Three years after the Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed charges against former Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District treasurer Mike Greer, Judge Gary Scales sentenced him to 2.25 years in prison Monday.
Greer pleaded guilty to fraud, forgery and conflict of interest. In a statement to the court, Greer said he had never gotten to tell his side of the story because he couldn’t afford a lawyer to fight the charges.
Greer also presented an outpouring of support from family and friends, mostly in letters to the court. Those letter described Greer as compassionate, public spirited and honest. Several decried the impending prison sentence. Family members cited examples in which he cared for ailing relatives and made sacrifices on behalf of his family and friends.
The picture painted by the letters contrasted sharply with the image of Greer’s actions as an elected Pine water board member. In its investigation, the Arizona auditor general found evidence that while treasurer, Greer voted for contracts that paid companies in which he had an interest or that paid him; manipulated bids worth more than $50,000; used the district credit card for personal purchases and forged a letter to a creditor on PSWID letterhead.
In separate charges, he was accused of stealing $38,706 from the Gila County Mounted Posse, for whom he also served as treasurer. He settled those charges separately, paying restitution.
At the May 13 sentencing hearing, current PSWID chair Robert Arbuthnot explained the fallout from Greer’s actions.
“The effects of these crimes ripple throughout our district and the community as a whole,” said Arbuthnot.
The board still struggles to find board members.
Lenders question PSWID’s internal controls.
And customers question the water district’s ability to keep finances accurate.
“What is worse is that these acts undermine confidence in our public agencies as a whole,” he said.
Greer sat quietly in the courtroom as Arbuthnot spoke then as his friend Steven Nickola spoke on his behalf.
“I’ve known Mr. and Mrs. Greer for quite some time,” he said. “From what I understand there’s been a lot of opinions made. I don’t believe at all what’s going on here.”
Scales reminded Nickola, “guilt is not a question ... he accepted his plea on his own.”
Scales then allowed Greer to speak.
“First off, I would like to apologize. I understand what I did was wrong. I fully understand the damage it caused,” he said. “I will not be a repeat offender. I expect to learn from this and to do right by it.”
This statement contrasted the letter Greer submitted to the court in which he blamed his finances as the reason he could not have his day in court.
“As I like many, cannot financially afford a trial yet do not qualify for public defense this will serve as my only real opportunity. Due to this fact, I feel my story has been formed by the prosecutors and the newspaper articles that have been not so friendly to say the least,” he wrote.
He asked the judge to keep in mind that he never had an interview with the attorney general or local law enforcement.
“I have never had the opportunity to rebut my accusers,” he said.
“This being the case there are many facts that have never been discussed and taken into consideration, which I believe would directly lessen the impact and severity of the charges against me,” he wrote.
His family and friends offered another side of Greer the auditor general’s investigation did not explore.
His two sons, wife, neighbors, friends and business associates wrote letters lauding Greer for his selfless devotion to family members as they declined in health. His supporters praised his work ethic and generosity.
His sons both said he taught them what it takes to be good men — hard work and integrity.
“One of the most evident ways he (has) shown these traits is after working at his ... job ... all week, or two weeks, or month at a time — on his seldom day off, he always spends it helping out someone other than himself,” said his son Mike.
Former business partner July Fedorenko praised Greer for caring for his father-in-law “with dignity and love without complaint while working full-time.”
She said she still shares a bank account with him “because I trust him.”
Greer’s neighbor of 10 years, George Buckler, said he appreciates that he can call Greer anytime for help.
He also loaned Greer $30,000 to fix up his house.
“My wife and I agreed to do this, even as it were a large sum for us to handle. Mike not only got us back our money, but ended up helping us with another big project as thanks. There was never a doubt on credibility.”
Once Greer completes his prison sentence, Scales ordered him to complete 84 months of probation and to pay $65,895 to the Attorney General Anti-Racketeering Fund.
Prosecutor Mary Harriss requested that amount go to PSWID instead.
The East Verde’s dwindling, but Roosevelt Lake’s filling rapidly.
