A Town Is Born In Rim Country

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They cheered, applauded, and a few even cried.

After a 10-month battle, that for some was all-consuming, the town of Diamond Star (now Star Valley) was born Nov. 1, 2005 when the Gila County Board of Supervisors approved its incorporation by a 3-0 vote.

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Members of the first town council of Diamond Star are William Heath, Mayor Ronnie O. McDaniel, Chuck Heron, Mary Ann Kotelnicki, Ted Pettet, Art Lloyd and Vice Mayor Randy White. The group was installed on Nov. 1 by the Gila County Board of Supervisors. In the March 14, 2006 election, the name of the community was changed back to Star Valley. Its residents formally chose as council members: Bill Rappaport, Del Newland, Art Lloyd, Mary Ann Kotelnicki, Chuck Heron, Randy White and Bill Heath.

An emotional Supervisor Shirley Dawson, whose district includes the community, made the motion to incorporate. When the vote was taken, a standing-room-only crowd, estimated at 300, erupted into celebration.

After the room finally quieted, Jose Sanchez, board chairperson, congratulated the new town and the people who worked to make it happen. He also noted that the decision was made after consulting with the county attorney's office.

"The decision we made here this morning was based on how we believe the law is supposed to be interpreted," he said.

"That's the way this board operates -- within the requirements of the state laws, the county ordinances and those of our nation."

Under the leadership of Bill Rappaport, Chris Benjamin, Art Lloyd, Randy White and others, the nonprofit Diamond Star Water Coalition organized the incorporation petition drive in an attempt to stop the town of Payson from taking water out of Star Valley to build new subdivisions.

County Recorder Linda Haught-Ortega told the supervisors that 843 (out of 977) signatures were "found to be qualified." Since that total was more than two-thirds of the 1,227 registered voters in the incorporation area, it was not necessary to put the question on the ballot.

The supervisors then listened to brief introductions from each of the candidates before selecting the first council of the new town: William Heath, Chuck Heron, Mary Ann Kotelnicki, Art Lloyd, Ronnie McDaniel, Ted Pettet, and Randy White.

Pettet, a longtime resident, pointed out that he had served as the first mayor of Payson three decades earlier.

"It's been a great morning and it brings back great memories," Pettet said. "It really shows what people can do if they really get behind a cause and make it happen."

McDaniel, a retired judge whose support many considered critical, set the tone for the new council.

"My belief is that government should be run by the people -- and that's the people of Diamond Star," he said.

Heron, who has jousted with the town of Payson over water before, put it another way.

"We usually use the initials ‘PC' to stand for ‘politically correct,'" he said. "I would like everybody in this room to understand what that's going to mean in the new town of Diamond Star is ‘people count.'"

After the vote, Rappaport was ebullient.

"I am elated," he said. "We have made history. It just goes to show that the will of the people prevails."

Chris Benjamin, a member of the coalition board, had a similar reaction.

"It's just amazing that right prevailed," he said. "I am shocked, but overwhelmed with joy. What a fight."

Shirley Colin, a Payson resident who sides with Diamond Star on the water issue, asked to address the supervisors prior to the vote.

"I love these people, and I just want my feelings known," she said. "I would not want them stealing my water and I don't want theirs.

"I am proud to see all of these people here today, because this is what Sam Adams called ‘the animating contest of freedom.'

Diamond Star Fire Chief Gary Hatch, who also addressed the supervisors, said the citizens of the new town were merely exercising their rights as Americans.

"We hope that Payson realizes we want to be self governing just as they wanted to be self governing in the '70s," he said, "-- and we have the right."

At the first meeting of the new council following the town's dramatic birth, McDaniel was elected mayor and White vice mayor. In the ensuing months, the town withstood several legal challenges to its right to exist.

The new town quickly took steps to protect its water from Payson, most visibly by hiring LFR Levine Fricke to conduct a safe yield study of the town. The town also began the process of hiring a town manager and town clerk.

In March, the new town elected its first town council, including five of the appointed council members plus Del Newland and Rappaport. McDaniel and Pettet chose not to run for re-election.

The town also voted overwhelmingly to change its name to Star Valley and to authorize the town to acquire a public utility.

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