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Gila Bend calls state of emergency over migrant arrivals; no incidents reported in Pinal (copy)

GILA BEND — The mayor has declared a state of emergency over the number of migrants who have been dropped off in Gila Bend.

But nearby city of Maricopa and other Pinal County communities have not reported any similar incidents.

Gila Bend Mayor Chris Riggs made the declaration Tuesday, saying the town does not have the resources or funds to support migrants, many who arrive with hopes of seeking asylum and making their home in America.

“I’ve got nothing here, I’ve got no shelter, nowhere to put them,” Riggs said. “Literally, they’d be sleeping at the park and I’m not going to do that to little children.”

Gila Bend, with a population of 2,000, does not have a hospital or shelter. It is about 45 miles southwest of Maricopa.

The mayor’s declaration came after U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on Monday dropped off 16 people, including young children, at a park in town. The group included six families, five from Venezuela and one from Chile.

“To drop people in basically the middle of nowhere, it’s 30 miles to the next type of town, and that’s 30 miles of open desert. So especially come July and August, we’re going to be finding bodies,” Riggs said.

Federal officials provided less than three hours’ notice before dropping off the latest migrant group, Riggs said, noting that he and his wife had to drive the families in loaned vans to a shelter in Phoenix arranged by U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who was unable to find transportation for them.

Cities and towns in Pinal County have not reported any such drop-offs.

“We have not seen any influx of groups being dropped off within our city,” Casa Grande Police Chief Mark McCrory said Wednesday. “We are in regular contact with Border Patrol, who has said they will give us a heads-up if any changes in their local SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) occur.”

Eloy Mayor Micah Powell said he is also not aware of any asylum seekers being dropped off in his city. “I saw on TV that they were dropped off at a bus station and that’s my concern since we have a bus station within our city limits.”

Maricopa Mayor Christian Price said he didn’t want to speculate on Gila Bend’s specific situation and what the facts are there, but he is certainly sympathetic to it.

“In fact, I would agree with what they have done by declaring a state of emergency in Gila Bend wherein it allows Gila Bend to access both local dollars outside the normal Arizona budgetary process, and even get federal help if it’s available,” he said.

As for the city of Maricopa, Price said while his city is close to Gila Bend, he doesn’t anticipate it being affected by those migrants being dropped off there.

“After all, most of the services these folks would need would not be found in Maricopa but rather in the bigger broader Phoenix urbanized areas,” Price said. “Hospitals, shelters, meals, federal help, etc., so it would stand to reason, that most of them would most likely travel up the (Highway) 85 directly into west Phoenix to try and access those services.”

Price said he is only aware of asylum seekers being dropped off in two cities — Gila Bend and Yuma.

“There are 91 cities and towns in Arizona, and with the feds getting so much negative publicity on this I doubt it will continue,” he said. “I would say our odds are pretty good, when there are still 88 other cities to get to hopefully before they get to ours. Though of course, anything is possible.”

Price said Maricopa officials are in communication with the Border Patrol daily.

“So anything surprising would be just that surprising as we speak and work with them daily,” he said. “It is also my understanding that the governor is considering declaring a State of Emergency to ask the Feds for resources to support the growing demand, not only at the border but to replenish resources where needed based on actions such as these.”

Riggs said he hopes the declaration sends a message to the state and Maricopa County that Gila Bend needs help with a variety of issues, including virus testing.

“I want to get Maricopa County to provide me, from the department of health services, with personnel and testing resources so that I can test these people,” Riggs said. He also said he wants the state, through the National Guard, to help the town with transportation if non-government organizations are not available.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday said asylum-seeking families are also being dropped off in the remote border community of Ajo. Officials agreed to prepare contracts to help transport them to the main migrant shelter in Tucson, where they can stay temporarily and be tested for COVID-19.

An overall cost for transportation was not discussed, but Pima County officials said they would seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Customs and Border Protection over the past month has also released hundreds of asylum seekers in the border city of Yuma, which has no shelter or nonprofit groups to help migrants arrange travel to relatives elsewhere in the U.S. to await their court dates. Mayor Douglas Nicholls has been pushing federal officials for a solution.

Customs and Border Protection said in a Wednesday statement about the Gila Bend releases that the majority of migrants now encountered at the border are returned under an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that aims to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The border is not open,” the statement said.

But the agency says some migrants are being released into the U.S. based on factors including a lack of capacity in holding facilities. Customs and Border Protection says it lacks legal authority to provide transportation of people who have been processed for release and provides advance notice to local governments before dropping off migrants.


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Premier Auto owner sets up call center in downtown CG
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CASA GRANDE — The owner of a new call center in Casa Grande hopes to eventually employ over 80 people in helping customers buy cars.

Scott Lehman, principal owner of Premier Auto Centers in Arizona and El Paso, Texas, has purchased the old Southwest Gas building next to the Neon Sign Park downtown for use as a call center for his dealerships after seeing the potential. One of the dealerships is at 1648 N. Pinal Ave. in Casa Grande.

“It’s more than just a call center,” Lehman said. “We don’t make appointments, we make connections.”

According to Lehman, the call center’s job is to build hope for customers wanting to make an auto purchase. However, Lehman sees it more as a lead management company.

“We can actually help people that have been told no,” Director of Sales Roger Hand said.

According to Hand, over the weekend the call center, Aspire Solutions, held a job fair that was similar to a speed dating interview approach.

“I’m from there (Casa Grande), I know the people and there’s a lot of great people there,” Lehman said.

“It went fantastic,” Hand said. “Of course we want more people.” Hand hopes to have another job fair in another two weeks.

Currently, there are about 15 employees. As of right now, Hand says the center is trying to hire up to 36 people.

