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Easy does it, as Pronghorn on the Mountain are gathering does for rut, this mature buck protects his harem against a younger suitor.

Apache, Navajo counties census count plunges

Plagued by a pandemic, Apache and Navajo counties appear headed for a disastrous Census undercount, which will cost residents millions in federal and state aid.

Apache County’s “self-response” rate is the worst in the state — just 21%. That’s a staggering 19% behind the percentage of households that sent in the census questionnaire before census workers knocked on the door in 2010.

Navajo County’s doing better — but not much. The county’s self-reporting rate stands at 31%, a daunting 11 percentage points behind 2010, according to Census Bureau estimates

Local officials implored resident to fill out the one-page Census form if they haven’t already done so.

“We are very concerned that our communities will be under-reported in the Census, and that our residents may not see how critical the 2020 Census is to funding schools, hospitals, roads, and for helping families in need,” said Assistant Navajo County Manager Bryan Layton.

For information on how to fill out a census form go to: https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html. To get information by phone, call 844-330-2020.

Everyone should have received a form and information in the mail — both an initial mailing and a follow-up mailing for those who didn’t respond. If you’ve lost your form, you can get a new form by phone or online. If you have the form, but lost the envelop fill out the form and mail it to: U.S. Census Bureau, National Processing Center, 1201 E 10th Street, Jeffersonville, IN 47132.

The Census Bureau workers in the coming weeks will continue going door to door trying to contact people who have not yet responded. The Census takers are also trying to reach the homeless, people living in group settings, second home owners and other often difficult-to-reach people. All of the information on the form remains confidential, by force of law for at least 72 years.

The situation amounts to a head-counting emergency, since the federal government cut a month off the time the Census Bureau has to go door to door to fill the gaps. The Census Bureau must now complete the count by Sept. 30.

The alarming undercount in rural areas like Apache and Navajo counties will prove costly to the region, both economically and politically.

The census not only determines the distribution of federal aid, it determines the number of seats in congress and the boundaries for every legislative seat.

Layton noted, “The federal government spends $675 billion every year in communities across the nation and we will only get our fair share with a complete census.”

State and local governments get about $3,200 per resident counted in the census. So missing 5,000 people in Navajo County will cost local governments $16 million annually – a huge hit.

Moreover, Arizona will likely gain a congressional seat as a result of population shifts after the census. Those detailed population numbers will determine how the 10 congressional district boundaries get drawn — not to mention all of the state senate and house district lines.

So a big undercount in Apache and Navajo counties effectively shifts economic and political power to already dominant Maricopa County — which is doing a much better job of counting all its residents.

At this point, Maricopa County has a response rate of 65% — a little higher than the 64% self-response rate at this point in 2010 response rate. By contrast, the response rate in Navajo County is an estimated 31% and a dismaying 21% in Apache County.

The Census Bureau has not released the total count rate, which would include the results of the ongoing door-to-door efforts.

Navajo County has an estimated population of 105,848 living in 34,407 households. Another 2,857 people live in group quarters, for a total population of 108,705.

Apache County has an estimated population of 70,174 people living in 20,395 households and another 1,348 people living in group quarters for a total population of 71,422.

In 2010, estimates suggest about 1.6 % of the population never got counted – perhaps as many as 16 million people. Homeowners were overcounted, renters undercounted. Native Americans were undercounted, whites were overcounted. Native Americans living on reservations were undercounted by 5 %. (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/2010_census/cb12-95.html).

The pandemic undoubtedly plays a role in the dramatic undercount locally. Apache and Navajo counties were coping with one of the worst per-capita outbreaks in the country during the Census Bureau’s early push to convince people to fill out online forms — or request a form through the mail. Both counties already face a challenge in getting an accurate count, given the distances involved, the lack of Internet in many households and even the lack of regular street addresses — especially on the vast stretches of the reservations. The undercount has gotten progressively worse in the last three Census cycles.

A tight deadline this year will complicate the effort to contact the people who haven’t yet sent in their surveys — leaving less time to contact far more people.

The Trump Administration abruptly ordered the Census Bureau to wrap up the count four weeks early. Four former Census Bureau directors warned the early deadline could result in an inaccurate count and urged Congress to assess the quality of the count to date and to provide more time if necessary.

