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Mon, Aug. 15

2020 - It’s finally over!: Pandemic, masks, mayoral recall, protests and pot were top local stories in 2020

The Miner staff voted on the top local stories of 2020, and naturally, after we scrambled for toilet paper along with everybody else, the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts topped the list.

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Love them or hate them, face coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus became an everyday part of life in Kingman and Mohave County in 2020. (Miner file photo)

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While most folks seemed to follow the recommendations like this man pumping gas, others claimed that government officials had overstepped their bounds by requiring safety measures. (Miner file photo)

1. Coronavirus Pandemic

Life interrupted. The 20th year of the 21st century started with much promise, but an invisible virus was already spreading, and Mohave County and the City of Kingman wouldn’t be spared.

Within a few months, even before the first local case of the virus was confirmed on March 24, we were scrambling to find toilet paper as hoarding occurred, a temporary curfew was put into place, public health emergencies were declared, executive orders were issued. Mask mandates were put in place, public school students learned online, take out became the new way of dining out. Spring and summer sports were canceled; nearly every event was wiped off the schedule. And a lot of people died, along with some local businesses. Others became perilously ill and survived, and perhaps face long-term health risks.

There was also a backlash over masks and other safety requirements that many protested, despite few official enforcement efforts. Anti-mask protests were held, an effort was mounted to recall the mayor for declaring a mask mandate, residents were removed for not wearing masks at a county board of supervisors meeting; a group of mask protesters swarmed into city hall, some banned businesses remained open surreptitiously.

After a surge of cases in July, by Aug. 6 the death toll in Mohave County reached 150, and the number of county residents who had contracted the virus cleared 3,000. By Sept. 24, 200 had died, and 3,600 had been infected. After a bit of a lull in the early fall the virus came back with a vengeance. According to the Mohave County Department of Public Health, as of Wednesday, Dec. 30, more than 11,000 residents have contracted COVID-19, and 308 have died.

During the past two months, as cases rose and community spread worsened, COVID-19 safety measures were loosened locally.

Kingman City Council rescinded a mandate requiring face masks to be worn in businesses in the city. Mohave County stopped requiring masks inside county-owned buildings, rescinded the official public health emergency proclamation, and lowered the fines against businesses that don’t comply with coronavirus safety measures in Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive orders. And Ducey has said he has no intention of locking down the state again.

At the moment, some local hospitals are suffering from staffing shortages with many employees falling ill, Kingman Regional Medical Center included, and more than 1,000 new cases per week have been recorded in each of the past three weeks.

Even as the virus worsens, there is hope on the horizon. Effective vaccines have been developed and more are on the way, and the first batches of COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in Mohave County. Front-line health care workers, and residents and employees of long-term care facilities, are among the first to receive the vaccines, which have proven to be 95% effective in demanding clinical trials.

As manufacturers ramp up production, it’s not yet known how quickly the vaccine will be available to the general public, or how quickly vital herd immunity can be achieved, and personal safety measures like wearing masks and social distancing can be discontinued. But the end is finally in sight.

2. Kingman Mask Mandate

While there were those in the Kingman area less than thrilled about Mayor Jen Miles’ original face covering proclamation that went into effect at the end of June to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it was a decision made by the city attorney that added fuel to the fire.

The proclamation requiring that face coverings be worn by those entering establishments in Kingman was made the morning of Tuesday, June 30, and went into effect the following day. The argument of some was that, according to city code, the mayor’s proclamation would expire after 72 hours unless approved by Kingman City Council.

Pertinent sections of the code, 6-27 through 6-29, dictate that such action “shall remain in effect until rescinded by the mayor, or acting mayor, but for a period not to exceed 72 hours from the time they became effective unless approved by the common council.”

But City Attorney Carl Cooper said that 72-hour window did not apply to the mayor’s proclamation.

“The city code section in question has not been updated to reflect state statutes. I made the legal call regarding the 72-hour provision,” Cooper said in a July email. “It did not apply as there was direct authority for the mayor’s proclamation by the emergency powers statutes as well as the governor’s various executive orders.”

The decision also drew Rep. Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) into the debate. She stated she stood in opposition to both the original proclamation and its extension until 2021. She referenced an “unofficial opinion” from the Arizona Attorney General’s office regarding Kingman’s face covering proclamation.

