Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series highlighting the top 20 news stories for Maricopa in 2007. Read Nos. 1-10 on Jan. 4.
No. 20: Locked doors and 'for rent’ signs
A year of the doors in Maricopa came to an end. Not the musical group, mind you, but a number of local businesses and restaurants that shut their doors for good.
Perhaps the most visible was Ramsey’s American Grill, a restaurant owned and operated locally by Ramsey and Sherri Harkness, that unexpectedly closed Aug. 23. That restaurant and bar will be replaced by Phoenix-based chain Teakwoods Bar and Grill in a matter of months.
The loss of that restaurant, which sponsored youth sports teams and community events, was felt by nearly everyone, said former manager Richard Reeves.
“My biggest fear is that this is a harbinger of the future with rents being so high that people aren’t making any money,” Reeves said in August. “I think the implications are a bit scary. I don’t want to see this town populated by chains.”
Other businesses, such as Arizona Shuttle and Taco del Mar, also closed their doors this year despite the continued growth of the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce, which hit its 200th member with the addition of Southwest Peddlers in the spring.
No. 19: City backtracks on land deal
It wasn’t the 2006 Peed debacle, but according to Councilmember Will Dunn, it was “like Peed times two.”
The City Council brought forth a pair of sites for consideration for economic development and for a potential City Hall site in February, but Dunn lead the charge to sit on the decision to purchase the Estrella Gin property, tabling the measure before it could get off the ground.
The council did, however, to the dismay of Dunn, initially move forward on a purchase of 115 acres of feed lot land controlled by Mike Ingram’s El Dorado Holdings to use as an economic development site. Just days later, at a Feb. 27 special meeting, El Dorado Holdings withdrew its offer to the city after the media revealed a publicly undisclosed external business relationship between Senior Economic Development Consultant Ioanna Morfessis and Ingram.
The land continues to exist today as part of the Pinal Feeding Company as Ingram leased the land back to Pinal Feeding owner Earl Petznick shortly after the deal with the city fell through.
No. 18: Global Water goes green
It became Pinal County’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building when it opened May 18, prompting Gov. Janet Napolitano herself to make the trek to Maricopa to speak at the grand opening.
The facility utilizes recycled water for its toilets and has a water-recycling system. A key for the Maricopa City Council was the opening of Global’s new conference room, which became home to council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings.
No. 17: The beginning of a Legacy
Maricopa’s first charter school found that after leaping hurdles to open their school on time, they had several more walls to climb to get students into classes.
Nearly 500 elementary school students finally began classes after Labor Day as the school’s founders, Aaron Hale and Bill Gregory, struggled through a series of hang-ups with the city’s planning department and a freak accident where power poles were toppled by a truck the day before they were set to open.
The school continues to hold classes on a temporary campus that Hale said may become a middle school for Legacy next year, while the main elementary campus construction continues.
No. 16: Busch’s bean-counting days end at MUSD
The Maricopa Unified School District was certainly no stranger to resignations and contract non-renewals during 2007, but the one that caught top officials most off-guard was the resignation of Superintendent John Flores’ right-hand man, Business Manager Mark Busch.
Busch left the district Oct. 10, nearly two months into the school year, leaving the district scrambling to find a qualified replacement. While Facilities Manager Paul Kasparian’s named was bantered about at first, the district chose to move former Maricopa High School Principal Burnie Hibbard into the role, dumping the MHS principal’s job in the lap of newly-hired Assistant Principal Jeff Kleck.
Busch, who left for a position in the business department in the Higley Unified School District, said his 18-month tenure with MUSD wasn’t always easy.
“There are individuals, both outside and within MUSD, who are more focused on destroying the current administration than they are on doing what is right for children,” Busch said. “With everything else that has happened with my family in the past year, this made it no longer enjoyable to work the 60-plus-hour weeks.”
No. 15: Energy to get excited about
The $74 million fermentation and distillation plant near Maricopa’s feed lots began producing ethanol in July.
Pinal Energy created the state’s first commerical scale ethanol plant, sending their supply to tank farms in west Phoenix to be blended with gasoline to make cleaner-burning and more efficient fuel for vehicles.
The aim is to begin producing E85, a fuel that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, within a year of the opening of the plant. Several gas stations in Phoenix have said they will make modifications to their pumps to begin offering the E85 fuel.
No. 14: Residents, plants get burned by frost
Temperatures dipping into the low 20s and high teens during mid-Janaury had residents turning up their thermostats to keep warm. So much so that the system was overloaded and nearly 5,000 residents went without natural gas – some for days.
Southwest Gas brought in workers from around the state to help repair service to customers in Maricopa, as well as in other cities, such as Tucson, which were affected during one of the coldest stretches in recent years.
“The cause is really out of (the residents’) control,” Southwest Gas spokeswoman Libby Howell said in January. “It’s a design issue. The demand just surprised everyone.”
The unusually cold temperatures damaged trees, cactus and citrus across Arizona and into California, spiking the price of oranges and grapefruit especially for much of the year. In Arizona alone, the cold weather destroyed nearly 75 percent of the state’s orange, tangelo and grapefruit crop.
No. 13: Speeding officer dies, kills man in crash
An off-duty Phoenix Police officer died in a crash on State Route 347 Aug. 11 when he lost control of his car and crashed into a Jeep, killing its driver, 51-year-old Maricopa resident, Mark Ream.
Officer Jonathan Stuart, also a Maricopa resident, died later at a Phoenix hospital. The Gila River Police Department’s investigation revealed Stuart was driving approximately 111 mph when he lost control of his vehicle at a time in which SR 347 was undergoing milling.
No. 12: MFD spends summer fighting own fires
A fight in the bar at Ramsey’s American Grill was the end of two firefighters’ careers and derailed the ascension of the heir apparent to lead MFD in the future.
Maricopa firefighters Cody Ashton and Chris Hertzog were allowed to resign from MFD after an internal investigation found they were at fault in a fight in which resident Darren Cox was punched by Hertzog. Ashton’s father, Dan, then an assistant chief with the department, was demoted to a captain’s position for his role in the altercation and four other firefighters were punished with varying degrees of severity.
The investigation itself was cause for some controversy as it was initially unclear whether Interim City Manager Roger Kolman or Fire Chief William Kelleher would lead the investigation. Kelleher eventually was allowed to head the inquiry and finished the investigation 10 days after the July 20 fight.
No. 11: City loses a founding father
A man who gave his life to Maricopa had it end on Sept. 26, but the legacy he left behind was evident at a packed memorial service in his honor.
Hosting it in the barn he built for the community, the family of William “Sonny” Dunn toasted their patriarch for his work in the Rotary Club, in building the Rotary Pool and playing an integral role in solving water issues for the community.
Sonny helped build Sonny Dunn’s barn, in which the Cotton Pickin’ Barn Dance is held each year as a Rotary fundraiser. On Oct. 1, the grandfather of Councilmember Will Dunn was eulogized by fellow Councilmember Edward Farrell at the memorial service and remembered by many of those who now hold the seats of power in Maricopa.
“He was continuously doing the actual work and it was such an example of how to impact people,” Vice Mayor Brent Murphree said. “He was an example of things we need to be in his thinking long term.”