The Census Bureau has vowed to meet the new goal, but has been having trouble even hiring enough census takers, partly as a result of concerns about the risk of getting COVID-19 going door to door.

The administration argues the Census Bureau needs the extra time to process the numbers before the normal Dec. 31 deadline. The House had earlier voted to extend the deadline to April 2021, but the Senate declined to follow suit.

Democrats and Republicans have been locked in a dispute about whether to no longer include undocumented residents in the count. The Trump Administration had added a question to the census form to find out if someone was in the country illegally — but opponents filed a lawsuit saying the question would discourage many people from filling out a form at all. A judge threw out the question. However, the issue re-emerged in an effort to make changes to avoid counting people here illegally anyway.

Republicans argue this will avoid giving states money to provide federally funded services to illegal immigrants. Democrats argue the nation needs a complete population count. Excluding undocumented workers from the count will have a pronounced impact on countries with large numbers of immigrants, including Arizona, Texas and others.

With less than a month left and an estimated 60 million people uncounted nationally, local officials and Census Bureau are beginning to panic.

“When door-knocking follow up began on August 9 to count non-responding households in-person, Navajo County’s self-response rate was 11 points behind its 2010 rate,” the Census Bureau explained on its website. “That means a greater share of non-responding homes will need to be visited by census takers – an especially challenging task now that the Census Bureau has shortened the door-knocking timeframe by four weeks. Higher self-response rates mean fewer people are likely to be missed or counted inaccurately and fewer households will have a visit from a census taker to be counted in-person.”

Layton said the undercount will affect Apache and Navajo counties for a decade if residents don’t rally. “If we want more job opportunities in our region, we need every resident counted because businesses use census data to decide where to build factories, offices and stores,” he said.

Kompo moving dispensary to Show Low

SHOW LOW — A licensed medical marijuana dispensary named Compassionate Care of AZ, Inc. is one step closer to moving their retail operation from 690 South 5th Street in Taylor to 1350 North Penrod Road in Show Low.

In August, the Show Low Planning and Zoning Commission and the Show Low City council approved the organization’s request to amend the zoning at the proposed site from Light Industrial (I-1) to General Commercial (C-2).

The Taylor-based operation does business as Kompo Care. The marijuana retail dispensary and cultivation site is located off of Pinedale Road and State Route 77, just north of Kay Supply. It is not visible from any main road and sits on land inside the Taylor Business Park.

The retail operation is the only part of the business planning to move into Show Low city limits. The grow operation will stay in Taylor. Arizona Department of Health regulations and Show Low City Code don’t allow marijuana cultivation within city limits. In addition, the representative for Kompo/Compassionate indicated that the Taylor location was sufficient for Kompo’s current cultivation needs.

The city council voted 5 to 2 in favor of the zoning change for the retail dispensary during the August 18 public hearing and city council meeting. Vice Mayor Mike Allsop and councilor Connie Kakavas cast the dissenting votes.

General commercial zoning allows for retail businesses, including medical marijuana dispensaries, in the Penrod Road location, previously occupied by Western Grade.

Kompo/Compassionate Care, held a neighborhood meeting June 15 regarding their zoning change request. (Public hearings and neighborhood meetings are a requirement of the conditional use permit process in zoning change requests.)

No neighbors attended the June meeting although city of Show Low staff did receive one email from a nearby property owner expressing concern regarding the zoning change request.

There were no questions from the city council audience during the Aug. 18 public hearing but some council members had questions or comments.

Councilors questions were about the required buffer or space needed between a marijuana dispensary and other businesses, schools, residences, etc. Dispensaries inside city limits must have a 500-foot radius from other facilities in a Commercial 2 zone said Tregaskes. This particular requirement limited the choice of available properties and building for Kompo/Compassionate Care since 1350 North Penrod Road is in an industrial park-area with existing commercial zoning. The properties to the west and south of Western Grade are privately owned and zoned for industrial use.

The council asked how many total medical marijuana dispensaries were allowed in the city limits. (Green Hills Patient Center located in the 3100 block of south White Mountain Road is the only dispensary in Show Low.) Tregaskes said that, currently, the Arizona Department of Health only allows one dispensary per Community Health Analysis Area (CHAA) but that has changed because the city can’t create a monopoly for a business.

