Six Sedona residents filed a complaint last week with the Arizona Attorney General’s office against Sedona Fire District Governing Board Chairman Ralph Graves over alleged conflicts of interest with his employer.

The complaint letter was received by the attorney general’s office Thursday, March 18.

ralphgravesGraves is employed by Braun Northwest, and the company sells ambulances to the district.

The six residents — John Mitchell, Don Troutman, Joe Demme, Lowell Johnson, Phyllis Erick and James Erick — asked in their complaint for Graves be removed from office, fined or disciplined in some way.

Molly Edwards, the media relations director for the attorney general’s office, said she could not comment on specific cases, but added complaints are reviewed to see if the attorney general has jurisdiction and then investigated to determine if there are facts to back up the allegations.

She said it could take quite a bit of time to make a decision on any case.

Graves is accused of profiting when the governing board voted to approve purchasing ambulances from Graves’ employer.

Graves said he had nothing to do with the bid and was unaware his employer was going to make an offer.

“I recused myself and left the meeting,” he said. “I had nothing to do with buying three ambulances for Braun.”

Graves said he understands Braun was the best offer and that was the reason why the governing board voted in this way, but reiterated he was not a part of the vote.

“I had nothing to do with the purchase. I had nothing to do with the bid,” he said. “The accusations they are making are all false.”

The complaint alleges Graves, a sales representative with Braun, profited from the sale of this equipment and even voted when the company he works for was involved.

“Mr. Graves repeatedly voted on budget issues impacting these purchases,” the complaint reads. “During a recent board discussion of privatizing ambulance service for the district with a certain independent ambulance service provider, Mr. Graves criticized the possibility and stated, ‘They don’t buy ambulances from me.’”

On July 17, 2007, Braun Northwest was the high bidder for two ambulances and was chosen as the winning bid, according to SFD documents.

Because Braun was not the lowest bid, the governing board was required to give a reason for why it was approving a more expensive product.

The reason given was the selected ambulances had additional compartment space for firefighters’ personal protective equipment and there would be a 45 percent savings to refurnish the two ambulances in four years instead of purchasing new ones.

In 2009, the Sedona Fire District purchased another ambulance from Braun for a little more than $145,000, but there was no bidding process, according to SFD documents.

The letter to the attorney general’s office alleges since Graves is the chairman of a board that purchases capital expenditures from a company in which he is employed as an Arizona representative, there is a conflict of interest.

The complaint letter sent to the attorney general’s office said it finds the conflict of interest unacceptable and stated the bids for the ambulances by Braun is a red flag in itself. The complaint also claims Graves once had Sedona firefighters wash and polish a Braun test model ambulance while he attended a board meeting.

Johnson, on Monday, March 22, said he and the other five individuals who sent the complaint letter to the attorney general’s office plan on seeing this through to the end.

Visitor totals up more than 7,000 for spring break compared to last year

Businesses in Uptown Sedona received some welcome relief last week from the struggling economy thanks to spring break.

springbreakcrowdsThousands of visitors took the week off to come and vacation in Sedona, and numerous shops and businesses were extremely busy.

The Sedona Chamber of Commerce reports more and more visitors are coming to or returning to the city.

Sedona Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff said currently visitor center walk-ins are up 30 percent compared to March 1 through March 21 of last year.

Last year, 18,352 visitors visited Sedona through March 18, and this year visitor center walk-ins are currently at 25,554.

Wesselhoff said March is one of the busiest months of the year due to spring break, Cactus League spring training baseball and the weather.

She believes part of the increase in visitors is the result of pent-up demand for travel, increasing consumer confidence and the exchange rate.

“Statistics at our visitor center shows an incredible uptick in Canadian travelers,” she said. “The Chamber of Commerce Tourism Bureau, along with the Arizona Office of Tourism, have been targeting the Canadian market for several months through ongoing media relations and public relation efforts.”

She said businesses do better around the spring breaks that are usually sandwiched around Easter and some states have yet to have their weeklong vacations.

John Davis, who owns numerous businesses in Uptown, said last week was a good one, and added business usually picks up two weeks before Easter and two weeks after the holiday, which falls on Sunday, April 4, this year.

“We are encouraged by the arrival of spring break visitors,” Davis said. “We feel like it will continue to grow [through Easter].”

He said all businesses in the city were glad to see the large crowds coming out to shop during spring break.

“This is the time of the year when it gets busier,” Davis said, and added he thinks the best is yet to come since Easter is still two weeks away.

“All we need now is good weather,” he said. “Life is good.”

Becky O’Banion, who owns a gallery in Uptown, said business usually picks up from President’s Day in February to Easter.

Last week’s increase in business put the galleria only $200 behind what it made the previous year, O’Banion said.

She added spring breaks in Texas and on the West Coast have yet to come, and she thinks this will help.

O’Banion said while there were large crowds during spring break, visitors were spending less than what they did during the 2009 spring vacation.