Cobb used that opinion to speak to how Kingman’s municipal code addresses the mayor’s power to declare an emergency and make subsequent proclamations. Cobb read that it is “illogical” to require a mayor to follow local ordinances or resolutions when declaring a local emergency, and then turn around and say that those same ordinances and resolutions need not be followed when making proclamations pursuant to the emergency declaration.

The proclamation ended up being taken to council in September for approval, which was received by a vote of 5-2 with then-Vice Mayor Travis Lingenfelter and Councilwoman Deana Nelson dissenting. It was reevaluated approximately a month later, at which time the mandate was removed by a 4-3 vote. Miles, Councilwoman Jamie Scott Stehly and then-Councilman Wayt cast the dissenting votes.

3. Mayoral Recall

A recall effort is underway for Kingman Mayor Jen Miles and those Kingman City Councilmembers who voted to continue the mayor’s face covering proclamation until Oct. 20 at a September meeting.

James Coffman pulled the recall papers for the mayor, while his father, also named James Coffman, pulled papers for councilmembers to include David Wayt, Jamie Scott Stehly, SueAnn Mello and Ken Watkins.

Vice Mayor Travis Lingenfelter and Councilmember Deana Nelson were the only two members of council who voted against continuing the mask requirement, and as such are not named in the recall effort. At the Oct. 20 meeting, council voted to repeal the measure by a vote of 4-3 with the mayor, Scott Stehly and Wayt casting the dissenting votes. Wayt and Lingenfelter no longer sit on council, their terms having expired with neither having run for reelection.

Coffman said the mask requirement is the main reason he pulled paperwork, however, he added his actions are due to more than one consideration. He said individual choice is being taken away from those within the City of Kingman.

“I know the virus is causing a lot of mixed emotions and everybody has their own concerns, but to not have a choice in so many things in our daily lives anymore, it’s becoming overwhelming for a lot of people and a lot of people are losing jobs and it’s just a lot to put onto everybody,” Coffman said. “I think we need to get back to making our own choices and being free.”

Kingman City Clerk Annie Meredith explained that for the recall of councilmembers, 1,438 valid signatures are required for each. For the recall of the mayor, that figure is 1,384.

Signatures are valid if they come from registered voters residing within city limits. The deadline to file paperwork for the recall of the mayor is Jan. 12, while the deadline for councilmembers is Jan. 19.

“If they don’t get enough signatures, then the recall doesn’t proceed,” Meredith said. “If they do get enough signatures, and obviously it’s a lengthy process between the city and county to go through and verify that, but if they do in fact get enough qualifying signatures then we have to call a special recall election.”

As far as when that election would be held, Meredith said May or August 2021 could be a possibility.

4. Education

Virtual graduations. Online learning. School buses delivering meals to hungry students at home.

The 2020 school year will go down as one of the strangest in history thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

The end came suddenly, when Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered schools to close temporarily in March, then extended the closure through the end of the year on March 30.

Local schools put protocols in place to assure that students were able to learn from home, and spent the summer preparing for a return to class that was, of course, delayed. Fall sports started late, and school started virtually, before students gradually returned to class, first on a staggered basis designed to have only half of the students in school at any one time. In light of the recent surge in local coronavirus cases and deaths, local school officials will decide in January if the staggered schedule will be continued, or if further restrictions will be required. And school sports are again on hold, at least until early January.

5. Legal Marijuana

Arizona voters approved Proposition 207 in the Nov. 3 election, and starting next year it will be legal to have 1 ounce of marijuana or 5 grams of concentrate, and six marijuana plants, in Arizona, as long as you are 21 years of age or older.

That allows for use, transport and sharing with other adults. The City of Kingman seems to be taking a careful approach to recreational marijuana, limiting itself for now to dual licenses that allow existing medical marijuana facilities to sell recreational products.

“The main focus is an ability for people to choose,” said Beth Weiser, who sits on the Kingman Unified School District Board and serves as a treasurer for NORML, the oldest and largest marijuana legalization organization in the country.

Kingman Police Chief Rusty Cooper said he is concerned for the safety of the community, kids included. Driving under the influence of marijuana is an obvious concern, he said. Cooper said so far there’s no technology to detect marijuana influence, but it’s being developed. In the meantime, the police rely on officers’ observation skills, and DUI will be enforced.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is responsible for the regulation of marijuana retail shops and other related facilities.

It will develop a system for licensing marijuana establishments and testing facilities, as well as guidelines for advertising.

Kingman Mayor Jen Miles calls for patience.

“Let the process run its course,” she said. “We will watch the community safety very closely and soon will have more information about the impact.”

