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Police Lt. Franklin Caldwell, center, receives an award for outstanding contributions at Monday’s Town Council meeting. Also pictured are Mayor Tara Walter and Fire Battalion Chief Jim Walter. Jim Walter nominated Caldwell for his efforts to ease traffic congestion during last month’s Country Thunder festival. Jim Walter also received a certificate of recognition for his recent service as interim fire chief.

Mayor Tara Walter proclaimed “Small Business Saturday” on Nov. 27 in Florence. Accepting the proclamation are Roger Biede and Sherri Crosslin with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce.

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More events may be headed to Florence rodeo grounds
  • Updated

FLORENCE – While town officials and staff continue to weigh the future of the Charles Whitlow Rodeo Grounds, the Town Council agreed Monday to hold additional events there.

As preparations are underway for the annual Junior Parada rodeo on Thanksgiving weekend, the event producer is also interested in “cowboy church” services, and potentially the Florence Music Festival and Florence Balloon Festival. Rail 3 Ranch is also interested in having its rodeo again, according to a town staff report.

Mayor Tara Walter noted the town provides emergency medical personnel for the Junior Parada, and asked if these other events require that as well. Florence Community Services Director Hez Allen said those services aren’t being requested at this time.

The mayor further asked about the facility’s water and electrical issues, and Allen replied town Community Development staff have looked at the property and concluded none of those issues should prevent the facility from hosting additional programs.

Walter said the rodeo grounds look the best in years, “and I do want to acknowledge that and say thank you.” Allen added thanks to the town’s Public Works, parks maintenance team and this year’s Junior Parada producer Bill Foster. “It’s been a great partnership to get that facility where it’s at.”

The town is polling Florence residents and others who use the rodeo grounds at https://polco.us/n/res/vote/florence-az/charles-whitlow-rodeo-grounds.

Also Monday, the council agreed to issuing a request for proposals for a new management agreement for the rodeo grounds.

According to a town staff report, a public-private partnership might allow the town to work closely with an organization specializing in event center management and development. The additional resources would ultimately lessen the burden on taxpayers and increase the facility’s success rate.

The mayor proclaimed Nov. 26-28 “Junior Parada Days” in Florence.

Florence received an Arizona Planning Association Award for its Downtown Redevelopment Area Plan. Pictured from left are Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes, town planners Maricella Benitez and Larry Harmer, Town Manager Brent Billingsley and Mayor Tara Walter.

Larry Contreras (center), Florence’s new fire chief, is sworn in Monday. Town Attorney Cliff Mattice (left) administers the oath. Also pictured is Town Manager Brent Billingsley. Contreras has had a 35-year career in firefighting in Phoenix, where he was a deputy chief.

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Contractor urged to find local help on fence surrounding Poston Butte
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FLORENCE — The town is encouraging a contractor building nearly 20,000 feet of fencing around the future Poston Butte Preserve, also known as “F” Mountain, to hire local help.

Councilman Johnie Mendoza said Monday he’d like to see “local talent” used in building the gates. Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes said she’d rather see the entire contract amount spent locally, but bidders have to be qualified to work on historic sites. She said she hopes the contractor can at least make a presentation to local contractors, even if it’s only a one-day tour.

The fence will protect Poston Butte and surrounding property from damage from all-terrain vehicles and other unapproved access and will be partially paid for with a $100,000 Arizona State Parks grant. The state provided information on two fencing companies that are on state contract, but only Western Fence Company submitted a proposal.

The council approved the contract Monday with Western Fence for $192,539 with the encouragement “to please hire local.” The project includes removal of approximately 6,540 linear feet of existing fence and posts, which is no longer needed because it divides two parcels in the middle of the preserve.

Approximately 19,950 linear feet of new barbless wire fencing will be installed along the perimeter property lines. One vehicle gate and two gates for pedestrian, equine and maintenance vehicle access will be installed.

Councilman John Anderson asked how the town will maintain nearly 4 miles of fencing. “If we can’t protect it, we ought not do it.”

Community Services Director Hezekiah Allen said staff will check on the fence monthly. Developing the entire Poston Butte Preserve off Hunt Highway will be a years-long process and ultimately cost $6.3 million in today’s dollars, the council was told last year.

In other action Monday, the council:

  • Tabled action on new lease rates for tenants in Silver King Marketplace, pending a work session with tenants early in the new year. The town’s lease policy requires town-owned properties to be rented at fair-market value, unless the lease is for a valuable public purpose.

“Let them have some peace for a while,” Vice Mayor Cordes recommended. “We can’t raise these people’s rent.” Councilwoman Kristen Rodriguez recommended any changes occur months in advance, so tenants can plan for any increases.

  • Heard an update on U.S. Community Development Block Grant funding for fiscal year 2022. The town has used CDBG funds for water line improvements and sidewalk improvements for the past two years. Town staff prefers to use Florence’s estimated $130,000 allocation in the upcoming fiscal year to continue sidewalk improvements.

Pinal County will conduct a series of public meetings to receive input on the use of CDBG funds in November and December. Florence residents are invited to attend a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Town Hall. Residents may also participate in other public meetings held throughout Pinal County, or submit ideas for projects directly to the Pinal County Grants Office.

  • Approved a contract with Consor Engineers for the design of a new bridge on East Butte Avenue over the San Carlos Irrigation canal at a cost of $274,757. The current bridge, which is on the way to Arizona State Prison-Eyman Complex, has been deemed insufficient to carry standard vehicles with heavy loads, including fire engines.

The state Legislature has provided $1 million toward a new bridge, and those funds arrived Monday, Town Manager Brent Billingsley told the council.

