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Despite health concerns, Coolidge council approves delayed Cotton Days
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COOLIDGE — What is Coolidge without Cotton Days?

After some debate over the merits of holding an event amidst the ongoing pandemic, the City Council voted 6-1 to approve a tentative date of April 2-4 for this year’s festival. That would itself constitute a change from past Cotton Days, which typically have been held in early March.

The lone dissenting vote came from new Councilman Eric Daniels, who felt that April would not allow for enough time for the pandemic to no longer pose a public health threat.

“Growing up in Coolidge, Cotton Days were the pinnacle of living here,” Daniels said. “I think to host an event right now is just a bit irresponsible. To lose one more community member is enough of a risk to altogether forgo this event this year.”

Other council members emphasized personal responsibility but acknowledged it was a tough call.

“We should move forward,” Councilman Ben Navarro said. “Nobody wants us making their decisions for them. People are adults, they can make their own decisions. If they don’t feel comfortable going, they don’t have to.”

The decision to approve the current plan was made with the idea that the festival could be canceled or postponed again in the ensuing months. Council members felt, however, that it was important to move forward with approval for planning purposes.

Coolidge Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynn Parsons also noted that not having a Cotton Days festival would be a major financial hit for the chamber and the city. The chamber was analyzing how potential outcomes such as low turnout could also affect the decision in the coming months.

“Cotton Days is our biggest event of the year,” Parsons said. “The chamber will suffer greatly if we don’t have that event. But our board will be very responsible, and if it’s not the best thing to do or if there is a problem, they will pull it.”

Should it take place, this year would mark the 40th anniversary of the Cotton Days event. The festivities typically include a parade, food vendors and live entertainment.

In better news, Parsons noted that Robles Boxing & Fitness will be the first recipient from a COVID-19 grant the chamber was awarded at the end of December, designed to help local businesses. The chamber is also working on a community-wide marketing campaign.

Also during the meeting, the council approved an agreement to move some telecommunications equipment over to the airport in order to increase service coverage in that area. City Manager Rick Miller said the agreement would allow for more data collection on airport usage and allow for services there to expand in the future.

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Coolidge food pantry closes
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COOLIDGE — After nearly a year of drive-thru food donations to veterans, lack of funding and the pandemic have forced the shutdown of Open Hands Outreach Program.

Although there was hope that someone would take over OHOP’s Veterans Center, food pantry manager Jenny Carr said that the closure of the food service was permanent.

“The board had to make the decision to close,” Carr said. “It’s a financial drain. We’ll miss the people but they will have sources in town to get food so they won’t be hurting.”

Now the only food pantry in Coolidge handing out meals regularly will be Hope International Ministries on Arizona Boulevard. Carr said that Open Hands’ program served around 150 people a month. Open Hands opened up a new center on Central Avenue last year, shortly before the pandemic.

Volunteer Ronald Arnce said while the veterans might be able to receive food elsewhere, he would miss the personal interaction with them.

“We are losing a lot from the center closing,” Arnce said. “We used to cook lunch for them every day for whoever was coming by. We had a chance to connect with them and help them in more immediate ways, get them rides to the doctor or the grocery store, whatever they needed.”

According to Arnce, the food pantry moved through several locations over the past eight years, and at one point allowed people to volunteer there to collect community service hours. Although Arnce said local groups like the Disabled American Veterans do great work for veterans, he described Open Hands as a more informal space.

“It’s going to leave a hole in our fabric here,” Arnce said. “I hope somebody can fill it.”

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Wallace to retire as CUSD superintendent in June
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COOLIDGE — Superintendent Charie Wallace will be ending her tenure having done an “amazing job,” according to the Coolidge Unified School District board. But with plans to retire long in the works, Wallace spent her birthday weekend preparing materials outlining steps to find her replacement.

Despite kind words from the Governing Board members, Wallace reiterated her intention to step down at the conclusion of her three-year contract, which ends in June. During a special board meeting on Wednesday night, the board finalized plans for the hiring process.

“Now that we’ve had an amazing superintendent for the last three years, we want to keep that momentum going,” board President Michael Flores said.

Flores, who came on the board at the end of 2012 along with current board member Linda Heath, said that before that time there’d been a number of contentious superintendents who didn’t fit the district. Flores said his initial priority was to bolster the music and arts curriculum.

“When I came on the board, the community didn’t trust us,” Flores said. “The board at the time was not as open and transparent, and we’d lost parents’ faith in us.”

Flores credits Wallace and Patricia Jimenez, who served as interim superintendent before Wallace was hired after the sudden departure of Cecelia Johnson, as having turned that around.

Wallace is a graduate of Coolidge High School, and her career leading schools included stops in Casa Grande and Eloy. Her father also was Coolidge superintendent, while she was in school in the community.

The discussion included appropriate salary range and how wide a net should be cast to fill the vacancy. Wallace noted that, possibly due to the pandemic, there are only three vacancies for school superintendent positions statewide.

Wallace and the rest of the board highlighted the importance of finding someone who understands the district and its needs.

“We want to make sure that the next superintendent knows our community well, knows our strengths and knows how they can propel our school board,” Flores said.

Flores also noted he was very pleased with the diverse background and strengths of members of the current board.

The board will open the superintendent hiring process to internal applicants from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8.