to be broadcast by “In Session,” the daytime court segment on TruTV, formerly Court TV.

Darrow granted permission over the objections of Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who argued live broadcasts, if seen by witnesses expected to be called, could have an effect on their testimony.

Darrow issued a reminder to both the prosecution and the defense to inform potential witnesses to avoid media coverage of court proceedings.

David Bodney, an attorney for the television network, argued live coverage would advance “Arizona’s tradition of courtroom access.”

In a motion filed late last month, Bodney argued the network has covered several high-profile trials over the years without incident, including the trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Opening arguments are expected to begin Tuesday, March 1.

In the meantime, Ray’s defense team continues to seek to prevent audio recordings made during the retreat from being entered into evidence.

The recordings, according to a motion filed by the defense, include five days of personal sessions between Ray and event attendees, culminating in an orientation session just before the sweat lodge incident.

The defense argues everything prior to the sweat lodge orientation session is irrelevant to the criminal charges against Ray and some of the recordings contain sensitive personal information about participants at the event.

The state argues the recordings are “highly relevant” to illustrate both Ray’s mental state and the mental state of the people who were participating in the event leading up to the sweat lodge ceremony where three people died. The state also claims the participants were told to act like “samurai warriors” preparing for the “ultimate battle,” and they should devote themselves 100 percent or “exit dishonorably.”

The state’s response to the defense motion to prohibit the recordings from evidence paints a picture of an event where participants were told to prepare to experience “altered states” and follow the rules as laid down by Ray.

“Excluding the audio from this case would be like excluding the meeting of bank robbers where the plan to rob the bank was discussed,” Polk wrote in her response to the motion.

The defense is also hoping to limit other potential evidence and testimony citing a lack of relevance to the actual crimes with which Ray is being charged.

Darrow has set aside more than 60 days for the trial, excluding Mondays.

Many believe the Verde Valley’s growing wine industry boosts the local economy, but not until a University of Arizona economist studied the issue was its impact fully understood.

In 2009, the industry added nearly $4 million to the Verde Valley economy in terms of sales tax revenue and wages paid to local workers, according to Erik Glenn, University of Arizona assistant agent for community resource development.

Kevin Grubb, an assistant tasting room manager, collects a soil sample for a presentation on common aromas and flavors of wine Friday, Feb. 18.Glenn announced the figures while summarizing the conclusions of his report at Cottonwood City Council’s regular meeting Feb. 15.

The full report is nearly finished and will be presented to the Verde Valley Wine Consortium soon. The consortium will decide whether and when to release it to the public, Glenn said.

More than 50,000 gallons, or 21,000 cases, of wine was produced in the Verde Valley in 2009. Production for 2010 is expected to show a 25 percent increase, according to a study prepared by Glenn for the Verde Valley Wine Consortium.

“The wine industry contributes a great deal. It has a huge impact,” he said. “It creates commodities to be sold and resold, creates experience other service providers can use, spends money with private business and employs people, almost all of who live in the area and spend their paychecks here.”

There are currently 13 federally licensed wineries in the Verde Valley that use grapes grown at 14 local vineyards. Including 10 local businesses that sell Arizona wine. The industry employs 124 residents on a full or part-time basis, Glenn said.
That equates to nearly $3 million in wages paid and $750,000 in sales tax collected, he said.

These dollars, together with those spent by wholesalers, retailers, tourists, restaurants and grocery stores, mean an estimated $31 million changes hands in the local economy thanks to the wine industry, Glenn reported.

“There are also noneconomic benefits,” Glenn said. “Wine producers preserve open space and preserve the agricultural heritage of the Verde Valley. They contribute to the community’s positive image.”

Even through the current recession, winemakers have been expanding their operations, he said.

“There are challenges ahead but many opportunities. The future looks bright if we all do our part to support winemaking in the Verde Valley,” Glenn said.

“Wine is also a heart-healthy drink,” Councilman Terence Pratt said. “[Economic Development Director] Casey Rooney should be commended. He’s helped Cottonwood a lot through his work with the consortium.”

