Gila County: Reckless And Irresponsible

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Someone call the sheriff! The Gila County Board of Supervisors has gone missing! We need them back right away — before some idiot burns down the place.

All right. You look confused. So let us back up.

Here’s the problem: The supervisors have yet to ban the use and sale of fireworks in one of the most fire-menaced regions in the whole country.

As a result, fireworks vendors are selling all manner of fire-starters, even as the Tonto National Forest reacts to bone-dry conditions by banning campfires and other outdoor fire activity, including smoking.

What the heck’s wrong with those people?

Wait — it gets worse.

Last year the Arizona Legislature in yet another fit of crazy passed a law that legalized fireworks statewide, unless specifically banned by towns and counties.

Naturally, Payson immediately banned fireworks.

But not Gila County.

Nine months pass. The woebegotten supervisors could have had a baby — but somehow didn’t have time to pass an ordinance.

And in the meantime, the Legislature goes off its meds. Lawmakers actually pass a bill to ban local fireworks bans. Apparently state lawmakers only believe in local control if it gives them a chance to criticize the federal government. Mercifully, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes that craven sell-out to the fireworks lobby.

Now back to Gila County: Still no fireworks ban.

Hey. Supervisors. Hellooooo. Anyone there?

On the off chance you’re listening we have two words: Rodeo-Chediski. Surely you remember, because it’s sure fresh in our minds. That little fireworks display burned 600,000 acres and forced the evacuation of Show Low.

Wildfire remains the single greatest threat to the survival of every single community in Rim Country. That makes the board of supervisors’ negligence as irresponsible as it is inexplicable.

So here’s our idea, now most voters live in northern Gila County. Let’s build a nice little office for the supervisors and the top administrators. Put it on one of those nice pine thickets the Forest Service has created. Give them a one-lane, county-maintained dirt road to get in and out. Set up a nice little booth selling sparklers to kids at the turnoff.

Then we’ll set the stopwatch and see how fast they can vote on a fireworks ordinance.

Graduation poses bittersweet irony

Today’s front page offers a bittersweet juxtaposition.

Here, we see the proud graduates of Gila Community College’s largest graduating class ever — including 13 nurses who will spend their careers in the care of the most vulnerable among us.

And right next door, we have a story about a significant rise in tuition forced upon the Gila Community College board by dwindling state support for higher education.

As if to underscore the irony, Senate President Pro Tem Sylvia Allen delivered a heartfelt commencement speech, urging the graduates to devote themselves to the service of others. She had spent the session fighting for GCC with mixed results — while voting for a budget that savaged higher education in this state.

The graduation ceremony underscored the enormous benefits the college confers on this community — as did the inspiring stories of the graduates.

Many of those graduates made great sacrifices and showed extraordinary discipline and determination to get their degrees.

Many are the first in their families to get a college degree. Many worked full time while they earned their degree. And almost all of them have dedicated themselves to a lifetime of helping others and easing suffering.

In the United States, the accessible community college system offers people a chance to get a college education at any time in their lives. Historically, the low tuition has left the doors of the community colleges open to everyone.

State per-student support for the universities has declined by 50 percent in the past three years, forcing the universities to double their tuition. ASU now charges more than $9,000 annually, which has put education out of reach for many students.

The GCC board this week approved a rise in tuition to $88 per-unit, which means a full-time student must pay $1,000 per semester for tuition, $68 more than this year.

Tragically, the cash-strapped federal government has also started to whittle away at funding for Pell Grants, which offers millions of worthy students the means to earn their future.

So we salute the graduates, who have worked so hard and set such an example to their families and their children and to each of us.

And we implore our lawmakers to listen to their stories and rededicate themselves to ensure that we do not slam shut the doors of opportunity.

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