Other concerns included how much product would be stored at the retail facility. Tregaskes said that would be “less than 25 pounds at any given time” and it is currently stored at the Taylor facility in a locked, secure safe.

Show Low Mayor and Navajo County District IV Supervisor explained that he would vote in favor of the dispensary because “it’s the best of two evils.”

“There comes a time when we have to keep the city from a lawsuit and do things we would prefer not to,” said Seymore. “I think if we are going to have another dispensary, we need it in an upfront place so that other people won’t grow their own product in our community.”

“Our hands are kind of tied in the matter, but according to our general plan, we don’t really have a good reason not to approve the zoning change,” said Seymore.

To view the August 18 city council meeting in its entirely, visit the Show Low city website at www.showlowaz.gov or visit the Show Low TV website.

Politicians take opposite sides to legal pot

SNOWFLAKE—Two prominent Snowflake politicians have taken different sides with regard to Proposition 207, which would legalize the “adult use” of marijuana in the State of Arizona, called the Safe and Secure Arizona Act. Technically, the measure would amend current medical marijuana laws. State Representative Walter Blackman who represents the people of Legislative District 6 in the Arizona House of Representatives urges voters to vote no. By contrast, former Snowflake Mayor Thomas Poscharsky, and now “Mayor Emeritus,” urges a yes vote. A similar proposition failed in 2016.

In the “What’s On My Ballot?” pamphlet from the Arizona Secretary of State regarding the upcoming Nov. 3 election, observers write their arguments or recommendations for or against the propositions which have made it on the ballot through what the Arizona constitution calls an “initiative.” That is a process whereby registered voters gather enough signatures to enact a statewide law, circumventing the usual process in which both houses of the legislature pass a measure usually by majority vote and the governor signs it.

In this election cycle, the pamphlet identifies two propositions. One deals with new taxes to raise money for schools, which arose out of the so-called Red for Ed movement, Proposition 208. The other proposition, 207, legalizes marijuana for adult users and allows persons convicted of marijuana crimes in the past, which would no longer be crimes, to petition a county superior court “to have the record of that arrest, charge, adjudication, conviction or sentence expunged,” according to the proposal.

Former Mayor Thomas Poscharsky is all for it. He wrote that four years ago when he was mayor, the town council voted to issue special use permits for two medical marijuana growing facilities, and that “one of them is the largest employer in Snowflake.” Poscharsky stated that the special use permits “has had the biggest positive economic impact in Snowflake in decades,” and that the facilities are “responsible corporate citizens and provide good paying jobs with benefits to our citizens. Our younger people can stay in the community and enjoy our rural setting and lifestyle.” It seems that he presumes that the legalization of marijuana in the state would keep the two growers in Snowflake prospering.

Rep. Blackman takes a different view. Citing an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Blackman raises an alarm about the affect marijuana has on a brain before it is fully developed around the age of “the late 20’s.” He urges that brain development is inhibited by marijuana, that “ the brain is altered and often damaged, and permanent IQ loss and long term dependence can ensue,” he stated. Blackman concluded his remarks by saying that “Arizona can and MUST (sic) do better to protect our children and our future. I’m urging you to vote NO on prop 207.”

Another prominent Arizona pol weighed in to support the measure. Former Arizona Gov. John Fife Symington III wrote that the measure as written strikes an “appropriate balance.” One of the Snowflake grow facilities that Mayor Poscharsky referenced is operated by a company led by J. Fife Symington IV.

For a full reading of the lengthy measure (it’s 23 pages long) visit azsos.gov, click on general election publicity pamphlet.

Headway against COVID

The pandemic’s dwindling in Apache and Navajo counties, but public health officials urge people to keep up the fight by wearing a face mask in public, staying home when they’re sick, physically distancing and washing hands frequently.

“We are definitely in a much better place than we were a couple of months ago,” said Navajo Public Health Director Jeff Lee at Tuesdays board of supervisors meeting. “However, the virus is still widespread in Arizona and other states are experiencing a peak. We don’t want to give this virus an opportunity to do what it wants to do — and that’s to spread wide and fast. So stay home when you can, wear a mask in public, practice social distancing and stay home if you’re feeling unwell.”

