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Club dedicates model airplane field in owner's memory


Sun Lakes Model Airplane Club, located on the Felix Ranch in Florence, held a dedication of the field on April 2 and later a lunch with the Felix family and club members.

Katie Felix honored the club by cutting the ribbon and dedicating the field as a new entry sign was made to honor Paul Felix, her late husband, a lifelong resident of Florence and a fan of radio-controlled airplanes.

Their children attended and participated in the dedication. Over hot dogs and hamburgers, everyone enjoyed good conversation and reflected on times gone by.

The club hosted two competitions this spring, which would not have been possible if not for the Felix family generosity in offering the property plus providing equipment and help when maintenance and changes were made to the field and structures. The field is a sanctioned Academy of Model Aeronautics field and competitions are recognized by the national or world aeronautics organizations.

An international group of pilots from North and South America competed in a Pattern Airplane competition the first weekend of March. Thirty pilots from as far south as Argentina and across the United States participated. Pilots were judged on how well they performed aerobatic maneuvers and how smoothly they flew the airplanes. The Pattern airplanes have six-foot wing spans and fly 50 to 75 mph when performing maneuvers.

The last weekend of March was a regional event competition, The Cactus Classic. These are International Miniature Aerobatic Club (IMAC) pilots from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Texas. These airplanes are models of full size aerobatic aircraft, can weigh up to 55 pounds, have four-cylinder engines producing 18 horsepower, have a wingspan of over 10 feet and speeds of 60 to 100 mph when performing aerobatics. Again, pilots are judged on how well they perform their maneuvers.

The Sun Lakes field welcomes visitors any time the gate is open. The Sun Lakes Club flying field is located at the south side of East Hunt Highway just as you are going around a curve. Be careful, slow down early, and watch for the entrance flags. Pay close attention when you pass the Anthem Fire Station southbound on Hunt Highway.

You might find Katie Felix or one of her adult children enjoying the airplanes. If you do, ask questions about Arizona history as the family established the ranch in 1865.

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Gosar offers furious defense of election fraud belief
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar has hit back against a House ethics complaint with a slashing defense of his speeches and social media posts prior to the Jan. 6 riots that led to the brief occupation of the Capitol building.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Gosar helped instigate the violent riot at the Capitol building, which interrupted the effort of Gosar and others to prevent the certification of the presidential election.

Gosar dismissed that complaint as “frivolous, ill-conceived and defamatory” and vowed to seek vindication in civil court.

In a 30-page response, he reiterated his claims of voter fraud and said he was proud of his support for the Stop the Steal demonstrations and his speeches at rallies that included militia groups like Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Some members of those groups are now facing charges connected to the riots.

Gosar said he was exercising his free speech rights by protesting voter fraud and urging people to protect their democracy. However, he said he has never condoned violence. He said his references to President Biden as an “illegitimate usurper” and calls to fight for democracy were not incitements to violence.

“It is clear, over 90 days since the riot, that it was not a rebellion, not an insurrection, and not a revolution. It was then, and now, a riot by hundreds of people that afternoon. And I neither condoned, encouraged, assisted, planned or had any role in that riot whatsoever,” he wrote.

In a letter, 30 members of Congress asked for a criminal investigation into whether Gosar or other members of Congress incited the riot or helped organizers plan the violent demonstration. In response, Gosar wrote, “I condemn my colleagues’ irresponsible actions and their use of their official powers to fuel a media spectacle for their own political benefit.”

The ethics request came as other groups have also focused on Gosar’s role. Rep. Zoe Lofgren released a compilation of social media posts by Republicans, including a 177-page section on Gosar’s posts. Gosar’s brothers and sisters have made recent comments suggesting he instigated the riots. Moreover, CNN recently reported that the Justice Department is investigating whether any House members played a role in the riots.

In addition, Gosar has denied teaming up with controversial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green to write a proposal to form an “America First” caucus, which would oppose the existing immigration system and advocate for a variety of other controversial policies — including protecting the nation’s Anglo Saxon cultural and architectural heritage. Gosar has called for a halt to immigration, but said he had nothing to do with drafting the seven-page proposal for an America First caucus released online. Both Republican and Democratic House leaders promptly denounced the document as racist and nativist. Rep. Greene — who was at one point a proponent of QAnon conspiracy theories — said the proposal was drafted by an outside group and reviewed by staff, but she hadn’t read it.

Gosar has adamantly rejected all criticisms of his behavior, insisting the election was in fact fraudulent and his efforts to overturn the results justified. He maintained he was exercising his free speech rights in criticizing the conduct of the election and none of his language amounted to an incitement to violence. He said he’s proud of his connection to the Stop the Steal rallies and organizers. He has condemned the riots themselves — although even in his defense suggested left-wing groups likely played a role — a view law enforcement officials have rejected.

Gosar represents Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, which includes Florence, Apache Junction, Gold Canyon and San Tan Valley in Pinal County. In the 2020 election he easily defeated a moderate Republican challenger, then won the general election with 70% of the vote.

The request by Jayapal for an ethics investigation maintained that Gosar maintained a close relationship with Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander and the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys militias. The request alleged Gosar repeatedly used inflammatory language inciting action prior to the Jan. 6 demonstration and repeatedly insisted without evidence that widespread voter fraud invalidated the election results.