For now, she said, Kingman will allow only a limited number of licenses and the city didn’t agree on anything more than dual licenses for medical marijuana facilities.

Both the Kingman City Council and the Mohave County Board of Supervisors will continue the discussion over Proposition 207 in the coming weeks and months.

6. Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter protests were held in numerous cities throughout the country in 2020, Kingman included, as three days of peaceful protests were held in early June at Locomotive Park.

The protest was one of hundreds unfolding across the nation in the wake of the killing of a handcuffed black man, George Floyd, by police in Minneapolis in May.

On Saturday, June 6, when the protest ran from 2-5 p.m., about 40 protesters lined the street at the park holding signs at 2 p.m., and the crowd was growing. As the hours and days passed, more attendees showed up brandishing signs and slogans.

Signs carried by protesters included “I can’t breathe,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Good cops must stop bad cops.” Moments of silence were held and music was played.

Bystanders included armed men who say they attended to prevent looting and also to protect the protesters’ right to protest.

Organizers said the goal of the protests was to act as a catalyst for future discussions in Kingman, discussions that can be uncomfortable. They told the Miner that they believed that goal had been achieved.

Unlike some protests and marches, which evolved into violence and looting, the Kingman protest was peaceful, with the exception of racial and other slurs yelled at protesters by some passing motorists.

From time to time, a passing motorist would yell an obscenity or a racial slur, or toss up the middle finger at protesters. In each case, the individual was met with “love,” organizers said.

Kingman Police Chief Rusty Cooper, who noted that the protests went “very, very well,” did call a National Guard presence to Kingman just in case the protests got out of hand in one way or another. He said the intent was a show of force for groups or people that wanted to create a disturbance or change the intent of the peaceful event. The protests remained peaceful.

“Honestly, I’m at a loss for words because it’s just been so overwhelming: the love, the support, the courage,” said Naysha Rayn Powell, one of the event’s organizers. “I just want to say how proud I am of everybody for their courage to stand up for what they believe in.”

7. Events Canceled

With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, almost all of the major entertainment cultural events that Kingmanites enjoy throughout the year were canceled. The annual calendar of social activities was put on hold and large gatherings were prohibited by Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive orders intended to reduce the spread of the deadly virus. Mohave County stopped issuing special event permits, with the exception of events protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as political events.

The cancellation affected such local landmark events as the beloved Andy Devine Days Parade in September, Mohave County Veterans Parade held for Veterans Day in November and the Kingman Street Drags, that had just returned to the calendar in the summer of 2019.

One of the most impacted Kingman constants was the Mohave County Fairgrounds, 2600 Fairgrounds Blvd., home of many annual events and exhibits that suffered several loses. The fairgrounds had to cancel the biggest annual event in the area – the Mohave County Fair.

Fairgrounds Manager Tim Woods told the Miner in August that he was estimating the loss in sales tax from not holding the fair at $500,000 to $750,000 for the City of Kingman and Mohave County combined.

The Renaissance Faire and Feast was the only event left on the fairgrounds calendar for October, and the fairgrounds is still hosting small parties and weddings with under 50 persons.

The pandemic put to a stop monthly downtown First Friday events by Kingman Main Street, the Festival of the Arts typically slated for Mother’s Day weekend and Kingman Cancer Care Unit’s Arts and Crafts Fair.

Regular book sales organized by Friends of the Mohave County Library suffered as well.

Octoberfest, Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations were not the same this year due to the need for social distancing. However, both Christmas events, the Very Merry Parade of Lights and the Kingman Cookie Crawl, went forward after being rebranded, becoming The Very Merry Street of Lights and Kingman Cookie Craze, respectively.

8. Water Supply

The Hualapai Valley Basin underground water aquifer should hold up for another 100 or more years, according to a hydrological model and study by the U.S. Geological Survey presented to Mohave County and the City of Kingman in October.

The issue of underground water supply is being studied in depth by the Mohave County West Basin Water Users Study Committee established by the state. The committee, which includes Kingman Mayor Jen Miles and Supervisor Gary Watson of District 1, spent a year analyzing all groundwater withdrawal data from an earlier report by the Arizona Department of Water Resources issued in December 2019. That data indicated water supply problems for Kingman by 2080.

Both studies were initiated due to large withdrawals for agricultural production in the area that developed in the last decade, and included production of water-intensive crops like alfalfa.

