North County Gets A Dollop

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Jeeze: We feel like orphans in a Charles Dickens’ story: Standing meek and shabby in the orphanage with our empty porridge bowl saying: “Please, Sir, may we have some more.”

All right. Granted: That sounds ungrateful, considering Gila County after long thought this week gave the Rim Country Educational Alliance $12,500 in eagerly sought-after economic development money.

The donation brings the kitty to $125,000 in the effort by backers of a university campus in Payson to raise enough money to pay for an absurd and unnecessary $375,000 environmental assessment the Forest Service requires before it will agree to sell the Alliance 260 acres needed for the campus.

The fund-raising effort has stayed just barely ahead of the due date on the bills for a consultant to tell the Forest Service what it already knows: The hilly, thickly forested site contains no spotted owls, leopard frogs or lost Mayan temples. But instead of rushing to push through the biggest job-producing, economy stimulating project to hit Rim Country in years, the federal and state governments have mostly fumbled and muttered and taken their not so sweet time at every step along the way.

Still, Gila County did come up with the $12,500, apparently after scrounging through the sofa cushions.

Mind you, Gila County two years ago quit funding both the Northern and Southern Gila County Economic Development Corporation. That kind of made sense, seeing as how the group had enjoyed almost no success at all in luring businesses to Rim Country as the economy fell into a stupor as profound as a cave bat in winter.

As a consequence, Gila County now has $145,000 stashed in a checking account to fund individual projects likely to stimulate the economy. County officials say they’ve received requests totaling some $500,000.

The Rim Country Educational Alliance originally asked for $250,000, which would have kept the environmental assessment moving and the project on track. Mind you, studies suggest that a 6,000-student university here will pump about $150 million into the local economy, with much of the benefit coming during the low, slow winter months. Spin-off businesses like a conference hotel, research center and incubation center that will generate additional, high-quality jobs — held by lots of county taxpayers.

Unaccountably, the county pared the request down to a pittance, although it’s clearly the most important economic stimulus effort in the north end of the county in years.

Possibly, the frustrating lack of public details about the progress of the negotiations played a role in the county’s reluctance to contribute.

But we can’t help but believe that the lack of equal representation for North County on the board of supervisors also played a role.

Of course, voters here had a chance to fix that imbalance a month ago, but they stayed home watching TV and so scuttled the supervisorial bid of Judge Ronnie McDaniel, who would have brought balance to the board.

Instead, North County must once more tug on its Oliver Twist of a forelock and hold out the empty porridge bowl, hoping for at least a dollop of gruel.

Sheriff’s office worries

And while we’re on the county’s case, we felt a strange stew of emotions in reading through the investigative report on whether a veteran Gila County sheriff’s sergeant did anything wrong when he answered a call for help from his superiors trying to chase down a murder suspect, although he’d just finished dinner at home and a couple of drinks.

The internal report obtained by the Roundup concluded that Sgt. John France should have told his supervisor that he’d had a couple of drinks before he got a call at home asking him to report to duty to help capture a murder suspect.

France rushed to do his dangerous duty. He ended up chasing the suspect and exchanging gunfire, which underscores the risk officers run every time they report to work.

However, fellow officers reported that they smelled alcohol on France’s breath. Fortunately, the investigation found that although France violated personnel guidelines by not notifying his superiors he’d been drinking, he did nothing wrong in the confrontation with the suspect and the search that followed.

The report offers a fresh, troubling glimpse of problems with morale and procedure in the sheriff’s department in the midst of a crucial election to select a new sheriff.

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