“It is a call center so we are looking for energetic and enthusiastic people,” Hand said.

According to Hand, employees may get paid anywhere from $14 to $20 an hour. According to a Facebook post, being bilingual is encouraged but not mandatory.

“We are always excited to help change people’s lives in our town and the country,” Lehman said.

“It’s important to give back to the community,” Hand said.

According to Hand, the company hopes that around 86 people will be hired within the next year and half. Those interested can learn more at aspiresolutioncenter.com.

“I am pretty excited about it,” Lehman said. “I hope we have a waiting list of people who want to work for us.”

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CGUHSD superintendent enters contract negotiations with Buckeye district
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CASA GRANDE — The superintendent of the Casa Grande Union High School District has entered into contract negotiations with the Buckeye Union High School District.

“After a process that included multiple interview rounds and the community forum, the Governing Board has voted to enter into contract negotiations with Dr. Steve Bebee,” says a letter circulated in the Buckeye Union High School District on March 19.

“Dr. Bebee has served in public education for over a quarter of a century as a teacher, dean of students, assistant principal, principal and currently as Superintendent of the Casa Grande Union High School District,” says the letter. “He is excited to make the community of BUHSD his new home beginning with the 2021-22 academic year.”

“Nothing is official yet nor will I be resigning my position here in CGUHSD tonight (Tuesday),” Bebee said in an email Tuesday. “I have been offered the opportunity by Buckeye Union to enter into contract negotiation with their governing board and I am in that process.”

On Tuesday evening, the CGUHSD Governing Board held a special meeting in executive session relating to the superintendent’s current contract.

According to the district’s website, Bebee had previously spent eight years as a teacher in the Cartwright, Deer Valley and Paradise Valley school districts at the elementary, middle school and high school level. He also spent 16 years as a dean of students in the Paradise Valley School District and as an assistant principal in the Glendale Union High School District and Chandler Unified School District and as a middle school and high school principal for 10 years in the Cave Creek Unified School District.

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CG resident livestreams 46 weekly concerts to help people through pandemic
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CASA GRANDE -- For Casa Grande resident William “Bill” Guerriero, 69, music is meant to be a social experience and a way of connecting with others.

Each week since about the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guerriero has tuned into his Twitch.tv account to record live concerts featuring some of his favorite songs. He’s recorded 46 concerts so far. Each one is about 90 minutes long.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a way of connecting with others through music so people feel less isolated.”

Since 2004, Guerriero has played guitar and performed backup vocals with an Ahwatukee-based classic rock cover band, Dr. Ron and the Painkillers.

Most of the members of the band are doctors or have higher education degrees, including Guerriero, who has a doctoral degree in education. While he has long enjoyed performing with the band, he also works full-time as the vice president of academic affairs at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

When shelter-in-place orders began and the band’s regular performing venues were canceled, Guerriero said he still wanted to perform, sing and play guitar.

“It was tough not being able to get together to perform,” he said. “I started livestreaming to help keep family, friends and colleagues connected during pandemic-mandated confinement.”

His son showed him how to produce Twitch.tv videos. He took out his guitar and under the stage name “Solo Painkiller,” started singing some of his favorites, which include classics from Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Deep Purple and even Motown.

“I have a song list of about 250 songs,” he said. “These are all songs that people of a certain generation will recognize. I’ve found that people like to hear the songs they know.”

Each show has a theme and includes trivia and sometimes a story.

“I’ve set it up like a radio show. It’s a little bit like being a DJ,” he said.

His son Joe Guerriero, a Casa Grande resident, sometimes visits and performs drums alongside his father.

Guerriero and his wife have five grown children and all enjoy music, he said.

Each week, anywhere from 50 to 80 viewers tune in, some of them family and friends who live in other parts of the world.

His top video attracted an audience of 86 viewers.

“Many of us live alone while quarantining and his music, jokes, stories and our comments in the chat uplift, comfort and inspire us. He’s committed to uniting us across the miles and keeping us close while we remain apart,” said his sister, Anne Guerriero, who lives in Lansing, Michigan.

Bill Guerriero and his family moved to Arizona from Michigan in 2004. They settled in Casa Grande.

Soon after moving to Casa Grande, Guerriero said he met Ahwatukee-based dentist Ron Walker, who formed the band Dr. Ron and the Painkillers.

Guerriero has been performing with them ever since.

Other members of the band include Cyd Manning on drums and Tom Foster on bass.

The band performs classics that the members grew up listening to, Guerriero said.

“It’s a lot of music from the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “We play a lot of Beatles, James Taylor and Bob Dylan. We have a classic rock focus but we do some surf music and blues too.”

Live streaming solo has given Guerriero a chance to experiment with a few different styles. On a recent episode, he performed “Over the Rainbow” on a ukulele. He’s also tried a few reggae songs.

Although Guerriero has been playing guitar since the eighth grade — for more than 50 years — livestreaming was new to him at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m no stranger to social media, but I’d never done a YouTube video or done any livestreaming before,” he said.

He purchased a mixing console and a microphone and chose to record on Twitch.tv.

“Twitch is easy to use and it’s easy to access,” he said.

Twitch.tv is designed for livestreamers. It’s often used by video-gamers to stream live play sessions. Unlike YouTube, videos only remain on Twitch.tv for a short period of time.

While Guerriero has produced 46 concert videos so far, only three are on his Twitch.tv site.

After pandemic restrictions end and the band begins performing together again, Guerriero said he hopes to continue livestreaming. He likes that his music brings people together.

“I think the show helps people feel less isolated,” he said. “It’s a way to be connected through music.”

Guerriero’s Twitch.tv account is found under “solopainkiller.” Dr. Ron and the Painkillers are online at painkillermusic.com.