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A man and his horse work out their relationship

Sometimes you giddy up.

Sometimes you giddy off.

Either way — there’s something special about a man and his horse.

Especially if they’re going to ride 4,000 miles for good cause.

So Jim Penuel didn’t let it throw him when he got, well, thrown.

He says Rio was just having a bad day.

Alexis Bechman / Alexis Bechman/Roundup  

Rio, running down the road with Jim Penuel in pursuit. Penuel is preparing for a 4,000-mile ride to raise funds for veterans and children with cerebral palsy.

Penuel had only ridden Rio about 35 times when his beloved quarter horse spooked in the Payson Walmart parking lot. For reasons known only to Rio, the normally gentle horse reared backward and sat abruptly on his haunches. Then he jumped up and sat back down again.

This is where Penuel and Rio parted company and Penuel went sliding across the parking lot.

Freaked about something that makes sense only to quarter horses, Rio took off down Highway 87 toward Back to Basics.

Penuel hobbled along behind, scraped bloody by his close encounter with the asphalt, but determined to grab Rio before something really bad happened.

At Forest Drive, some brave bystander got a hold of Rio’s head — slowing the chase to a dignified walk. Penuel came gently up, speaking soothingly to his skittish friend. Then he walked Rio down a quiet street to calm him.

Sitting under the shade of a tree, Penuel looked sheepish and Rio looked nonchalant — like he did not understand what all the fuss was about. Rio relaxed with a back hoof tipped up, the picture of calm — except for when he shied when a car parked in the lot.

“He’s just having a bad day,” said Penuel, “Normally he’s really calm.”

Rio just gave him a half-lidded look.

Penuel has been taking Rio out on the roads to prepare him for a 4,000-mile trek across country starting in Coos Bay, Ore. and ending on the East Coast. Penuel hopes to raise money for veterans and kids suffering from cerebral palsy.

“We ride for 10, 15 or 20 miles in a day to train,” said Penuel. “He has to be in shape to do this ride.”

Penuel recently moved to Payson to be near family. He’s retired and itching for a long ride.

His friend, Wyman Kimbol, at first wanted to ride the Arizona Trail, but Penuel pitched riding across the country to raise funds.

“I said, ‘We’ve got nothing else to do, we’re retired — we can do what we want,’” said Penuel.

Penuel decided to support vets because he’s one himself. He served in the Army in 1972.

“I’m always hearing about people (complaining) and moaning about vets needing money (and) I hate to see vets on the corner begging, so I thought we’d help,” he said.

The desire to help those with cerebral palsy hits a little closer to home.

“I have a son with cerebral palsy,” he said.

Penuel and his buddy plan to start their trip in April. Already, John Landino from the Pro-Rodeo Committee is helping the two find sponsorships. The two men have connections with Elk and Moose clubs and the American Legion. They will reach out to these organizations on their route for support and marketing.

Already, a man in Coos Bay has offered Penuel a gaited mule to help haul gear, Penuel just needs help getting the mule to Rim Country so he can get him in shape.

“He said (the Oregon man has) property in Buckeye and will visit in November,” said Penuel. “I hope he brings that mule.”

As Penuel talked, Rio calmed down. Penuel said that’s his normal nature.

“I ride him through town and not even garbage trucks bother him,” he said.

But since Rio is only “green-broke,” the two have some more miles to ride before they work out all the kinks in their relationship.

So despite his spill, Penuel patted Rio on the nose and talked nice.

You could say a 4,000-mile-ride’s kind of like a long marriage.

Kiss and make up — and don’t go to bed mad.

The plight of proposed Cool Mountain Brewery

Can you drink beer in a building built in 1882? You can, but it’ll take a lot of work.

Jason and Leah Engler’s plans to convert Bootleg Alley into a brewery on Main Street have reached a financial impasse because of complications with renovations and the town.

That was the message they delivered about the proposed Cool Mountain Brewery at the August Main Street Merchants Guild meeting.

“We’re at a standstill because of financial issues,” said Jason. “The project has become too expensive due to unforeseen delays and additional requirements, and we need to find more money to continue. If there is no money, we’ll either use the building for something else or sell it.”

The Englers have consulted with architects, engineers and other professionals on the project for well over a year. They submitted paperwork to the Town of Payson and thought things were moving forward until they submitted a request for building permits.

