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Florence fire chief resigns after offensive meeting comment
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FLORENCE — After an obscenity-laden insult was heard over a hot mic at last week’s Town Council meeting, Paul Adams submitted his resignation as Florence’s fire chief.

Adams had been the town’s interim chief since early in the new year and officially became the new chief six weeks ago. He did not immediately return a call for comment. The town manager has named Florence Fire Battalion Chief Jim Walter interim chief as the town begins recruiting nationwide for a new fire chief.

Adams attended the June 21 council meeting over the Zoom online platform, as did other town staff and other attendees. In a public hearing on the town’s property tax levy, a citizen asked a question and town staff replied. The insult made in response to the citizen wasn’t immediately noticed by all meeting attendees but is more clearly heard on the town’s YouTube video of the meeting around the 29:25-minute mark.

Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes said Town Manager Brent Billingsley had a comment, and added, “Could we mute everyone who’s not actually set up to speak for right now, please?” The citizen thanked town staff for the information, never indicating she had heard the insult.

“These comments do not reflect the Town of Florence’s values nor does it promote a positive environment for public engagement — which is necessary to sustain the organization,” the town wrote in a Facebook post.

Before coming to Florence, Adams was executive director of the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association for many years and helped train others to become leaders in the profession. He retired in 2019 as fire chief in Avondale. He was assistant chief with Boone County, Missouri, in 1986 and was later chief in Johnson County, Kansas. Adams was also recently interim chief in Lake Havasu City.

Adams holds a degree in business administration from the University of Missouri. He has completed some post-graduate coursework at Arizona State University in the Fire Service Administration and Public Administration programs.

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Posse ends long partnership with Florence
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FLORENCE — As town officials consider whether to restore running water and make other repairs at the Charles Whitlow Rodeo Grounds, they’re doing so without their longtime partner.

The Pinal County Mounted Posse asked to be released from its contract to maintain the rodeo grounds and host rodeos earlier this year, ending a relationship that went back at least 35 years and likely quite a bit longer. A forerunner organization, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Posse, first took over responsibilities for staging the annual Florence Junior Parada rodeo in 1956, according to news clippings on file at the Pinal County Historical Society Museum.

The mayor and Town Council have made a preliminary decision to continue to host signature events, such as the Junior Parada, this year. This will be done by hauling water to the site 3 miles south of downtown.

“Everybody’s sorry to see (the contract with the town) go,” Posse President Doug Stinson said in an interview. “Putting on the Junior Parada, it was a lot of work. But it was enjoyable work for everybody that was involved. It was all about helping the kids and building funds to contribute to other kids’ activities.”

This doesn’t mean the end of the Pinal County Mounted Posse. “We’re still involved, we’re still here. If anybody needs help with something, we’re still available. And we want to stay involved with the community.

“… The general consensus of everyone is the posse is staying together, it’s staying around, it’s going to keep doing some of its fundraising,” Stinson said. “We want to keep supporting the youth. The unfortunate part is we don’t have our major deal anymore and we’re just hoping that somehow, some way the town continues to do it. We wouldn’t want to see the Junior Parada go away.”

Ben Bitter, assistant to the town manager, said the town is open to working with the posse again but needs to step back and take a holistic look at everything the town needs to have a good rodeo facility.

Stinson said the relationship became strained after the town pointed out the need for electrical work at the rodeo grounds but wouldn’t make the repairs.

“They kind of tied our hands without making the repairs, to the point that we felt we had no real option. They had asked a few times what we thought about terminating the agreement, because either party could do it with a 90-day notice.”

The town had little involvement until three years ago, when a building inspector noted electrical issues in the cook shack and restrooms just prior to the Junior Parada. A year later, the town had yet to make any repairs, and the inspector turned off the majority of power to the two buildings, Stinson said.

A year after this, the town still had not made repairs, and all the power was shut off to those buildings. The posse hosted the Junior Parada using generators on loan from the town. The posse asked if they could hire an electrician, but town staff said no, the contract had to go out for bid.