Gosar’s response said, “Know this: I have never instigated violence. I have no criminal record of any kind. I have never aided or abetted violence. I have not urged or supported violence. A review of Jayapal’s unsupported and fraudulent allegations suggest they are devoid of reality and smothered in Blue Anon conspiracy theories, ad hominem attacks, and baseless speculation.”

Here’s a summary of some of the latest claims and counterclaims.

Jayapal based her request for an ethics investigation on six claims, including:

  • Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander in an interview cited Gosar as the “spirit animal of this movement” who had offered to call donors and urged him to march on the Supreme Court. On Twitter, Gosar called Alexander “a true patriot” and tagged him on Twitter three times on Jan. 6.
  • On Jan. 4 Gosar tweeted an image advertising the Jan. 6 rally that included the text “#FightforTrump. The Time is Now. Hold the Line. Who is joining me?”
  • At the rally prior to the storming of the Capitol, Gosar told attendees, “you get to go back home once we conquer the Hill (and) Donald Trump is returned to being president.”
  • On Dec. 7 Rep. Gosar published an op/ed titled “Are we witnessing a coup d’état?” in which he said he helped organize the first Stop the Steal rally “after it became clear that voting patterns emerged that could not occur in the absence of fraud” and urged readers to “be ready to defend the Constitution and the White House.”
  • Gosar “perpetuated the vote-stealing myth first promoted on Steve Bannon’s podcast and radio show” and in a series of tweets suggested that the governor call a special session to investigate the election results and that no results be certified until all Dominion software machines were audited due to “massive fraud potential.”

Gosar “maintained relationships with far-right extremist groups, such as Oath Keepers.” In September 2020, the leader of an Arizona Oath Keepers chapter said that, “We asked (Gosar) flat-out, at that time, do you think we’re heading into a civil war? ... And his response to the group was just flat-out ‘we’re in it, we just haven’t started shooting yet.’”

Gosar’s response did not flinch from acknowledging his support for the Stop the Steal demonstrations and most of the actions listed in Jayapal’s complaint.

“Alexander is correct when he says he had my support for the speeches at the White House, and the support of others. I am proud if he thought I was ‘the spirit animal’ of election integrity. The event that morning at the White House was flawless and was a beautiful example of freedom of assembly. When I left, there was no sign of any type of riot that was to come two miles away at the Capitol. That riot took place two hours later, two miles away, was not planned by me or anyone I know. Ms. Jayapal conflates the riot at the Capitol with the speeches at the White House. Those are separate events. Ms. Jayapal’s false allegations will be dealt with in civil court. Suffice to say, her allegations are mendacious and in clear and reckless disregard for the actual truth.”

He said that he has spoken to groups that included members of Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, but that he speaks to lots of people without being members of their groups. He said the meetings at which he spoke were peaceful, full of prayers and songs and patriotism.

He noted that Rep. Jayapal herself protested the 2016 election results in a floor speech before the results were certified, citing voter suppression claims in Georgia and allegations that Russian hackers attempted to interfere on President Trump’s behalf.

Gosar denied that he or anyone in his office gave tours of the Capitol building to people who ended up participating in the assault on the Capitol. He also denied that he sought a pre-emptive pardon for anything he had done before Trump left office. However, Gosar said he did successfully seek a pardon for Rep. Rick Renzi and Steve Bannon — but regrets not being able to obtain a pardon for Brian Kolfage, a triple-amputee war veteran who helped raise $25 million in GoFundMe donations to build a wall on the border.

Gosar said Capitol security forces did not know riots would follow the rallies — so clearly he could have had no idea violence would follow the speeches. As a result, none of his exercise of free speech cited by Jayapal represented a violation of House ethics standards.

Statements by Gosar’s siblings

One of Gosar’s sisters and two of his brothers recently released a video produced by the Republican Accountability Project condemning Gosar’s actions prior to the Capitol riots.

His siblings have twice before during elections publicly criticized him and endorsed his political opponents.

His sister, Jennifer, on the video said, “there is no one member of Congress more responsible for the attack on the Capitol than Congressman Paul Gosar.”

His brothers Tim and David on the video criticized him because he “pushed the baseless conspiracy theory” that Dominion Voting Systems were switching votes from Republicans to Democrats.

Half a dozen lawsuits in Arizona challenging the election results and the machine vote count were dismissed by judges who said the lawsuits presented no evidence of fraud or irregularities that would change the outcome of the election in which Biden barely won the presidential vote, Sen. Mark Kelley narrowly won the senate seat and Republicans retained narrow majorities in the state House and Senate.

America First Caucus

The online Punchbowl News reported that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Gosar jointly developed a seven-page proposal to create an “America First Caucus.”

Several media outlets, including the Arizona Republic, reported that effort and linked Gosar to the document, although the Republic story did not say that he wrote it.

However, Gosar has adamantly denied any role in writing the document.

Gosar’s chief of staff, Tom Van Flein, told the Republic, “Congressman Gosar has not formed a new caucus. He has not reached out to members of Congress about forming a new caucus.”