“When we submitted the plans for building permits, that’s when the town building manager insisted on a structural evaluation by a professional engineer,” said Jason.

“This resulted in a delay in identifying a structural engineer, a significant cost in hiring them (we had to borrow money from the Industrial Development Authority in order to do this), and then incorporating their recommendations into the revised building plans.”

The town responds

Ray LaHaye, the chief building official for Payson, said Jason has worked with the town on plans and complied with all requests to make the building safe — a big project because Jason wants to change the use of the building from retail to restaurant.

“In that plan review there were a number of items listed as deficient,” said LaHaye.

Once crews opened the wall, LaHaye said the town discovered some serious problems.

“Upon inspection ... the first thing we saw, the wall was listing,” he said. “I also noticed a sag in the ceiling on site. So I went ... on to the inspection (of the opened wall) and saw wood rot ... until we saw this, we did not know what was there.”

Officials and builders identified problems that could lead to safety issues.

A structural engineer went to the site and inspected what LaHaye pointed out and drew up plans to correct the issues.

“The plans were ultimately approved in late June and I think during this time, Jason has gotten other bids that exceeded what he had to raise to get the project done,” said LaHaye.

Project frustrations

The Englers understand, but expressed their frustration.

“I don’t believe the person is vindictive or trying to kill the project,” said Leah. “I told the person I wish they had said this at the beginning of the project because that would have changed a lot for us.”

“Yes, we believe that if the town had decided to evaluate the building and inform us they would require a structural evaluation much sooner, it definitely would have changed things,” said Jason. “It might have changed our decision to buy it.”

The couple learned crews will have to tear out the original floor because it is sitting on dirt. The foundation will have to be reinforced with a new concrete slab. The exterior walls and the roof also need to be reinforced.

Other Main Street business owners said they had also had issues with the town.

“You’re not the only one that’s had that experience,” said Dr. Michael Marmer, whose practice is on Main Street. “The town says one thing and then turns around and says something different.”

LaRon Garrett, acting then as the town manager, was at the August guild meeting. He confirmed Engler had submitted a structural engineering report and the town had accepted it.

“The town still agrees with the structural report,” Garrett said.

“We want to have buildings, but we have codes we have to go by,” said Garrett. “We need a structural report, Jason complied. They came back with suggestions on how to fix the issues. One wall is leaning as well as the floor being on the dirt. Jason wants to put heavy equipment on it and the floor needs to be safe. The building needs to be safe. We don’t have much choice but to go by the town codes. We’ll be happy to work with you and try to find a solution.

“We’re not trying to put it down, but it has to meet the codes,” said Garrett. “I feel for you guys because you got into it a long ways before you found this out. If it wasn’t a safety aspect, the grandfather code might have worked, but not with a safety issue.”

LaHaye agreed with Garrett.

Attendees at the guild meeting asked why the town had not told the Englers about these issues earlier.

Jason said he wishes someone with the town would have told him about the need for a structural engineering report during their initial meetings.

“It’s also important to note,” said Jason, “that we did have an independent building inspector look at the building before we purchased it and they didn’t raise any concerns about its structural integrity.”

The required structural changes will cost, at a minimum, an additional $75,000 — money the Englers do not have.

“A brewery is a very expensive business to start, including building renovations to make the building into a brewery. Until the structural renovation came along, we had the money. We had all lending lined up,” Jason said. “We’re not interested in saying what should have happened, we want to move forward and do what needs to be done.”

Jason said they definitely want to go forward with the brewery if they can get the money.

Michele Nelson contributed to this story.

APS broadband
APS officials detail broadband plan

Arizona Public Service officials at a meeting of the Navajo County Board of Supervisors recently offered additional details of a plan that could improve the speed, reliability and capacity of the internet in much of northern Arizona.

The presentation provided additional details on how the APS plan could dovetail with efforts to eliminate the dangerous outages that have plagued Rim Country for years, taking out both the internet and cell phone service when mishaps cut the existing CenturyLink line between Phoenix and Payson that passes through Camp Verde.

The APS officials said within the year Rim Country will have reliable, high-speed internet to rival anything in the country. The line opens the door to an expansion of the internet-dependent economy expected to become increasingly dominant.