“For lack of a better term, they had us over a barrel and we couldn’t do anything to fix the problems,” prompting the posse to ask to be let out of its contract, Stinson said.

“What I didn’t like … within two to three weeks of us turning in the letter terminating the agreement, they had a contractor out there doing all the repairs that should have been done two years ago.”

Town staff said no repairs could be done sooner because of problems like no money in the budget and insufficient bids. “It was just constant excuses. … I don’t know where they got the rest of the money from, or where they got the contractor from, but it was just kind of weird,” Stinson said.

Putting on rodeos

A Thanksgiving-weekend Florence tradition, the Junior Parada youth rodeo is an Arizona Junior Rodeo Association event, and that organization provides the livestock and judges. The posse provided programs and prizes such as saddles and buckles at a total cost of about $8,000 per year.

For a few years in the recent past when the AJRA was out of the picture, the posse’s costs to put on the Junior Parada were double. Admissions and entry fees didn’t cover the posse’s costs. It was normal for the posse to be $3,000 to $4,000 in the hole at the end of a Junior Parada, even with the AJRA in the picture. “It was all about the kids,” Stinson said.

Posse members and others also enjoyed meeting top-notch youths competing at high school rodeos. Five years ago, the posse was short-handed at one such event and asked the local American Legion Auxiliary for help serving sodas and chips.

As soon as the rodeo was over, the women asked when the next one was, because they couldn’t believe the manners “and all the respect the kids showed,” Stinson said.

Arenas through the decades

The current Whitlow Rodeo Grounds is just the latest Florence rodeo arena. It’s on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property that the town has an agreement to use. Many years ago, posse volunteers rebuilt the arenas and built the restrooms. At one point the town obtained a federal grant for improvements, but it was posse volunteers who did the work, Stinson said.

In late November of 1919, farmers, ranchers and others were clearing brush and erecting fencing near Florence High School for the first Pinal Punchers’ Parada. The grounds were later relocated to the desert, 2 miles east of Florence, “which was believed to add to the real rodeo spirit,” according to a newspaper column by the late Florence historian Peter Villaverde.

The first events in the 1930s that eventually came to be known as the Junior Parada may have been held at the Whitlow Ranch off Florence-Kelvin Highway.

But in more recent decades, the grounds have been on State Route 79 south of downtown Florence. If possible, Stinson said he would like to see the rodeo grounds stay where they are. “Because there is a lot of history,” including generations of families who have competed there. “So I would love to see them keep it just to keep some of that history in place.”

The Junior Parada itself is believed to be the world’s longest-running youth rodeo, dating back to 1932. “Nobody wants to see that go away.”

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'Freedom Fest' returns to Florence Sunday
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FLORENCE — Florence Community Services’ annual “Freedom Fest” will be July 4, with live music, food and games, leading up to a fireworks display at 8:30 p.m.

The event begins at noon at the Aquatic Center, near the Community Center at 778 N. Main St. Admission is a donation of a back-to-school item. Enjoy two giant outdoor slides, beach entry, DJ and more.

At 5 p.m., the action moves to nearby Heritage Park, 174 W. First St. Pride Through Strife, playing their fusion of reggae, alternative rock and funk, will be followed by AC/DC tribute band The Jack and the ultimate Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute experience, Mr. Skynyrd.

American Legion Post No. 9 will salute Petty Officer 3rd Class George Feliz, who served in the Navy during World War II. A cornhole tournament will benefit the Florence High School baseball boosters.

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Downtown Florence rehab grants discussed
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FLORENCE — A new $250,000 grant program for downtown commercial rehabilitation was discussed on Thursday at a Town Council work session at the Florence Community Center.

The program was on last week’s council agenda for action, but the council opted to table it for further discussion.

As presented last week, the program would provide up to 75% reimbursement for projects that correct code violations. The goal is more certificates of occupancy and more commercial buildings in use, Elan Vallender, Florence economic development director, told the council.

The program would be paid for with the $200,000 in downtown revitalization funding in the town Capital Improvement Program plus $50,000 in the town’s fire sprinkler program. The town’s grant program to assist in improving downtown exteriors, or “facades,” will also continue.