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Villages HOA manager terminates contract with community after backlash

MARICOPA — Associated Asset Management has decided to terminate its homeowners association contract with The Villages at Rancho El Dorado after several members of the community board resigned.

It began when the HOA distributed a waiver to be read and signed by each resident in order for them to have their key fob activated for community amenities. According to Villages resident Heather Walter, one of the questions on the form asked if the resident had recently come into contact with “known COVID patients.”

“My husband and I signed the waiver, with the exception of one of the boxes we did not initial because it asks if we have been in contact with known COVID patients. Due to our profession, we could not honestly initial it,” Walter said.

The front office initially accepted their form and re-activated their key fobs. However, Walter says later that day she received a phone call, “stating due to our line of work our key cards were going to be deactivated.”

Other amenities were permanently closed off, including the community basketball hoops, which had boards secured over the hoops to prevent people from shooting.

On June 18, a community member entered the clubhouse to attend a meeting taking place. AAM employee Diane Zavala accused the community member of trying to film the meeting, and a physical altercation ensued. Police had to be called to resolve the situation. Other board members took to social media to defend their refusal to reactivate Walter’s key fob.

Board of Directors Chairman Tony Crisostomo penned a lengthy response to community “rumors” that included statistics about the frequency of COVID-19 transmission for health care workers.

Backlash on social media ensued, and a contentious board meeting Wednesday illustrated the community concerns.

On Thursday, an email sent out by the HOA stated that it would agree to eliminate the health screening form and would no longer require it for the reactivation of key cards.

“Effective today, you and your family may utilize the amenities at your own risk upon receipt of a signed Waiver and Release of Liability form,” the letter said.

The new form is an acknowledgement of COVID-19 exposure risk and releases the HOA from liability if the resident should contract COVID-19. The HOA also agreed to reopen the basketball courts with new signage.

In response to the ongoing backlash, multiple board members resigned, and AAM terminated its contract with the Villages entirely, both effective on July 31.

“The recent events that have transpired led us to make the difficult decision to discontinue our management partnership with VRED,” Amanda Shaw, AAM president, wrote in a letter to residents. “AAM cannot continue to be a partner in what now has become an adversarial and unsettling environment perpetuated by inaccurate accusations and embellishment.”

Community members are in uproar over AAM’s decision to cut ties with the Villages, and Peg Chapados expressed comments that were eventually put on Facebook.

“I have never been more disappointed in the HOA board as well as each individual board member than I am today. Last night’s meeting was disgraceful. Shame on all of you,” Chapados wrote. “We have gone from being voted the #1 community in Maricopa to the HOA that is being fired by the #1 Community Management company in Arizona.”

She said that the community will now have 21 business days to find a new management company and transition fully to keep its HOA in operation.

On Tuesday, the HOA board held a special meeting where members decided to open applications to join a committee that will work with prospective management companies to take over operations. Interested residents have until Monday at 9 a.m. to submit their application, and the board will hold another meeting at 5 p.m. that day to assign the top candidates to the committee.

Editor's note: This story originally misattributed a quote by Peg Chapados. It has been corrected.

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Traffic light nearing completion at Honeycutt-White and Parker intersection

MARICOPA — A longtime thorn in Tortosa and Rancho Mirage residents’ sides is finally nearing completion: a brand-new light and left turn lane for an intersection previously bombarded by morning and evening commuters.

The final addition of a control box to dictate light patterns will be put into place around July 7, marking the completion of the signal at Honeycutt and White and Parker roads. Early estimates put the completion in April or May, but delays in the final parts of building have pushed it to July.

“The control box is the reason why it’s taken a little longer to do,” City Manager Rick Horst said. “You’ve seen these control boxes by the side of the road, which has all the electronics in it, and those electronics are what sets the timing and all those sorts of things for the light. That gives us the ability to change light patterns as needed.”

The ability to customize light patterns is especially important during rush hour to account for the flow of traffic. Previously, residents were waiting in lines as deep as 100-plus vehicles to get through a four-way stop sign.

According to Horst, when traveling north on White and Parker Road, a dedicated left lane has been added along with straight and right turn lanes.

“We think this will improve the quality of life, number one, (and) number two, make people more receptive to building and buying out there because we don’t have these issues to deal with anymore,” Horst said. “I think it’s a very positive thing from a public safety point of view, from a marketing point of view, … and certainly from a convenience point of view.”

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New and bigger fireworks display part of Maricopa’s Fourth of July

MARICOPA — With COVID-19 cases in Arizona still rising daily, the city of Maricopa decided to nix its annual Fourth of July event, instead opting to ramp up its fireworks with an even larger and brighter display than previous years.

The fireworks will be set off at 9 p.m. on Saturday at both Copper Sky and an undisclosed location on the north side of town. Though there will not be public seating available, residents are encouraged to pull up whatever lawn chair, beach towel or picnic blanket they have and watch from the comfort of their backyards.