Roosevelt Lake stands at 77 percent full, compared to 38 percent in December. The 13,000-square-mile Salt and Verde river watersheds have produced a million acre-feet of runoff — 10 times as much as last year.
The runoff filled the C.C. Cragin Reservoir as well.
So why has the Salt River Project turned off the pumps in the reservoir, reducing the East Verde to a trickle in some stretches like Whispering Pines?
Worse yet, the Valley power and irrigation district might not turn pump water into the East Verde again until July, although reservoir water normally triples the flow of the popular fishing, hiking, swimming stream during the peak summer tourist season.
Sometime after May 20, Payson will take its first full delivery of water from the reservoir. But that water goes into Payson’s new pipeline along Houston Mesa Road, not the stream next door.
Blame some stubborn bass in the bottom of Horseshoe Reservoir on the outskirts of Phoenix — and the bewildering complexity of the water storage system in the drought-plagued Southwest.
SRP started pumping water from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir atop the Rim a couple of weeks ago. Snowmelt had the water brimming over the spillway and rushing down Clear Creek toward the thirsty sands of the often-dry Little Colorado River.
But a lack of usable storage space downstream in the Valley soon prompted SRP to once more turn off the pumps, leaving the East Verde to rely on the springs at its headwaters and local runoff.
Normally, the East Verde flows into the Verde River, which runs on down to Horseshoe Dam — which can hold about 100,000 acre-feet of water when it’s full. By contrast, C.C. Cragin holds just 15,000 acre-feet.
So what’s the problem?
Turns out during more than a decade of drought, thickets of willows have grown along the banks of the Verde River where it enters Horseshoe and in the dry bed of the reservoir itself.
The endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher and the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo were delighted. They moved right in — along with a host of other rare and endangered species. Once upon a time, they nested in willow thickets along thousands of miles of Southwestern riparian areas.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took note of the nesting flycatchers and cuckoos in the thickets of salt cedar at the upper end of Horseshoe. Moreover, the non-native bass living in the reservoir pose a threat to the struggling populations of native fish upstream in the Verde River. So SRP agreed to manage the reservoir to avoid wiping out the vegetation by filling the reservoir and keep the non-native fish in the reservoir from moving up the Verde.
The constant rise and fall of water levels in a reservoir managed to provide water to homes and farms will repeatedly drown vegetation on the shoreline.
Right now, the rapidly rising waters of Roosevelt are drowning plants that managed to get established during the drought years.
The agreement between SRP and the USFWS means the needs of 16 species, including bald eagles, razorback suckers, Colorado pikeminnow, Gila topminnow, spikedace, loach minnow, roundtail chub, longfin dace, Sonora sucker, desert sucker, speckled dace, lowland leopard frog, northern garter snake and lowland garter snake take precedence over water storage when it comes to managing Horseshoe Reservoir. That’s why Horseshoe’s now half full, while most of SRP’s other reservoirs are brimming.
Ironically, that complicates the water supply question for the East Verde River — one of the few intact, cottonwood-willow habitats in Arizona.
SRP’s agreement requires it to periodically empty Horseshoe, mostly to kill off the non-native, predatory bass — which can devastate native fish populations in warm rivers like the Verde.
So last week to empty Horseshoe, SRP began releasing water from the downstream, Bartlett Reservoir, which is nearly full. Water from Bartlett will meet most of the needs of SRP customers on into July. After that, the utility will meet customer needs with releases from the much larger Salt River reservoirs — including Roosevelt, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake.
That means SRP probably won’t start putting C.C. Cragin water into the East Verde until sometime in July, when Horseshoe is finally empty despite the continued inflow from the Verde River.
The best runoff year in a decade sent a million acre-feet flooding into SRP’s chain, now 85 percent full. That compares to just 58 percent full a year ago, according to SRP’s manager of Surface Water Resources Charlie Ester.