Pratt said a constituent told him on Feb. 12 there was a line of people waiting to get into a wine-tasting room in Old Town that extended out onto the sidewalk.

“It brings people in from out of town, wine aficionados from all over the country. It’s created a sense of place,” Pratt said.

“The study does show it is a great economic engine for Cottonwood and the Verde Valley,” Mayor Diane Joens said.

Attorneys are scrambling to file final motions and make last-minute preparations as James Arthur Ray prepares to go to trial Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Ray, 53, is a motivational speaker and self-help author facing three counts of manslaughter in Yavapai County Superior Court.Late last month, attorneys for both the prosecution and defense made attempts to have certain witnesses excluded from testifying at the trial.

Ray, 53, is a motivational speaker and self-help author facing three counts of manslaughter in Yavapai County Superior Court.

The charges stem from a fatal incident at an October 2009 weeklong event held at the Angel Valley Retreat Center outside of Sedona.

Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York, and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside a sweat lodge, a large tent-like structure heated to high temperatures.

Many, particularly medicine men, in the American Indian community have objected to the tent being called a sweat lodge, arguing a true sweat lodge is part of a sacred religious ceremony, not something like Ray’s $10,000-a-head retreat.

Ray, who is based out of California, turned himself in to authorities in Prescott in February 2010. He made bail after a short incarceration in the Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde and has since been given permission to not come to court hearings unless absolutely necessary until his trial begins.

The case has involved legal back-and-forth over the past year over everything from financial records to audio recordings. Last week, Ray’s defense team made efforts to have testimony from one of the state’s expert witnesses excluded.

The witness in question is Rick Ross, a man the defense describes as a “self-proclaimed expert in ‘destructive cults, controversial groups and movements.’”

The defense is concerned Ross will explain to a jury Ray used specialized techniques to “control” participants in the sweat lodge ceremony, keeping them inside the tent even if they started to feel ill.

The defense argues Ross’ testimony is irrelevant, since it presumably will focus on the issue of why participants felt they couldn’t leave the tent, something the defense contends no one will testify to.

“Because Ross’ testimony is based on a counterfactual scenario,” the motion reads, “it is irrelevant and has no probative value whatsoever.”

The defense goes on to argue Ross has no basis to testify to the motivations of the participants in the sweat lodge incident, and he’s never even talked to one of them. Furthermore, the defense calls into question prior problems Ross had with the legal system, including a 1991 jury that the defense claims found Ross responsible for kidnapping a man for a religious deprogramming; that jury order Ross to pay $2.5 million in compensation, according to the motion.

In a motion filed by the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office, the state is seeking to prevent the defense from introducing “irrelevant and unduly prejudicial evidence” against Ross. The state points out Ross has testified as an expert witness in no less than 10 states, and he’s extremely knowledgeable about persuasive techniques that can cause people to act at odds with their common sense.

The state addresses the 1991 jury decision, which involved a case with the Church of Scientology, and argues Ross has not been involved with the forceable detention and deprogramming of adult cult members since 1990, although he still does similar work with juveniles at the request of parents or child protective services.

The defense is also hoping to prevent the state from using the testimony of Steven Pace, an expert in corporate
risk management.

The defense argues expected testimony from Pace on acceptable corporate risk practices has no bearing on Ray’s criminal proceedings. Furthermore, the defense contends there is no evidence the three deaths in October 2009 were related to the absence or presence of risk management policies.

Furthermore, even if it were found Ray’s company had a duty to institute the “gold standard” policies they expect Pace to describe, the defense argues it would still have no bearing on Ray as an individual.

The trial is set to begin Feb. 16 in Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde. Judge Warren Darrow has set aside more than 60 days for proceedings.

Arizona cities and towns want a civil dialogue with state legislators, but at least two laws proposed by Arizona Sen. Steve Pierce [R-District 1] alarm local leaders, who plan to meet the senator to discuss state budget issues Monday, Feb. 7.

Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, who also serves as vice president of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said communication with legislators is much improved since the league passed a resolution encouraging collaboration with the governor and Legislature to resolve budget issues.