The city is also working on a live stream feed for those out of town or not in a viewable area to still see the fireworks.

“We had to make it more vertical so people could see it, so I’m looking forward to a bigger show,” said Niesha Whitman, city event coordinator. “We’ve got some bigger shells, so a lot of our stuff is going to be in the air. We’re not going to have the ground (fireworks) that you would normally see in past years.”

In prior years, the fireworks would be accompanied by lawn games, entertainment and vendors at Copper Sky. This year, the city is offering friendly virtual competitions from Maricopans’ own homes. Whitman said they hope to have a cornhole competition, a backyard boogie and a few other fun contests the day of — with non-virtual prizes for those lucky winners.

Despite the current pandemic, Whitman hopes the new and improved fireworks will help bring the community together to celebrate the creation of the United States.

“People are missing each other,” Whitman said. “We felt like this would be a great way to just bring the community together to still celebrate, although we can’t do everything that we’ve necessarily done in the past, it will still be a good time to just commemorate the birth or the independence (of our nation).”

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MUSD debates delaying school opening, different learning models

MARICOPA — Maricopa Unified School District — like those across the state — is gearing up for a new school year, and scrambling to come up with ways to accommodate the variety of staff, parent and student needs in the midst of the global pandemic.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced a $270 million funding package for education an hour before Wednesday’s board meeting, which enabled the board to discuss alternative models to the ones they had previously considered.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman began her presentation on re-opening by stating how quickly things had changed even from their previous meeting just two weeks ago. The data collected from parents, only five days old, would not reflect recent surges in Arizona cases and the alternative models that now have available funding.

“Clearly things are changing every day, and after talking with board members, certainly listening to our community members (and) talking with other superintendents as well, I think we need to think very seriously about this timeline and a modification in light of the health risks,” Lopeman said.

Other board members agreed, and recommended the first day of school be pushed back as much as two weeks from July 23 to Aug. 7. Board member Patti Coutre said that a week could be added or taken away somewhere else in the school year to make up for that. Board member Tori Anderson agreed.

“Delaying it two more weeks would give staff more time to prepare, especially the online piece,” Anderson said. “Now that we know that we have funding for a hybrid model, … I think it would give us more time to perfect that model.”

She also added that, as the board has yet to allow in-person meetings themselves, it would be unfair to send children back to school full-time.

“Until we’re ready, as a board, to have in-person live board meetings, then we shouldn’t be having our kids on campus,” Anderson said. “We should set the example. We should be the guinea pigs and not our students.”

Until Ducey’s allocation of funding, discussion of different models was fairly limited between a fully online model and a traditional “brick and mortar” model.

In the event of the “brick and mortal” model, MUSD would deploy their new prevention protocols, which center around increased cleaning, health screens, social distancing and use of preventative equipment like masks.

The brick and mortar model would allow students from preschool to grade five to operate on a regular schedule with an assigned and dedicated device. They would eat meals in the classroom, attend recess and PE outside and extracurriculars would continue.

Middle and high school students would move in groups and class schedules would be adapted to support the health and safety of students and staff. Students would each receive a dedicated device, and some form of breakfast and lunch would be provided.

In the remote or digital learning model, students kindergarten through 12th grade would attend school online using a district-provided device. They would be given educational and social services online.

Luckily for this district, they already have a nearly 1:1 ratio for student devices, and predict they will be above that ratio in the next few months as they are waiting on their final shipment. Until then, devices would start at a 1:1 ratio for every classroom third through twelfth grade and would be shared in kindergarten through second grade classrooms.

But with additional funding available, MUSD can now turn its attention to another favorable solution: a hybrid of the two models.

The hybrid model would combine digital learning and brick and mortar models in one of two ways. The first would be an A/B model in which two groups of students would attend full-day school on alternating days. When not in the classroom, students would learn online. Another version of the hybrid model could be a morning/afternoon model in which students would attend school in the morning and work online in the afternoon or vice versa.

Board members pointed out that the morning/afternoon model isn’t favorable for working parents.

Similar feelings among the MUSD community were shared in the parent and staff responses to the re-opening questionnaire, as well as the public comments submitted to the board.

With exactly 3,073 parent and 636 staff survey responses, MUSD saw that 58% of parents are sure their student will return in the fall. Another 35% are still unsure, and only about 7% said no.

When asked what organizational model was preferred, 45% of parents would prefer a brick-and-mortar model, while 35% would prefer a hybrid model and just 22% preferred online only. On the other hand, staff preferred the hybrid model at 44%, brick-and-mortar at 35% and online at 21%.

However, Lopeman said that this data could have changed considerably since it was received due to the rise in cases and the change in funding. Another survey was sent out Wednesday to ask which model parents and staff would like the most.

The board was set to announce whether it would delay the start of the school year at a special meeting on Monday, after press time.

For a complete description of the different models and more information on the reopening of MUSD, please visit MUSD20.org.