Roosevelt stood at 39 percent of its capacity on Dec. 15 — but has since risen to 77 percent — with more water flowing in daily. The Salt River’s flowing at 967 cubic feet per second and Tonto Creek at 26 cfs — about 135 percent of normal, with more rain falling over the weekend. The Verde River’s flowing at 200 cfs, about 130 percent of normal.
SRP has released 100,000 acre-feet from Bartlett and Salt River reservoirs into the normally dry Salt River running through the Valley, effectively recharging the underground water table. SRP shut off that flow on April 1, having emptied reservoirs enough to accommodate continuing snowmelt.
All of that’s good news for water users in the Valley and riparian areas throughout Rim Country.
However, it also means flows in the East Verde will remain limited until the onset of the monsoons in July.
And it’s definitely bad news for the stubborn bass in the bottom of Horseshoe Reservoir.
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A Payson Unified School District bus driver was arrested Monday morning after reportedly crashing a school bus while intoxicated.
Just before 8 a.m., Sherri Sessions, 56, of Payson, reportedly lost control of the bus on Gibson Ranch Road in the Round Valley area, according to a press release from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
Lt. Tim Scott said it appears while in a turn, the bus went off the right side of the road. Sessions corrected and the back end of the bus struck a tree branch, breaking several windows, he said.
There were 17 middle and high school students on the bus at the time. Paramedics took two to Banner Payson Medical Center. A parent took a third student to the hospital later. One student reportedly had a concussion.
Sessions was arrested on charges of aggravated DUI, three counts of aggravated assault and 24 counts of endangerment and booked into the Payson jail.
Sessions has worked for the district since October 2018.
“Disciplinary action, up to and including termination, will be presented to the governing board at the Monday, May 20, board meeting,” said Greg Wyman, PUSD superintendent.
Don’t say the Payson Town Council doesn't want to do anything with its sales tax windfall.
The council wants to plunk down $290,000 for a splash pad at Green Valley Park.
Last week, the council discussed funding a splash pad from the town’s $2 million carry forward cash stash.
Originally, a community group offered to raise money for the splash pad, but then asked the town to provide the liquid capital.
“Initially that was the discussion — they were looking into fundraising,” said Town Manager LaRon Garrett. “We’ve had more discussions on that and I believe right now, where we stand, they were asking the town to actually fund it.”
Mayor Tom Morrissey said the citizen group convinced him the town would reap the benefit of such an amenity, attracting more families to the town and park.
Plus the kids can’t wait.
“It’s so anticipated by so many, especially young families in town that, to get it done, as I understand it, it had to be budgeted,” said Morrissey. “I don’t see the need to discuss it any further.”
But Councilor Barbara Underwood had more to say.
“First of all, if we are going to look at capital going forward,” she said. “I would like to see us moving forward with a new pool.”
Taylor Pool has steadily deteriorated over the years. Built when high dives and practicing scuba diving were the rage, the pool is now out-of-date.
Since the pool was built, the government has passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the pool doesn’t meet the act’s requirements.
And the equipment used for maintenance is so old you can’t find replacement parts, says town staff.
“If something goes down with that pool — I mean a couple of years ago we actually voted to close the pool because we were so worried about it all the time,” said Underwood.
She suggested adding the splash pad to a pool project possibly “keeping the water all the same.”
Morrissey agreed and shifted the flow of the discussion to building a community center — like the one proposed in partnership with a private prep school in Rumsey Park.
“We should look at maybe a community center that would have an enclosed pool. It would address the entire population,” he said.
Sliding back over to the subject of a splash pad, Vice Mayor Janell Sterner suggested offsetting the estimated $1,500 a month maintenance cost that the town would incur by installing a water meter.
“You put X amount of quarters in for X amount of time,” she said.
The fee could help offset the costs to run it, said Sterner.
Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian said she has received letters from Girl Scouts, teachers and children clamoring for the splash pad.
But she also supports a pool. “I agree if something does happen (to the pool) that at least we do have a splash pad as a backup,” she said.
The council will discuss funding a splash pad further at a budget meeting on May 21.