However, Senate Bills 2020 and 2021, proposed by Pierce, could so fundamentally alter funding for municipal services, local leaders hope to persuade the senator his legislative goals can be accomplished without the legislation he supports, Von Gausig said.
The league’s formal analysis is not completed, but both proposals could wreak havoc with the way cities and towns pay for roads, parks, recreation and other services, said Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, a league member.

Senate Bill 2020 would freeze state revenue sharing for 20 years, denying cities and towns a portion of the income tax collected on their behalf by the state.

Revenue sharing came about as a way to discourage cities and towns from imposing municipal income tax. Instead of imposing their own income tax, Arizona cities and towns are given a share of income tax collected by the state, Von Gausig said. The proposal would deny municipalities their share of any increase in income tax collected by the state through 2040, he said.

“I don’t know if he really understands what the impact will be,” Von Gausig said. “We’re trying to quantify what the impact might be on services we render and products we provide the public.”

Senate Bill 2021 would limit the type of taxes a city may collect to those imposed by the state. For example, if the law passed, Cottonwood and Clarkdale would no longer be allowed to tax rental income, as they presently do, because the state does not tax rental income, Von Gausig and Joens said.

“That bill is a huge concern,” Joens said. “It would eliminate the ability of cities and towns to respond to local issues. It would force a one-size-fits-all approach for the entire state. Citizens who live in Verde Valley communities have lots of different ideas about how they want to live their lives. The state seems to feel they know that better than local people. I don’t understand that.”

Both Joens and Von Gausig said the actual impact of the law in terms of dollars has not yet been determined. Neither of Pierce’s proposals is contained in the governor’s proposed budget, Von Gausig said.

The league’s new approach to communicating with the Legislature is less adversarial. It has made a positive change in the relationship. A two-hour lunch meeting between league officials and state legislators in January was dominated by talk about how to collaborate, Von Gausig said.

“People on the league like the new philosophy and are committed to it and the Legislature really appreciates it too,” Von Gausig said. “It’s not a panacea, but the communication is a lot better than it was.”

Verde Valley Food Council will give a Valentine’s Day present to area farmers when it meets with food bank representatives and local food growers Monday, Feb. 14.

The We Love Our Farmers presentation at Mingus Union High School starts at 6:30 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to bring local growers together with “food system” representatives like restaurant owners, school lunch providers, hospital cafeteria operators and food bank volunteers, according to the council’s executive director, Debra Emmanuelle.

“We want to show our local farmers how much we appreciate them,” Emmanuelle said.

The council also wants the meeting to start a conversation among key food providers that leads to an increase in the amount of locally grown food, she said.

“In my dealings with different farmers, stores and restaurant owners, I kept hearing why we couldn’t grow more and distribute more locally, so I thought, ‘why don’t we get people together to brainstorm solutions?’” Emmanuelle said.

Farmers say they are not going to grow more because they don’t know if they have a market for their produce. Food system operators complain they can’t buy local food because there’s not enough produced here, she said.

Emmanuelle said she interviewed local farmers who say they have more land than resources to cultivate it. Conversely, there are others “who are just dying to have land to farm on,” she said.

Compared to times past, when much of the Verde Valley was tilled, roughly 5 percent of the area is used for agriculture today, Emmanuelle said.

“We will have to put the green back in Verde,” she said.

Ultimately, food system businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, school lunch programs and hospital food programs all need to commit to area farmers that they will buy as much locally grown food as possible.

The need for more locally-produced food is greater than ever before because of the dramatic rise in the number of people who need emergency food supplies. A recent study conducted by the council showed 1 in 7 Verde Valley residents do not have food security and must turn to food banks for assistance, Emmanuelle said.

In 2009, 15,000 people out of 72,000 Verde Valley residents were relying on food banks. Each bank is supporting more than 1,000 people per month, not including other emergency food providers like Meals on Wheels programs and local churches, Emmanuelle said. Nationally, 1 in 4 children lacks food security, she said.

