From the March 28, 2002 edition of . . . 
The Casa Grande Dispatch
Posted to Saturday, March 30,2002
Pro-development group gets lease from Pinal for park site in Oracle
By ALAN LEVINE, Staff Writer
March 28, 2002

FLORENCE - A controversial proposal to turn Oracle parkland over to a pro-development group was approved Wednesday by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

Several people in attendance requested the item be moved from the consent agenda to be heard separately with discussion.

Bill McLean, Pinal's chief civil deputy attorney, read into the record the Arizona statutes covering lease agreements between counties and certain entities, specifically non-profit organizations, and advised the board that the law did not require that the leasing entity have 501C3 status from the IRS, that a more general non-profit status was all that was required by the statutes.

The citing of the statutes was in response to an e-mail sent to each board member and other parties by J.C. Huntington, an investigative journalist and frequent contributor to the Oracle newspaper, contending that Citizens for Positive Growth & Development was in violation of the rules that qualified an organization for 501C3 status. He provided a detailed analysis of his investigation of the organization and concluded that CPGD was intertwined in numerous ways with Pinal Voters for Positive Development (PVPD), a political action group operating out of the same office, using the same phones and sharing some of the same officers with CPGD, violations that would disqualify the organization from 501C3 status, he said. 

Huntington said he had forwarded his findings to David M. Shelton, special agent in IRS Criminal Investigations.

Board Chairman Jimmie Kerr called as the first speaker Jane Woodruff, who lives next door to the property in question and first brought the idea of turning it into a park to the attention of the Oracle Historical Society (OHS). Woodruff announced her opposition to the proposed lease agreement with CPGD and then explained that she had sought the help of OHS because of the organization's "record for many community projects and historic property management and restoration."

"They are non-political by charter and by nature," she said. "They first contacted the county in January of 2000, and it took several attempts to get the county rolling on this issue ... I think by July. It took six months of numerous contacts between the county attorney and OHS. There was poor communication between branches of the county government."

Among other things, Woodruff criticized Supervisor Lionel Ruiz's citing of lack of communication on the part of OHS as a reason for giving the lease to CPGD; she characterized CPGD as a rightwing organization and said that by referring to the property as Liberty Park, they had no sense of history and she urged the board not to vote in favor of the lease.

Marsha Black, a former vice president of OHS, spoke on behalf of David Dobler, former president, who moved the process along through negotiations with the county up to the time that his term in office expired in June 2001. Black went on to chronicle the many communications regarding the lease that took place between OHS and the county beginning in January 2000 and continuing through January 2002. Black concluded by urging the supervisors to deny the lease agreement.

Speaking on behalf of CPGD, co-director and 32-year Oracle resident Sue Parra defended the organization against accusations that it was a political group that held meetings that were not open to the general public. On the one hand, she said that CPGD was not a political group but later stated that "a lot of the people in our group belong to a group called Pinal Voters for Positive Development (PVPD), which is a political action committee, and there are people in that group who are members of CPGD." 

"There are a lot of wannabe journalists who live in Oracle or go to Oracle," she said, "and they turned this into a big scandal. We are a 501C3 charitable organization ... we have been harassed, threatened ... groups that don't like what another group is doing, they will complain to the IRS. It's common."

Parra claimed that her organization found out about the lease "basically through rumors ... that OHS had intended to turn the property into an equestrian center ... Miss Woodruff lives next door to the property and she has a horse," she said. "I was infuriated, because how many children would this benefit?" 

In truth, the lease agreement that had been drawn up between OHS and the county is a matter of public record, and said: "Whereas the lessee intends that Heritage Park (the premises) be used by the youth of Oracle, Pinal County, Arizona for youth sports and youth activities."

Parra said her group has been portrayed as being "in cahoots" with Ruiz, that some scheme had been planned between them. 

"We do not hold closed meetings," Parra said. "Our members are told that they can bring anyone they want to our meetings."

A minute or so later, she said: "We're open, but a lot of people want to come and disrupt. We don't have any time for that. We're hard-working people, and we don't want to sit and fight about petty things."

In conclusion, Parra stated that her group's plans were to make a park for the kids, that the land was meant for use by the children and not for landowners who live next door and want to run their horses there.

Elaine Helzer, a teacher and resident of Oracle for 22 years, spoke next and emphasized the need for a facility for the children of Oracle. She claimed that CPGD had the support of most of the children and parents of Oracle, and she presented the supervisors with copies of letters that school children had written, thanking the supervisors for considering that the property be leased to a group that would turn it into a park for youth activities.

She said that Oracle parents had to travel 45 miles to Tucson in order to find suitable activities for their children, and she noted that the children was excited at the prospect of having a youth facility in Oracle.

"Our intentions are to clean up the park," she said. "We have just about everything in place. We will do what we say we're going to do."

Ruiz made a statement: "I was first approached about making the park by CPGD, and at that time, they asked me about the park, and I told them that there was already somebody interested. ... I was going to see how we were in process. I think there was quite a bit of miscommunication. I did check with the County Attorney's Office at the time, and they told me that two months prior, the lease hadn't been returned yet, so I assumed that the interest wasn't there."

"I think the bottom line is that regardless of who gets the property, the kids are going to benefit from it. I think that a skateboard arena and a family park would be more beneficial to the community than an equestrian park."

At that point, Woodruff said: "Can I say something about that?" 

"No ... I've got the floor," Ruiz said. "I commend the CPGD for their efforts to provide a park that will benefit the youth of Oracle. They have demonstrated their commitment to the community by taking ownership of the Oracle park and make the effort to clean it and make the necessary repairs to improve the facility, and the entire area will benefit from it. ..."

The supervisors voted unanimously to approve the lease agreement between the county and CPGD.

In other actions, the board approved the following:

  • Request for a zone change by Mae Ella Jones and Grady Whatley on a 1-acre parcel to allow the property to be split to provide two manufactured home sites for immediate family members in the Desert Beach area.
  • A request for a zone change by Mario A. Hong on a 3-acre parcel to allow the property to be developed as a manufactured home residence in the Dudleyville area.
  • Request for a zone change by Chris Anderson on a 40-acre parcel to develop the 37-lot Encanto Real subdivision in the south Queen Creek area.
  • Abandonment of a portion of right of way easement known as Vineyard Road.
  • Extinguishment of a portion of right of easement known as Green Road.
May 15 was the date set for public hearings on petitions to establish as county highways North Faldale Road, South Montgomery Road, North Warren Road and North Signal Peak Road.

The supervisors approved of Stan Jenkins' bid of $13,000 on six lots in Toltec Arizona Valley subdivision.  

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