Rep. Greene also told CNN she “wants to make clear that she is not launching anything. This was an early planning proposal and nothing was agreed to or approved.”

House leadership criticized the document. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in a tweet said, “The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans – not nativist dog whistles.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo) in a tweet said, “Racism, nativism, and anti-Semitism are evil. History teachers, we all have an obligation to confront & reject such malicious hate.

The document said the caucus would seek to ensure “a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions… America’s legal immigration system should be curtailed to those that can contribute not only economically but have demonstrated respect for this nation’s culture and rule of law.”

The document also suggested that any infrastructure spending should adhere to Anglo-Saxon traditions in architecture.

“America is a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions. History has shown that societal trust and political unity are threatened when foreign citizens are imported en masse into a country, particularly without institutional support for assimilation and an expansive welfare state to bail them out should they fail to contribute positively to the country...The America First Caucus will work towards an infrastructure that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value the befits the progeny of European architecture, whereby public infrastructure must be utilitarian as well as stunningly, classically beautiful.”


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Florence council discusses $5K stipends for town employees
  • Updated

FLORENCE — With a tight budget year looming, some Town Council members Monday favored giving employees a $5,000 stipend out of the old year’s budget instead of a raise.

The council didn’t vote, but council members expressing an opinion favored the stipend. A $5,000 stipend for each full-time employee would cost the town $994,250 when benefits are included. Town employees could also receive a 1.7% cost-of-living raise.

The council will hold a public hearing and adopt a final budget on June 21. The new budget year begins on July 1.

This is the first year for Florence to operate under its new Permanent Base Adjustment, which local voters approved in 2018. The Home Rule Option allowed the Town Council to set its budget, but the Permanent Base Adjustment has a calculated cap based on formula. Even if the town has excess revenue, it is unable to spend above the limitation cap, with the exception of some excluded expenses.

The new limit is $31,719,851, which is slightly less than the old fiscal year, Florence Finance Director Rebecca Jimenez told the council. The new budget is subject to change to stay under this spending cap, and town staff and the town’s auditor are working to determine what may be excluded. Projects may change or be eliminated to stay within the limit, and the council will be notified when any major change occurs, Jimenez said.

However, in the old year’s budget, which ends June 30, the town expects to end up $3,376,511 in the black. This is thanks to revenues coming in at $1.6 million over budget and federal CARES Act funding helping with police and fire budgets, Jimenez said.

Revenue down, spending up

Revenues are expected to come in slightly lower than in the old year — an estimated $341,000 less, Jimenez told the council. She said this is mainly due to a reduction in State Shared Income Tax. Town Manager Brent Billingsley commented after Monday’s meeting that the town is growing, and more residents usually means more State Shared Revenues, but some other cities and towns have grown even more.

Florence’s spending, meanwhile, is expected to be $600,000 more than in the old year, mainly due to new staff positions, adjustments in the town’s salary scale, reallocation of the engineering and cemetery staffs into the General Fund and other cost increases.

The new budget will spend $925,000 more than revenues, and the town will have to spend some reserves to balance its General Fund budget. Hopefully in a year, the town will pick up additional revenue and contain its expenses, and it won’t be necessary to spend down reserves, Jimenez said.

New employees

The town plans to hire a senior engineer. Billingsley said the benefits will be faster plan reviews, better customer service and more efficient projects.

“We have been trying to hire this position and they are very difficult to come by,” Billingsley said. But the town has found an experienced person, a former city engineer and public works director. “He’ll add a lot of horsepower to our organization and I think increase our customer service.”

The town also has plans to hire an information technology system analyst, a plans examiner and a water utility operator. A water resources analyst won’t be hired in the new year but will be added to the salary scale for consideration in a future year.

Florence Unified School District has asked for three school resource officers to serve in schools, but the town plans to offer just one. FUSD has a grant to pay the officer while school is in session, but it will be the town’s responsibility to pay the salary when school is out, Billingsley said. The town must also provide a vehicle, uniform, weapon and radio.

FUSD expects to have grant funding for at least the next two fiscal years. When the grant is no longer available, the position would have to be funded 100% by the town.

In other budget discussions at Monday’s meeting:

  • Despite some large claims in the past year, the town was able to renew its medical benefits with Blue Cross Blue Shield for an increase of just 4.96%.
  • The new budget year is expected to include two “Road to Country Thunder” musical events in downtown Florence preceding the four-day Country Thunder festival, in October 2021 and at the festival’s usual time in April 2022.
  • Councilwoman Kristen Rodriguez asked about the chances for a skate park in the Anthem area. Billingsley said he approached Pulte Homes a couple of years ago and was told the company wasn’t interested.

But when development moves east of Felix Road, that new area will need amenities, he said. The town may be able to talk with Pulte and another developer, Southwest Value Partners, about buying 2.5 acres for a skate park. Billingsley said they’re likely to begin building houses east of Felix Road in the next couple of years.

The administrative side (west side) of Town Hall will have a customer service window, just as the finance side has. This will allow the administrative side to limit walk-in traffic for better protection from the coronavirus as well as an active shooter. Cost is estimated at $40,000.