“We need support from the farmers and food providers to keep up with the numbers,” she said. “The number of Verde Valley residents who rely on emergency food supplies increased by 50 percent every year since 2008.”

A Yavapai County Health Services spokeswoman for the Women, Infants and Children program will also attend the meeting to discuss what county government might be able to do to assist.

“Many of the roadblocks to grow and serve locally grown food come from government regulations that impose limits,” Emmanuelle said. “Having somebody from the health department to hear from people at the grassroots level could help.”

For more information, contact Emmanuelle at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 282-8738.

The Jerome Grand Hotel will likely reopen Thursday, Jan. 20, thanks to an order by Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley.

Ainley ruled Jerome town officials lacked cause when they declared the hotel unsafe Dec. 8, hotel co-owner Robert Altherr said.

Ainley entered a preliminary injunction against the town Friday, Jan. 14, following a hearing at which town officials attempted to justify their decision to revoke the hotel’s certificates of occupancy. The hearing was continued from Jan. 7, when hotel owners Robert and Larry Altherr presented evidence to show the town’s actions were improper.

Attorney and expert witness fees reportedly cost the hotel at least $50,000, costs the hotel owners will ask Ainley to order the town to pay. Hotel attorney John Phillips is expected make a formal request for payment of costs and fees as a result of the Jan. 14 court ruling, he said.

A lawsuit filed against the town asking for damages caused by the closing continues. Altherr said his attorney had not heard from town officials since the Jan. 14 ruling and no negotiations with the town were planned as of Monday, Jan. 17.

Larry Litchfield, a safety engineer who once headed building departments for the cities of San Francisco and Phoenix, testified Jan. 7 the hotel is safe and should not have been closed.

Litchfield testified the hotel was in “very, very good shape.” It should be considered “non-combustible,” he told Ainley. “It will not burn.”

“It’s the safest building in Jerome,” Larry Altherr testified.

Town officials argued the building was unsafe based on inspections conducted in August and September by Fire Chief Rusty Blair, Police Chief Alan Muma and Chief Building Code Official David Stiever.

Altherr testified the business and building together were valued at $7.5 million. Closure of the hotel was costing roughly $17,000 a month and $2,000 a day in lost revenue. Hotel employees who had to be laid off have applied for unemployment insurance, he said.

“We haven’t been taking reservations for more than a month, so we’ll start hiring back employees incrementally,” Robert Altherr said Jan. 17. In the meantime, he and his son anticipate working 12 hour days to get the hotel reopened.

Ainley’s ruling allowed Robert Altherr to plan an open house for the reopening on Thursday and Friday, Jan. 20 and 21, from noon to 3 p.m. A live radio broadcast from the hotel is also planned for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 22 and 23, from noon to 3 p.m.

Gifts and prizes will be given away during the broadcast, Altherr said.

Town of Jerome officials could not be reached for comment.

A study released last week recommends Arizona should look at privatizing the operations of some of its state parks.

The Arizona State Parks system, which oversees 28 parks of natural or historical significance, has fallen on hard times in the past couple of years. The agency saw its budget gutted as the State Legislature looked for ways to cut spending and solve other financial shortfalls since the economy took a turn for the worse.

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The study was commissioned by the Arizona State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit group founded in 2004 to help support the state’s park system. The 63-page report was prepared by PROS Consulting, an Indiana-based firm.

“The paramount issue is that the state of Arizona is going through a period of severe financial turmoil,” the report reads. “The financial scarcity of state funding has cast a spotlight on the debate between what are appropriate government functions, and where government has grown beyond what is necessary and affordable.”

The answer isn’t complete privatization of all parks, according to the study, but the potential creation of a “quasi-governmental agency” that would outsource some operations while leaving in place a public oversight function dedicated to ensuring that the state’s historic and cultural resources are preserved.

The study points out that the state has already had some success in cutting costs while keeping several parks open, thanks to other funding sources, including partnerships with local governments. In several cases, the parks are in towns that depend on the parks to bring people in to generate local revenue.