County Supervisor Steve Williams said, “This is a significant project for the region. I’m excited about the possibilities that will come for economic growth and the quality of life for businesses and people here. So I really appreciate APS for its partnership on this. It’s a big deal.”

There’s just one catch.

APS says it will string the trunk line on existing transmission towers from Phoenix to Payson within the year and continue the line on up to Cholla within two years. The utility company is undertaking the project mostly to provide its own internet system for communications and control. But while they’re stringing line from one giant transmission tower to the next by helicopter, they’ll put enough fiber atop those towers to serve the needs of the entire region.

However, no one will get a signal unless some other company like Cable One, CenturyLink, Suddenlink, Verizon, T-Mobile or other providers prove willing to pay a monthly fee for access.

Neil Traver, APS division manager said, “We’re going to build the interstate — which has the capacity to backhaul everything back to Phoenix where the internet lives in big server farms. We’re building the main infrastructure — so Verizon, SparkByte, CenturyLink, the hospitals — anyone who wants to use the space we’re building — can lease the excess capacity we don’t need and they can use it for dedicated lines.”

APS will essentially pay for the “middle mile” of the internet, but other companies will have to pay for the “last mile,” which brings the signal to homes and businesses.

He said the line will reach Payson next year.

Cable One has struck a deal with the MHA Foundation in Payson to connect its existing line in Heber to Payson, hopefully by the end of the year. If Cable One agrees to connect to the APS line from Phoenix once it reaches Payson, most of the White Mountains would have a redundant internet connection. Meanwhile, if CenturyLink connects, then Suddenlink and other local providers, Rim Country would have a high speed, redundant line as well.

The high-capacity APS line would also provide plenty of bandwidth for growth without sacrificing speed.

Traver said, “This will enable the next leap, which is into the 5G cell phone world.”

APS IT Senior Manager Dominic Pagliuca said the line would likely have plenty of capacity to meet the needs of the region for the next 30 years or more.

“It’s not forever, but for most of our lifetime. There’s a fiber line that connects the United States and the European Union. The need for capacity has grown, but they’ve changed the technology at both ends.”

After the meeting, Pagliuca said the company hasn’t yet figured out what it might charge for access to its line for either cell phone companies or retail internet providers like Suddenlink.

That could prove the key question when it comes to finally eliminating the outages and slow uploads and downloads that have plagued rural areas throughout the state — including Gila, Navajo and Apache counties.

The APS announcement also adds a wrinkle when it comes to Cable One’s parallel plans to connect the White Mountains first to Payson and then to Phoenix. The MHA Foundation has put up some $2.4 million to ensure the line makes it from Heber to Payson and has been seeking partners to raise $8 million to extend the line to Phoenix. The APS proposal would appear to make that extra, expensive connection unnecessary — depending on how much APS charges to connect to its line.

The APS announcement also adds another level of complexity to the federally funded E-Rate program, which provides high-speed, reliable internet connections to libraries and schools. Libraries have increasingly come to rely on giving borrowers access to databases, e-books and audiobooks online. Schools have become ever more reliant on the internet — not only to teach technology classes, but to enable students to take online classes. That’s especially important in small rural school districts that sometimes can’t offer even core academic classes, much less exotic electives.

Apache County has received millions in E-rate grants and has already improved connections for many rural schools. Presumably, the APS trunk line will increase speed and reliability — and perhaps E-Rate will pay the cost of the connection.

Gila County was recently awarded millions of E-Rate dollars to improve the connection to its schools and libraries. The grant was supposed to improve the connection to Phoenix to create redundancy, so the line won’t go down because of a single cut along the way. Presumably an APS-funded trunk line from Phoenix would make those E-Rate dollars go much further.

Navajo County has so far lagged in getting E-Rate grants, partly because a three-county consortium fell apart a year ago due to allegations of irregularities in the bidding process. Navajo County schools have appealed the denial of funding and missed the last cycle of funding.

Council committee will scrutinize projects

In a 4-3 split vote, the Payson Town Council Thursday created a council subcommittee to review and oversee town projects.

The subcommittee will receive reports from town staff, contractors and others and have the authority to hire consultants. Mayor Tom Morrissey will decide which council members are on the committee.

During the meeting, Morrissey said he would appoint himself to the committee.

The meeting was the first since the controversial firing of longtime Town Manager LaRon Garrett triggered a recall effort aimed at the councilors who voted for the firing.

