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Coolidge protesters gather at City Hall against police brutality

COOLIDGE — On an overcast Friday evening, chants for peace and justice rang outside of Coolidge City Hall as about 100 peaceful demonstrators gathered to protest police brutality.

Coolidge locals Bettina Jackson and Frankie Felix organized the protest to stand in solidarity with other demonstrations in cities around the United States and the world, sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Floyd died in police custody on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder. Video of Floyd’s death was captured by onlookers at the scene who were unable to interfere.

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” Jackson said of the footage. “Devastating. And then you think about the people that were there watching it. How did they feel knowing that they couldn’t do anything because they might have been a victim as well? That’s not right. How can you stand and watch someone be murdered because you’re scared to be murdered too? It’s too much.”

Coolidge protesters called for justice not only for Floyd, but also for a number of other individuals who died during interactions with law enforcement officers, such as Dion Johnson in the Valley.

“Enough is enough,” Felix said. “It’s gone on too long. We felt like we needed to make a stand here in Coolidge just to be heard too and to stand with everyone.”

Demonstrators also called for justice for the victims in several unsolved homicides not involving law enforcement, including Coolidge’s Jory Roberts.

Beginning near San Carlos Park at about 6 p.m., the group of demonstrators marched down Central Avenue holding signs and chanting mantras like “no justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter.”

They rallied around City Hall, where organizers, community leaders and attendees spoke about the importance of taking a stand against racial injustices and police brutality.

Among them was Bishop Vince Smith, head of the New Destiny Christian Center in Coolidge. Every year Smith organizes a march in honor of the civil rights movement in Coolidge on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He was also among those who spoke during the Friday demonstration.

“It’s just an incredible feeling to see all the people come out — the different races, the different groups — to support this cause,” he said. “I believe this time we are going to make a difference.”

Mayor Jon Thompson, City Manager Rick Miller, Director of Development Services Gilbert Lopez and Chief of Police Harry Grizzle were among those who attended the rally, assuring demonstrators that their voices were being heard.

“I want to thank our citizens for having a peaceful gathering,” Thompson said during Monday’s City Council meeting. “They made their point a lot better through peaceful speeches and comments than destroying everything.”

Thompson, Miller and Grizzle will be meeting with members of the community, including Smith, this week to discuss the Coolidge Police Department’s policies and procedures with the hopes of ensuring that an occurrence like the one in Minneapolis never takes place in Coolidge.

The message of the peaceful gathering was one Grizzle said his department supported, praising the demonstration as “well organized” and “well attended.”

Approximately 100 to 120 people participated in the gathering. City officials and CPD also worked with organizers of the demonstration ahead of time to plan out the protest, with staff members from Coolidge police, fire and public works departments helping to set up and tear down equipment before and after the gathering.

“We the people will no longer ask, beg, plead or kneel for justice,” Jackson said during her speech at the Friday demonstration. “We will stand in protest in every city, in every state and across the world and demand justice for all people no matter race, gender or sexual preference. A change is coming.”

Hudson seeking re-election to 'give back' to community

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a weekly series profiling candidates for Coolidge City Council.

COOLIDGE — Steve Hudson has served on City Council for two and a half terms, and is now hoping to add another.

Hudson is one of two incumbent council members seeking re-election, and one of five candidates total running in the upcoming primaries. This year, Mayor Jon Thompson is running unopposed.

For Hudson, the decision to run for another term was primarily driven by his desire to see the completion of projects that have come before the council during his time — like the state-of-the-art manufacturing plant Nikola Corporation plans to build at the southern tip of Coolidge.

“I’d like to stay on to see that through, see the businesses that it attracts and see what the result is going to be for the city of Coolidge,” he said, “how (the city) is going to grow (and) the things that are going to happen because of Nikola coming to town.”

With several of his grandchildren growing up in Coolidge, family is an important motivator for Hudson when it comes to his desire to play a role in helping the city make significant strides toward improvement.

Hudson has lived in Coolidge for 38 years, and “giving back” is also a big part of his decision to run again.

“I wanted to give back to the community that has been good to me,” he said.

Hudson has worked in the automotive industry for 45 years. He is currently a manager at Garrett Motors and has been employed with the company for the past 20 years. Additionally, he serves on the board of directors for First American Credit Union in Casa Grande.

He believes that his experience working for and with private companies provides him with a sound understanding of business that he pulls from while serving on council.

“I’ve gone through two or three recessions in the automobile business. I’ve gone through all the changes that have been through the automobile business, and I’ve actually been through a gas crunch,” he said. “So I think I bring a business sense to the city council.”

Initially appointed to council 10 years ago, Hudson said his top priority was improving the city streets. Over the past 10 years, he noted that the city has made significant strides in fixing up many roadways in Coolidge.

The improvements have included major projects like the reconstruction of Central Avenue and Main Street, as well as chip seal projects along roads running through a number of Coolidge neighborhoods and subdivisions.

Continued roadway updates and keeping city-owned buildings in good shape remain a priority for Hudson — initiatives he hopes to continue supporting by being re-elected.

Beyond economic development and street improvements, Hudson noted that as a part of council he would also like to help bring in more activities for Coolidge residents to enjoy, similar to the aquatic center, which will be paid for through the sale of bonds approved by Coolidge voters in November.