“To demonstrate the effectiveness of recent measures at Arizona State Parks, the field operational costs of state parks in [fiscal year] 2010 cumulatively were only $326,765 in excess of earned revenues as a result of reduced staffing and operating schedules,” according to PROS Consulting.

Five parks were closed, five parks were being operated by another entity or agency and other parks were kept open with the help of $500,000 in support from local governments.

By way of comparison, the operational costs were $1.7 million over revenues in fiscal year 2009 and a $2.3 million in fiscal year 2008.

The consulting firm looked at each park individually in order to come up with suggestions for increasing efficiency and expanding privatization opportunities.

In state parks in the Verde Valley, the study suggested a number of possible options.

At Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, the park actually brought in $110,000 more last year than it cost to operate. Still, the state could look at expanding offerings through private organizations, including offering amenities like a café, a bed and breakfast or even an equestrian center.

The picture is some what different in Camp Verde, home to Fort Verde State Historic Park. The town, along with the support of Yavapai County, instituted emergency funding measures along with the community helping to organize a massive volunteer operation to keep the 19th-century military post open. Just over 12,000 people visited the park in fiscal year 2010. The fort brought in a little over $35,000, but cost nearly $150,000 to operate.

The study recommends that the park could be closed from November through March, with a reduced operating schedule the rest of the year, along with management by a possible regional park authority, the aforementioned private-public “quasi-governmental” agency.

The same seasonal closure and reduced scheduling was also recommended for Jerome State Historic Park where more than 60,000 visitors brought in just over $160,000 in fiscal year 2008.

The park cost more than $270,000 to run and received $30,000 in temporary financial assistance from Yavapai County.
Red Rock State Park outside Sedona also operated at a loss, with nearly 60,000 visitors in fiscal year 2010. The park enjoyed $160,000 in financial assistance from Yavapai County and the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park. Once again, the study recommends closure from November to March, along with increased use of volunteers and outsourcing as many functions as possible. An environmental education center and an amphitheater were suggested as potential future revenue sources.
Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon operated in fiscal year 2010 as one of the state’s more successful properties, bringing in $710,000 in revenues with a cost of $490,000 to run. A café and a zipline or canopy tour could bring in additional revenue, according to the study.

“The best solution for privatization of Arizona State Parks is to transition the current agency to a quasi-governmental entity accountable to the state of Arizona for purposes of managing state parks, promoting rural economic development, and developing financially beneficial partnerships,” the consulting firm determined. “While future funding mechanisms for the quasi-governmental agency can be determined at a later time, it is critical that the current agency funding be held harmless through the transition.”

The study is available online at the Arizona State Parks website.

Yavapai College administrators would not comment about the substance of a closed-door executive session conducted by Yavapai College District Governing Board when the purchase of 20 acres of Verde Valley property was discussed.

The board considered but did not decide on the purchase of land owned by the school’s nonprofit foundation during an executive session Dec. 14.

Vice President for Administration and Finance Clint Ewell said he could not comment on what took place during the executive session or why purchasing the land was under consideration.

Situated on Windmill Lane in Clarkdale, the land was part of the initial 50 acres purchased by Yavapai College Foundation to build the school. The current campus consists of 30 acres. The remaining 20 acres continues to be owned by the foundation, Ewell said.

The land, situated next to the southern boundary of the college, is currently vacant. It has been held by the foundation for the benefit of the college for several years. The original intention was for the foundation to hold the land until the college was ready to expand, Ewell said.

The land has been held separately by the foundation because state law prohibits community colleges from owning capital assets like undeveloped land held for future development, Ewell said.

“The foundation has offered to sell the property to the college,” he said. “A final decision is expected in January.”

“The purpose of the Yavapai College Foundation, its sole reason for existence, is to support Yavapai College,” Ewell said. “Its two boards work very closely together.”

In the past, the foundation has leased buildings it owns to the college to be used as classrooms or for other purposes, he said.
The property under consideration was valued by an independent appraiser at $400,000, according to Yavapai College Foundation Executive Director Steve Walker, who made the announcement at a recent meeting of the foundation’s board of directors, Ewell said.

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