One goal of the special meeting was to transition Assistant Town Manager Sheila DeSchaaf to acting town manager.

The meeting ended up mostly focused on why the council needed an additional subcommittee to review capital projects.

Councilors asked a slew of questions, as did Town Attorney Hector Figueroa, who worried about adherence to state open meeting and procurement laws.

“If I could ask your thoughts Sheila, as town manager, what is the benefit to the town of having this, or what it would provide staff in making decisions or helping with new capital improvements?” asked Councilor Chris Higgins.

DeSchaaf said in the past the town has used many avenues to decide on town projects.

“How we put those projects together has varied over the years in the town,” she said. “They can be done with a committee or just staff or with the council.”

During the Kenny Evans’ administration, the council relied on a budget committee to review staff recommendations before the budget went to the full council. This budget subcommittee reviewed the budget, to both stress council priorities and answer questions. As a result, during meetings, subcommittee members could help explain budget items to the other council members.

But the development of a 4-3 voting block in the current council has raised questions about that type of arrangement, although the mayor has not yet appointed the committee members.

The mayor said the subcommittee will offer more detail and input for capital projects.

Several council members said they were afraid the committee would get too involved in the nitty-gritty administrative details, undermining the ability of the town manager to run the town. The city manager form of government was created to avoid corruption and graft. Today it’s the most widely used form of local government, in contrast to what’s called the “strong mayor” system. During the Tammany Hall (strong mayor) days, newly elected mayors and council members would fire all the top town officials to put their own people in. Sometimes, government contracts were awarded based on connections to the politicians rather than qualifications for the job.

Figueroa said, “My findings have been this: There is a clear authority of the mayor and council members that you can request a subcommittee, (but) I could ask for an advisory opinion from the attorney general. The main reason I would do it — I don’t want another attorney general complaint ... if you pass this, I think you have said this will be open to the public.”

Already, Figueroa has had to answer questions from the attorney general on an open meeting law violation accusation filed by Councilor Steve Smith. He felt emails and voting patterns suggested the council majority of four had decided by talking privately, rather than confining their decision making to a public meeting. The AG has found no violations of the open meeting law.

Council critics raised the question anew when the council majority dismissed Garrett.

Smith worried a subcommittee could get into management responsibilities of the town manager rather than sticking to the policy issues for which the council is responsible.

“My question is about the function of a council member versus the function of a town officer (department heads),” said Smith. “Council members and the mayor provide policy and guidance. In some of the responses to questions ... it sounds as though the committee would act in a town staff capacity by being able to contract (and) by being able to spend money.”

Councilors Suzy Tubbs-Avakian and Jim Ferris tried to understand those boundaries.

“Mr. Mayor, do you have, I mean can you give me an idea of a rough estimate of starting this — as far as financial support?” asked Tubbs-Avakian. “Do we need to kind of take a look back or have (chief financial officer) Deborah (Barber) maybe — or talk about this in contingency to set aside any — like start with $10,000 or something?”

Ferris asked if the subcommittee would set the criteria for approving a contract, reviewing past contracts and asking for documents to help with those decisions.

“I was just thinking, with this committee, I look at it as we can kind of look at how some contracts, negotiations, and things — and who’s involved with them and how it is negotiated. Just kind of the genesis of some of the contracts, and basically to the process and how they are negotiated,” said Ferris.

That was getting too far afield, said Figueroa.

“That’s not part of the discussion. What the motion is — is for the mayor to authorize — to form a committee of three members,” he said.

Figueroa told Ferris that, “If we already went out to bid on the project, and awarded the bid, you can’t go back and undo the bid ... the only thing I forewarn everybody, is if there is an existing contract, and this committee or anybody interferes with that contract, that contractor could have legal grounds. I would give you the legal advice necessary to make sure that we don’t get there.”

The council voted to establish the committee, with Morrissey, Tubbs-Avakian, Ferris and Vice Mayor Janell Sterner in support and councilors Smith, Higgins and Barbara Underwood in opposition.

Contact the reporter at

Michele Nelson / Michele Nelson/Roundup  

Marjorie Oldenkamp has filed a complaint with the town, Arizona Attorney General's Office and the ACLS against Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey for violating her First Amendment free speech rights after he kicked her out of the Aug. 15 council meeting for holding a sign.