Community Activist Appointed To College Board

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Linda O'Dell, Gila County superintendent of schools, selected Dick Wolfe to fill the vacancy left by Gila County Community College Board of Governors chairman Ron Christensen who resigned in April.

Wolfe, president of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation, said he'll rely on his background in local politics -- as a town councilor and vice mayor -- to negotiate southern Gila County's strangle hold on the five-member board.

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Dick Wolfe

"I sought out (the appointment) because I've been very upset about the college here," he said. "I thought that I could be part of the solution."

Wolfe and other Payson community members said they are working to bring equality and fairness to the agreement between Eastern Arizona College and Gila Community College. Opponents have called the settlement a blank check, a lopsided deal and collusion among elected officials.

As Eastern Arizona College begins to build a new foundation on the ruins of Pima Community College, a network of Payson's residents gnaw away like termites on the underpinnings below.

"The college and the county are the major issue we're looking at," said Dr. Peter Kettner, former college advisory board member and co-founder of Wake Up Call -- Concerned Citizens for Gila County Political Reform. "We feel that the taxpayers are really being hurt by all the money being spent by this college."

Kettner's group, in tandem with Citizens for Better Payson Government led by Don Crowley and Gordon Metcalf, are pursuing grassroots and legal efforts to emend what Crowley has called a, "breach of the public trust."

Through a public records request from their legal team, Crowley and Metcalf produced more than 1,000 pages of e-mail and other documents from Gila County.

Based on these records and others obtained from Graham County -- which sponsors GCC's community college district -- Crowley said Assistant Attorney General Laurie Woodall is pursuing open meeting law violations against the Gila Community College Board of Governors.

According to the Arizona Revised Statutes, open meeting laws are violated when a quorum or a majority of the board holds meetings via e-mail, and through technological devices, discusses, proposes or takes legal action.

In an e-mail sent May 22, Crowley shared a few of his group's initial findings. Records, he said, indicate Gila County District 3 Supervisor Shirley Dawson may have overstepped her authority by acting as "a very active participant" in brokering the deal between GCC and EAC, while governing board vice chairman Bob Ashford of Globe may have withheld relevant e-mails among board members.

The legality of the contract signed by Eastern Arizona College and the Gila County Community College Board of Governors is also under investigation. The state attorney general's office and the county attorney's office have asked for additional documentation.

"Assistant Attorney General Solicitor General Mary O'Grady has our request in hand and we are waiting to hear what, if any, action she is prepared to take," Crowley wrote.

County Attorney Daisy Flores has referred the matter to the Pinal County attorney's office, citing a conflict of interest with Gila County deputy attorney Bryan Chambers, who represents the college.

Eastern Arizona College will hold an open house at the Payson campus, 210 N. Mud Springs Road from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. tonight. New board member Dick Wolfe will be sworn in beforehand.

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