New Florence town logo

From left, the old town seal has been in use for roughly 30 years, but lacks versatility because of its many colors and fine details. The new design features the Second Pinal County Courthouse tower and other aspects of the town.

FLORENCE — The Town Council tabled action Monday on the question of whether top town staff should be required to reside within the Florence planning area.

The council also tabled action on what it wants to see in a feasibility study of the Charles Whitlow Rodeo Grounds, pending a work session. The council did, however, approve a “request for proposals” for an event producer for this year’s Florence Junior Parada rodeo on Thanksgiving weekend.

Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes and Councilman John Anderson asked for discussion on an ordinance requiring the town manager and department directors to reside within the town’s planning boundary — an area wider than the actual town limits — within nine months of employment.

Current town code actually specifies that the town manager live in town, but the council waived this for the current manager. A new ordinance would amend the code to allow the manager to reside in the town’s planning area and exempt or “grandfather” all current department directors from the residency requirement.

New hires would be reimbursed up to 10% of their annual salary for documented moving expenses. Anderson said he’s proud to live in Florence and he thinks top staff should share that pride and ownership.

Mayor Tara Walter said the previous council debated this issue in October 2019 before voting 4-3 to table it indefinitely. Cordes said she favored requiring the town manager, fire chief and police chief to live close by, and “the department heads beyond that I’m really not concerned about.”

By stipulating the planning boundary, this opens up areas such as Cactus Forest and portions of San Tan Valley, Cordes continued, giving these employees more options. Councilman Johnie Mendoza said he’s “not completely opposed” to such an ordinance, but the town’s planning boundary in San Tan Valley is shrinking because of Queen Creek growth.

Walter and Councilman Arthur “Snake” Neal expressed concerns the requirement would reduce the number of good applicants applying for top town jobs. The mayor said Police Chief Bruce Walls lives 30 miles away but has done an excellent job. Neal moved to table the issue once again, with Cordes voting no.

The council was prepared to vote on what it wanted to see in an independent analysis of the various options for the rodeo grounds, including repair and replacement costs for the current facilities, or new facilities elsewhere. Cost for this study could range from $20,000 to $60,000, depending on the amount of information.

But former Mayor Tom Rankin told the council that there are people in the community who can supply this information and who “would be willing to do it for nothing,” and urged the council to appoint a committee of local people.

Mayor Tara Walter replied that she agreed, and she previously favored delaying a feasibility study until the public’s wishes could be known.

Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes said the majority of the council voted to do the study first, so the council would have accurate costs to present to the public. She continued that town staff was instructed to contact local people with relevant experience as well.

Walter further said the town is proceeding with this year’s Florence Junior Parada rodeo; “It is happening.” Although the Pinal County Mounted Posse, which hosted the rodeo for many years, asked to be released from its contract earlier this year, Walter said she hopes the posse will “participate and partner” with the town.

Neal said the rodeo grounds are so important to the town, the amount of money shouldn’t matter. “Florence needs it that bad.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.