Schools in the region that opened for in-person classes weeks ago have also issued encouraging reports and have so far avoided the kinds of outbreaks that forced schools to hastily shut down again elsewhere. Even Arizona State University in Tempe has curtailed in-person classes due to the eruptions of clusters — often driven by off-campus gatherings and partying.

However, Snowflake schools this week reported that in the past five weeks testing has revealed three cases among students and three cases among staff.

“We are constantly monitoring the situation in our schools,” said Superintendent Hollis Merrell in a statement. “We appreciate those that have kept us informed when they have a student who has symptoms or a family member who has tested positive. The more we know, the better chance we have of limiting the impact on our students and staff.”

The state’s advisory guidelines say that Apache and Navajo counties both now meet the benchmarks for a “hybrid” opening of schools. This would mingle online elements with in-person classes, with the goal of limiting class sizes and limiting the number of students who interact on a daily basis.

Up until now, Navajo County Health department nurses handled the job of contacting families when a Snowflake student tested positive. However, school employees will take over that task going forward.

This week, the district started fall sports competitions.

“It will take all of us working together to minimize the spread and allow our students to continue to attend in-person schooling and participate in activities,” said Merrell. “We thank our parents and community members for the support we have received. We are also extremely grateful for our teachers and staff who are doing a tremendous job with our students.”

Both Apache and Navajo Counties have met the state’s guidelines for a return to hybrid in-person classes, thanks to a decline in hospitalizations, positive tests and new cases per 100,000 population. Only tiny Greenlee County at the moment has met the benchmarks for full, in-person classes. Gila, Graham, Mohave and Yuma counties haven’t met the benchmarks for even hybrid, in-person classes.

So far in the pandemic, Navajo County has had 5,747 cases, with about 1,500 of those off-reservation. A Monday count press release reported just two new cases in the last 24 hours. In the past week, 3% of the COVID tests in Navajo County have come back positive, compared to 4% statewide. That’s a big improvement over the 13% positive test rate since the start of the pandemic, but still much higher than the 1% positive test rate in some states and most European countries that have contained the outbreak. The pandemic has claimed more than 200,000 lives nationally, 5,478 lives in Arizona and 232 lives in Navajo County.

The cumulative total of cases by community includes:

Winslow: 359

Pinetop-Lakeside: 289

Show Low: 329

Holbrook: 159

Snowflake: 259

Heber: 49

Statewide, an encouraging decline in cases has reversed itself in the past two weeks. The average daily number of new cases has increased by 61% in the past two weeks, according to a national database maintained by the New York Times. Deaths have continued to decline in that period – down 29% in the last two weeks. However, the trend in the deaths typically lags new cases by three or four weeks.

Since the onset of the pandemic, stay-at-home orders, business restrictions, social distancing and mask wearing in public have consistently reduced the tally of new cases two or three weeks after they’re imposed.

However, cases inevitably begin to rise again when people return to normal, businesses open and people become less diligent about wearing masks in public when they can’t socially distance.

Arizona has about 10 deaths per day and several hundred new documented infections, despite the big improvements in the past six weeks. New cases declined steadily from a peak of 3,800 per day in early July to 394 on Sept. 15 as a rolling, seven-day average. However, for the past two weeks the rolling seven-day average has risen to more like 900.

Apache and Navajo Counties once ranked as national hot spots, but in the last month they’ve settled down – even as cases begin to rise again in urban areas like Flagstaff, Tucson and Phoenix.

Apache County in the past two weeks has reported 16 new cases per 100,000 population. Navajo County has half that rate at 8 per 100,000. By contrast, in the past two weeks Pima County has reported 30 cases per 100,000, Maricopa county 10 cases per 100,000 and Gila County 17 cases per 100,000.

Epidemiologists warn that Arizona’s testing rates still remain far behind levels necessary to contain the virus.

People without symptoms account for about 40 % of the spread, but Arizona continue to mostly just test people with symptoms.

The Harvard Global Health Institutes says the nation should do 1.1 million COVID-19 tests daily to track the virus, but does about 700,000.

The COVID Tracking Project estimates Arizona has one of the weakest systems in the country for testing.

