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FBI looked at Florence dealings with Johnson Utilities
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — The FBI recently inquired into facts related to the town of Florence’s interest in buying Johnson Utilities several years ago, according to filings in Pinal County Superior Court.

Johnson Utilities and owner George Johnson sued the town and top town officials earlier this year, claiming the town refused a legal request to produce public records. A motion by the town, filed May 31, says the town provided copies of communications between the town and the FBI “concerning a public records request related to Defendants’ (the town’s) past attempts to purchase Johnson Utilities.”

The town said it complied with the FBI’s investigation and provided copies of the town and Johnson’s “Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement relating to the 2013 potential purchase of Johnson Utilities by Defendants” on Nov. 19.

“At present the town has no further comment on the FBI inquiry. In regards to the pending lawsuit, the town believes it fully and satisfactorily responded to the public records request and complied fully with the Arizona Public Records statute. We expect the court will agree,” William H. Doyle, the town’s outside legal counsel on the case, commented by email to PinalCentral.

The FBI previously investigated allegations that Johnson bribed an Arizona corporation commissioner. The case ended last year with a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.

Johnson’s attorneys wrote to the town on Oct. 4 seeking copies of communications the town had with other local, county and state agencies and authorities about Johnson Utilities and its related entities and companies. Five months later, Johnson sued, alleging that Florence withheld records by falsely claiming the records were protected by attorney-client privilege or work-product privilege.

The complaint says the town did produce a few records, but nothing like the “substantial and voluminous documents and communications” covered by the request, and nothing related to the town’s bid to become interim manager of Johnson Utilities.

In the town’s motion May 31 for a quick verdict or “summary judgment,” the town says it actually provided Johnson with links to more than 7,000 pages. Johnson sued before his lawyers even opened the link to see these documents, according to the town.

Johnson argues he knows more records exist because the Arizona Corporation Commission complied with a public records request that included emails with the town. The town replied that since Johnson already has these records, to request them again “is unnecessary and needlessly burdensome.”

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Regional Fire steps up its game using drones with help of volunteer
 mvasquez  / 

CASA GRANDE — Regional Fire & Rescue Department has decided to jump on board with drone technology.

RFRD, a subscription-based agency headquartered on Overfield Road between Casa Grande and Coolidge, recently added two small unmanned aerial vehicles, including a heat-sensitive thermal camera.

Retired police officer Luis Martinez, who was the police chief at Central Arizona College, is now a volunteer with the department and is the chief pilot for the two drones.

Martinez said he has always had a passion for flying, but after he suffered a stroke he lost most mobility on his left side, which didn’t allow him to continue flying.

“Back when I was in the Army I used to fly for the air patrol,” he said. “My plan after retiring was to get back into flying, but the stroke took care of that.”

Martinez eventually discovered how easy it was to fly UAVs and how similar it was to flying an airplane, which led him to starting his own business in 2015 and putting his Federal Aviation Administration license to good use by helping different agencies.

“It’s a hell of a tool for firefighters,” Martinez said. “(RFRD) are the first ones in Pinal County that are using drones.”

Fire Chief Steven Kerber added that the infrared camera really helps his team in fighting fires.

“As an incident commander on the property, I can’t see all the sides of the building,” Kerber said. “If there are hose screens, you have nothing but smoke, so with the normal colors on a camera you see nothing but white or black smoke. With infrared you can see the differences in the temperature. You can see where the hose streams are overshooting the fire and not even hitting it.”

The infrared view allows the incident commander to direct a firefighter to shoot a particular area and it also gives a visual of where everyone is located instead of just audio through their radios.

“If there’s a smoke explosion and I see heavy heat coming out of a door or window, I know that there’s something dynamic going on inside of the structure,” Kerber said. “It tells a tale of what hazards have been presented. We either need to ventilate or go on the defensive. Just having eyes over a fire scene is totally incredible for us.”

RFRD’s two UAVs are a small four-blade DJI Inspire 1 Pro and a 10-pound, six-blade DJI Matrice 600 Pro.

Martinez uses an iPad to get an image of what the UVA is hovering over, and using an HDMI cable, the iPad image can easily be transferred over to a larger screen so more people can see.

FAA regulations allow UAVs to reach up to 400 feet only to make sure that they don’t run into helicopters, and a license is needed to fly commercially or in public service.

“You have to look at it as an aviation unit,” Martinez said. “It’s not just flying drones. You have to pass FAA safety. This thing is very dangerous; the propellers are made of carbon fiber. They’re not plastic. The little plastic ones, if they hit you, nothing happens. With carbon fiber it’s like hitting you with a steak knife.”

Although RFRD is the first fire department in the county to start using drones, it is also just the second department overall after the Maricopa Police Department started using UAVs last year.

“Everybody across the country has been moving in this direction,” Kerber said. “The technology has evolved in just the last four to five years and public safety use of the drones has been expanding just in the last three to four years. Chief Martinez volunteers his time and his equipment to our drone program. That expands the abilities that we have in the county to provide mutual aid to other agencies if needed. (It’s) the dynamic that we have now — the additional eyes in the sky that we have during a major incident.”

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Maricopa's Complete Count Committee works for accurate result of U.S. Census (copy)
 Grace Harrah  / 

MARICOPA — The first Complete Count Committee training for the 2020 U.S. census took place in Maricopa to help ensure the accuracy of the city’s census count.

The U.S. census, which takes place every 10 years, is vital to cities such as Maricopa to understand their population growth and to obtain funds to support future development.

CCC is a group that will initiate outreach to the community in support of the census. The goal is to engage the community and reach as many people as possible, including those in the hard-to-count areas. Though the census does not officially go live until March 23, the CCC will plan accordingly to reach out to the community leaders to share the importance of the census.

Maricopa Intergovernmental Affairs Director Dale Wiebusch is taking on the role of city census director and hopes to achieve an accurate census with the help of members of the CCC.

“My intention was that, you’re sort of like the inner core,” Wiebusch said to those who attended the CCC training meeting Thursday afternoon. “In about a month I’m hoping more people enlist in the activity and determine what kind of schedule we need to undertake at this point in time. From there we can generate the initial plan.”

The CCC will also partner with the Maricopa Association of Governments on the census to provide a thorough outreach program, including media buys.

Maricopa Mayor Christian Price also elaborated on the importance of the census for the people and for the city.

“If we don’t get an accurate count, we lose federal dollars, which in turn means that we simply don’t have enough money to provide services that are necessary for the community,” Price said.

Services such as the fire department, roads and side streets are just a few that may expand due to the census. Price said to have an accurate count means to provide services that will ensure the safety and well being of the community.

“You guys have the ability to get this message out. You all have networks that I don’t have,” Price said.

A factor that will affect the city directly through the census is its future of economic development as it will let business owners know how much the population has grown to encourage them to come to the city.

“It’s always important from an economic development standpoint,” Price said. “The business owners want to know they’re going to make money by knowing the accurate count as well as the growth of the population.”

The members talked about the Heritage District and other low-income areas as they are projected to be the hard-to-count areas of the city. Though there may be a few bumps in the road, Wiebusch is eager to reach all communities in Maricopa to ensure the overall count.

Other attendees spoke on the criteria that the members of the CCC should have in order to create a secure plan.

“I think people living in Maricopa is vital,” Pat Lairson, an agent with Maricopa Real Estate Company, said. “Maricopa is such a different city in general than any other places I have lived.”