  • Approved a $1.3 million contract with low-bidder Yellow Jacket Drilling Services for the town’s Well 5. The well, on 20th Street west of Main Street, collapsed several years ago for unknown reasons. The contract requires the driller to minimize the noise to nearby homes; “however, there will be impacts,” according to a town staff report.

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House censures Rep. Gosar for violent video in rare rebuke
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WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to censure Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona for posting an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword, an extraordinary rebuke that highlighted the political strains testing Washington and the country.

Calling the video a clear threat to a lawmaker’s life, Democrats argued Gosar’s conduct would not be tolerated in any other workplace — and shouldn’t be in Congress.

The vote to censure Gosar and also remove him from his House committee assignments was approved by a vote of 223-207, almost entirely along party lines, with Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois the only Republicans voting in favor.

Gosar had deleted the tweet days ago amid the criticism, but he retweeted the video late Wednesday shortly after the vote.

He showed no emotion as he stood in the well of the House after the vote, flanked by roughly a dozen Republicans as Speaker Nancy Pelosi read the censure resolution and announced his penalty. He shook hands, hugged and patted other members of the GOP conference on the back before leaving the chamber.

Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the censure an “abuse of power” by Democrats to distract from national problems. He said of the censure, a “new standard will continue to be applied in the future,” a signal of potential ramifications for Democratic members should Republicans retake a majority.

But Democrats said there was nothing political about it.

“These actions demand a response. We cannot have members joking about murdering each other," said Pelosi. “This is both an endangerment of our elected officials and an insult to the institution.”

Ocasio-Cortez herself said in an impassioned speech, ”When we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down to violence in this country. And that is where we must draw the line.”

Arizona Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran said the censure was appropriate.

“Videos depicting violence against fellow representatives and the president are not funny or appropriate,” O’Halleran said in a statement after the vote. “Worse, they disrespect the office Rep. Gosar holds and the Arizona taxpayers who sent him to Washington to fix problems in their communities.”

Unrepentant during tense floor debate, Gosar rejected what he called the “mischaracterization” that the cartoon was “dangerous or threatening. It was not.”

“I do not espouse violence toward anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset," Gosar said.

He compared himself to Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Treasury secretary, celebrated in recent years in a Broadway musical, whose censure vote in Congress was defeated: “If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person attempted to be censured by this House, so be it, it is done.”

The decision to censure Gosar, one of the strongest punishments the House can dole out, was just the fourth in nearly 40 years — and just the latest example of the raw tensions that have roiled Congress since the 2020 election and the violent Capitol insurrection that followed.

Democrats spoke not only of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, but also the violent attacks that have escalated on both parties, including the 2017 shooting of Republican lawmakers practicing for a congressional baseball game and the 2011 shooting of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords as she met with constituents at an event outside a Tucson grocery store.

Republicans largely dismissed Gosar's video as nothing more than a cartoon, a routine form of political expression and hardly the most important issue facing Congress.

Yet threats against lawmakers are higher than ever, the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police told the Associated Press in an interview earlier this year.

The censure of Gosar was born out of Democratic frustration. Over the past week, as outrage over the video grew, House GOP leaders declined to publicly rebuke Gosar, who has a lengthy history of incendiary remarks. Instead, they largely ignored his actions and urged their members to vote against the resolution censuring him.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said, “I would just suggest we have better things to do on the floor of the House of Representatives than be the hall monitors for Twitter.”

The resolution will remove Gosar from two committees: Natural Resources and the Oversight and Reform panel, on which Ocasio-Cortez also serves, limiting his ability to shape legislation and deliver for constituents. It states that depictions of violence can foment actual violence and jeopardize the safety of elected officials, citing the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as an example.

Gosar is the 24th House member to be censured. Though it carries no practical effect, except to provide a historic footnote that marks a lawmaker’s career, it is the strongest punishment the House can issue short of expulsion, which requires a two-thirds vote.

Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, the former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, was the last to receive the rebuke in 2010 for financial misconduct.

It would also be second time this year the House has initiated the removal of a GOP lawmaker from an assigned committee, the first being Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

Gosar, a six-term congressman, posted the video over a week ago with a note saying, “Any anime fans out there?” The roughly 90-second video was an altered version of a Japanese anime clip, interspersed with shots of Border Patrol officers and migrants at the southern U.S. border.

During one roughly 10-second section, animated characters whose faces had been replaced with Gosar, Greene and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., were shown fighting other animated characters. Gosar’s character is seen striking another one made to look like Ocasio-Cortez in the neck with a sword. The video also shows him attacking President Joe Biden.

Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., whose receipt of repeated death threats has required her to spend thousands on security, said Gosar has not apologized to her. She singled out McCarthy for not condemning Gosar.

“What is so hard about saying this is wrong?” Ocasio-Cortez said. “This is not about me. This is not about Representative Gosar. But this is about what we are willing to accept.”

This is not the first brush with controversy for Gosar, who was first elected in 2010’s tea party wave. He has been repeatedly criticized by his own siblings, six of whom appeared in campaign ads supporting his Democratic opponent in 2018.

Earlier this year Gosar looked to form an America First Caucus with other hardline Republican House members that aimed to promote “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” while warning that mass immigration was putting the “unique identity” of the U.S. at risk. He’s made appearances at fringe right-wing events, including a gathering in Florida last February hosted by Nick Fuentes, an internet personality who has promoted white supremacist beliefs.

He has also portrayed a woman shot by Capitol police during the attack on the Capitol as a martyr, claiming she was “executed.” And he falsely suggested that a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was instigated by “the left” and backed by billionaire George Soros, a major funder of liberal causes who has become the focus of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.