The U.S. is doing 72% of the recommended tests, but Arizona’s doing just 54% of the recommended level. Hitting the recommended level would mean testing everyone with symptoms, plus 10 close contacts. This would allow for effective contact tracing, which would slow but not stamp out the virus.

Porter gets probation

HEBER/OVERGAARD — Former Mogollon High School science teacher Melinda Porter, 37, of Heber/Overgaard was sentenced last Tuesday in the Navajo County Superior Court for three crimes arising from what an Oct. 21, 2019 Navajo County Sheriff’s Office press release characterized as “an inappropriate relationship” with a student.

Last month on August 11, Porter signed a plea agreement. She admitted her guilt to one amended count of attempted kidnapping, a Class 3 Felony which was designated as a “dangerous crime against children.” She also pleaded guilty to furnishing harmful items to a minor a Class 4 Felony, and an amended charge of aggravated assault with sexual motivation, a Class 6 Felony. The child victim, a male, was under 15 years old at the time; the crimes occurred between Aug. 1, 2018 and Aug. 1 2019, according to court records.

In the October 2019 news release, NCSO said that they began investigating allegations made by a student the previous September against Porter and she thereafter resigned her teaching position. After a six-week investigation, detectives arrested Porter and she was charged with six counts in all — three of furnishing harmful items to a minor, one count of aggravated assault of a minor “with sexual gratification,” and the most serious of the charges, one count of kidnapping.

Last month, Porter admitted to inviting the victim to get ice cream, and then took the boy to a forest where she kissed him, with “sexual motivation for sexual gratification,” states the agreement. That would account for the kidnapping and assault charges. She also sent to the victim, through the internet, “a photograph of the defendant’s unclothed vagina,” also stated the plea agreement; thus the furnishing harmful items charge.

By all appearances, her attorney Bruce S. Griffen of Flagstaff worked this case hard — he was able to at least get a shot at a “probation eligible” sentence from the judge. The state was represented by career prosecutor Deputy Navajo County Attorney Lee White, who by all appearances is no push-over. Judge Robert Higgins presided, after one side successfully asked for a change of judge from the Hon. Ralph Hatch early on in the case.

With regard to the charges being “probation eligible,” the parties would leave up to the judge whether Porter would be placed on probation which could include time in the county jail, (up to one year) or be sent to prison for 15 years, the maximum for the kidnapping charge. The broad range of sentence the parties agreed to suggests that there were substantial mitigating factors that Porter could argue to the judge to keep her out of prison and/or the defense alerted the state to possible evidentiary problems in the state’s case.

It also suggests that there was no way the county attorney’s office would agree to a probation-only deal, but found that there was sufficient cause to at least give the defense a shot at it. In cases like these, the disinclination for the victim’s parents or guardians to put the child victim through a jury trial usually weighs heavily.

In Porter’s sentencing memorandum, Griffen point blank stated that “You cannot label what Porter did as simply a ‘mistake.’” He stated that her misconduct in light of her stellar background “makes her misconduct even more difficult to explain...let alone understand. For this misconduct, Porter has paid, and will continue to pay, dearly.”

In the end the judge pronounced sentence: She was adjudged guilty of three felonies and placed on five years of supervised probation and one year in the county jail deferred. Porter was given credit for one day in jail that she already served and will not have to serve anymore time in jail if she successfully completes probation.

She must have no contact with the victim, and must register as a sex offender. Porter also must provided a DNA sample to “be used for law enforcement identification purposes and/or for use in criminal prosecution,” stated court records. She will also have to pay, if proven or agreed to, an amount of restitution into the court for the victim or his family’s economic loss arising from Porter’s criminal conduct. That usually means the costs of therapy or counseling, and time off work to attend court.

With regard to the impact on the school, Heber-Overgaard Unified School District Superintendent Ron Tenney told the Independent’s Laura Singleton on Oct. 23, 2019, that “This is an unfortunate situation and circumstance — one that any school district in the country would not want to be faced with,” and “For the students and faculty, we are going to do our best to move forward and put this behind us,” he added. “Our kids are pretty resilient and the staff has done a good job at handling the situation,” said Tenney.

There is no appeal allowed of a judgment entered after a guilty plea, and the state cannot appeal the sentence.