According to the USGS, the differences between the two studies resulted from the fact that they worked with different numbers – different areas of maximum agricultural production and different crops. For the purpose of the USGS study, the information was gathered from the farmers. That led to more precise information on the area that will be used for production and the crops that will be grown – more nuts and less alfalfa, farmers declared.

State Rep. Regina Cobb (R-Kingman), who has been leading the groundwater mitigation efforts for years, said both studies will be utilized.

The county is still likely to pursue the creation of a new Rural Groundwater Management Area (RMA), which would be a modified Irrigation Non-Expansion Area tailored specifically to the Hualapai Basin’s needs. It was Cobb’s bill in the state Legislature that created the study committee, which is continuing to monitor the issue and is preparing a report on the subject.

9. Land Sale/Traffic Interchange

The City of Kingman has high hopes for the 1,813 acres that comprise Phase 2 at the Kingman Airport and Industrial Park thanks to voters authorizing the sale of the surplus property in the Nov. 3 general election.

Kingman City Council voted in July to designate the 1,813 acres as surplus, as required in order to eventually sell properties within the acreage. Mohave County Elections Department figures show that Kingman voters gave their approval at 70%, with 9,196 votes in favor and 3,766 against.

The land itself, owned by the city, remains in the hands of the Federal Aviation Administration. The process of having the land released to the city is ongoing and expected to move forward in April or May 2021, following completion of the airport’s master plan.

“I am really appreciative to the Kingman voters for approving the surplus land sale, the 1,800-plus acres, because it will position the city for long-term growth, and economic viability and vibrancy,” said Mayor Jen Miles.

Bennett Bratley, city economic development manager, said the voters’ approval to sell the land places the city in a marketable position.

Businesses and industry often have time frames by which they hope to be able to build out a project or advance a product to the market. Bratley said the voters’ approval means the time-frame for accomplishing those goals is cut in half, or more, for interested parties.

The vote also means businesses won’t have to wait for individual approval upon expressing their interest in property.

The Rancho Santa Fe traffic interchange, for which a development agreement was approved in November, is also expected to play a part in the development of Phase 2 as it will provide companies with more immediate access to Interstate 40. The interchange and associated infrastructure will also provide a second entrance to the industrial park. Bratley noted rail will likely be a vital component and is of interest to those looking at property in Phase 2.

10. 2020 Elections

President Donald Trump garnered nearly 70,000 Mohave County votes, or 74% of the votes cast, in the Tuesday, Nov. 3 general election, an even higher percentage of votes than the president received in the county in 2016.

County voters overwhelmingly supported Trump, with the president garnering 69,830 votes, or 74%. Trump won 72.9% of the vote in Mohave County in 2016.

In the City of Kingman, Trump won all four precincts with totals ranging from 69.69% in the Kingman Central precinct to 75.42% in the Kingman East precinct.

The precinct in Mohave County with the highest rate of support for the president was North Canyon, where Trump beat Biden 1,242 to 53 while capturing 94.81%.

Precincts with the highest percentage of support for Biden in the county were White Hills with 30.37% and Bullhead City with 29.49%.

Republican Jean Bishop, chairwoman of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, retained her seat in the race for District 4 supervisor. It was the only contested seat for county supervisor in the Tuesday, Nov. 3 general election.

The other three incumbent county supervisors, all Republicans, won uncontested races. Ron Gould of District 5 received 16,622 votes, Buster Johnson of District 3 received 16,799 votes and Hildy Angius of District 2 received 11,928 votes.

Newcomer Travis Lingenfelter took the District 1 seat with 12,043 votes in an uncontested race after winning the Republican primary in August. He’ll replace supervisor Gary Watson, who is retiring and did not run for reelection.

The race for who would sit on Kingman City Council was decided in August’s primary election.

Incumbent Councilwoman Jamie Scott Stehly retained her seat with 3,153 votes, or 20%. Newcomers to council included Keith Walker, who received 3,880 votes or 25%, and Cherish Sammeli with 3,165 votes, or 20%.

Kingman Mayor Jen Miles retained her title for another two years. Miles, running unopposed, received 4,876 votes which came to 92% of the total vote.

Mohave County supported former U.S. Sen. Martha McSally to the tune of 67,034 votes, approximately 72%, of ballots cast. McSally lost to Democratic challenger and now-Senator Mark Kelly.

Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Prescott) was also preferred by Mohave County voters with 68,070 votes, or 75% of the vote.

The congressman defeated Democratic challenger Delina Disanto to retain his seat.

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