His motivations for brining in those types of recreational activities are twofold. They provide Coolidge youth with constructive pastimes during the summer and also serve as way to encourage young adults that might move away from the city to attend a university to eventually see the community as a viable place in which to live and work.

“You have a lot of kids that leave Coolidge and never come back to their hometown,” Hudson said. “I’d like to make Coolidge an attractive place for our kids to come back to.”

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Former Coolidge councilman, farmer dies at 91

COOLIDGE — Anyone who knew Paul Prechel knew how dedicated he was to helping others.

That’s what Prechel’s daughter, Diann, remembers most about her father, who passed away on May 25 at the age of 91.

“He was just a great guy,” she said. “He never spoke bad of anyone. He rarely complained about anything— even in his last days. He was just everything that you would want in a person.”

Though born and raised in Winlock, Washington, Prechel moved to Arizona and not long after, received his master’s degree from the University of Arizona. Starting at the age of 22, when he enlisted, Prechel served in the Air force for 10 years — eventually becoming a navigator-bombardier and a lieutenant.

He married Nancy Nowell in 1956 and the pair made the move to Coolidge, where Prechel would live for the next 60 years of his life.

Having grown up on a farm in Winlock and studied general agriculture at the University of Washington, Prechel farmed various plots of land throughout Coolidge from 1958 until 2012. His farms were located in areas including Attaway and Bartlett roads and Martin and Nafziger roads.

The land he farmed also extended out to the area where Heartland Ranch currently stands and Eleven Mile Corner Road. During his career, he farmed with his son David and eventually formed a partnership to farm with Diann in 1993. The two farmed together for about 19 years.

“Everything I am today is because of him,” Diann said, noting she learned a number of lessons while working alongside her father such as the importance of a strong work ethic and giving back to others. Most importantly, from Prechel she learned how to farm.

“If you can farm, you can handle anything in life,” she said. “Farming gives you the biggest tool box of things that you need to know to get through life.”

As a farmer, Prechel grew a number of crops including alfalfa, wheat and barley. However, his greatest passion about was cotton, Diann said.

But Prechel’s impact extended far beyond farming. For 23 years, he served on the Coolidge City Council, and was vice mayor for a period. He served out his last term in 2008 and did not seek re-election.

Known for being quiet and only speaking when necessary, Prechel’s expertise was generally valued by other members of the council, especially when it came to the subject of water.

“He was known on the council as being the water guy,” Diann said. “Because water is a very complicated issue and he understood water. His knowledge is what helped spur some of the growth in Coolidge.”

Prechel routinely attended as many water meetings around Arizona as he could to glean more information about the subject. He used his knowledge to help the local community by serving on the Pinal AMA Ground Water Users Advisory Council and the Pinal County Water Augmentation Authority.

In addition to his positions on those boards, he also served as a member of the Pinal County Government Alliance and the Central Arizona Association of Governments.

“He was just in general a giver,” Diann said. “And so he either worked hard or he served in ways that his expertise and knowledge would help others.”

Those who knew Prechel really well, also knew that he was far from the biggest fan of speed limits and stop signs. Diann recalled that on her father’s 80th birthday some past and present members of the council and city officials presented her father with a speed limit sign as a gift.

Prechel was also well known for carrying around a large number of tools in the back of his pickup truck — even driving his truck in the 2009 Cotton Days Celebration when he was named Grand Marshall.

When he was not using his time to give back to the community through his service on boards and council, Prechel could be found trying to help individuals and families that lived in Coolidge improve their lives anyway he could, Diann said.

He aided some families as they were trying to make a living, while others he helped find living arrangements or even purchase their own homes.

“He just spent his life giving more I think than he gave himself,” she said. “Coolidge has lost a great leader and a great man.”

Colidge council passes tentative budget

COOLIDGE — Setting an expenditure limitation of more than $50 million, the City Council voted to approve a tentative budget for fiscal tear 2021 at Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting.

The expenditure limit sets a ceiling on what the city is able to spend during the fiscal year. City Finance Director Gabe Garcia said that it is unlikely that the city will come close to spending that amount.

“We know that the number always looks high,” he said. “We never spend anywhere near that amount of money, but we have to have that cap in there in case things happen.”

The $50,842,844 outlined by the expenditure limit provides city government with some financial wiggle room in the event the city is awarded grants, like a $9.5 million grant that was initially awarded to the Coolidge Municipal Airport in June of last year, or sees a significant amount of growth during the year.

By comparison, the expenditure limit for FY 2020 was $46,426,237. To date, however, the city’s actual expenditures have totaled about $27,610,726.

The tentative budget also accounts for $1.5 million in coronavirus relief funds that could be awarded to Coolidge. Garcia noted that the city is currently in the process of applying for those funds.

But the tentative budget still leaves some questions unanswered. The finance department has not received a final word as to the projected decrease in state shared funding the city will see in the upcoming fiscal year.

Garcia told members of the council that he was informed that the projected figures he received since the council meeting on May 26 would be revised to reflect a decrease in state shared revenue. However, he said it is currently unclear what that decrease will look like.

A finalized budget will be brought before the City Council for adoption on June 22.