“I am real happy with what we did based on [the economy],” she said and mentioned weeks like last week are necessary to offset bad times.

“Make hay while the sun shines,” she said.

Gallery owner Linda Goldenstein said spring break typically kicks off the busy time of the year and added it is as busy this week as it was last week because there are people from other states who are now on their breaks.

She said one reason for the high turnout this year is Sedona was listed as the best place in the state to visit for spring break.

“Sales have been very good and steady,” Goldenstein said. “The weather is beautiful, and people are happy to be here.”

Congresswoman introduces legislation to take next step  

annkirkpatrickAfter a careful review of responses and proposed revisions to draft language for a bill to designate the Red Rock lands around Sedona as a National Scenic Area, U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-District 1] is taking the next step towards securing that designation, according to a press release issued March 11. She introduced the Sedona-Red Rock National Scenic Area Act of 2010.

Kirkpatrick has been discussing the best approach to this issue since before her election, and has been dedicated to getting feedback from the community. She submitted draft legislation to interested stakeholders and community members in October to get their comments, and her staff met with a variety of individuals and organizations to discuss what should be done.

The U.S Forest Service, Sedona City Council, Sedona Chamber of Commerce, Sedona-Red Rock Scenic Area Coalition, Sedona-Verde Valley Association of Realtors, Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, small business owners and concerned citizens provided valuable comments and edits to the text of the proposed bill.

“I have always felt that good ideas and good policy come from the people, and I want to make sure that folks here are able to make their voices heard,” Kirkpatrick stated in a press release. “I appreciate the contributions of all those who have offered their thoughts on this bill, and I look forward to working with them as the legislative process moves forward.”

The congresswoman is working hard to craft legislation that creates jobs and grows the local economy while preserving the area’s natural resources and environment, she stated in the release. She stated she feels that the input of folks both in favor of and opposed to the proposal made the bill stronger.

“This conversation will continue, and I encourage the community to stay engaged and keep providing feedback,” Kirkpatrick stated in the relaese. “I am going to do everything I can to make sure this issue is resolved in a way that truly meets the needs of Sedona and the entire region.”

Text of the bill:

111TH CONGRESS, 2D SESSION

H.R. 4823

To establish the Sedona-Red Rock National Scenic Area in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona, and for other purposes.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Ms. KIRKPATRICK of Arizona introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on [no date provided].

A BILL

To establish the Sedona-Red Rock National Scenic Area in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Sedona-Red Rock National Scenic Area Act of 2010’’.

SEC. 2. SEDONA-RED ROCK NATIONAL SCENIC AREA, COCONINO NATIONAL FOREST, ARIZONA.

(a) ESTABLISHMENT.—There is established in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona, the Sedona-Red Rock National Scenic Area (in this section referred to as the ‘‘Scenic Area’’) for the purposes of—

(1) restricting exchanges of land involving National Forest System land included in the Scenic Area; and

(2) managing the National Forest System land included in the Scenic Area as provided in the land and resource management plan for the Coconino National Forest.

(b) BOUNDARIES.—The Scenic Area shall consist only of National Forest System land in the Coconino National Forest, as generally depicted in the land and resource management plan for the Coconino National Forest on the map entitled ‘‘Planning Area Overview’’ and dated June 1998. The Scenic Area does not include any land located outside the boundaries of the Coconino National Forest.

(c) MAP AND BOUNDARY DESCRIPTION.—As soon as practicable after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall file a map and boundary description of the Scenic Area with the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Senate and the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives. The map and boundary description shall have the same force and effect as if included in this Act, except that the Secretary may correct clerical and typographical errors in the map and description. The map and boundary description shall be on file and available for public inspection in the Office of the Chief of the Forest Service.

(d) ADMINISTRATION.—The Secretary of Agriculture shall administer the Scenic Area in accordance with this section, the land and resource management plan for the Coconino National Forest, and the laws and regulations generally applicable to the National Forest System. In the event of conflict between this section and such other laws and regulations, this section shall take precedence.

(e) RESTRICTION ON SCENIC AREA LAND EXCHANGES.—Except as provided in subsection (i) with regard to acquisitions of land for public purposes, land exchanges that dispose of National Forest System land included in the Scenic Area may occur only if—

(1) the exchange results in the acquisition of land within the boundaries of the Scenic Area from a willing seller for inclusion in the Scenic Area; and

(2) an environmental analysis (including an opportunity for public comment) is completed before the exchange in accordance with the land and resource management plan for the Coconino National Forest.

(f) DEPOSIT OF CONSIDERATION FROM CERTAIN LAND SALES; USE.—

(1) DEPOSIT OF PROCEEDS.—Moneys received by the Secretary of Agriculture from the sale or exchange of land located in the Coconino National Forest shall be deposited in the fund established by Public Law 90–171 (commonly known as the Sisk Act; 16 U.S.C. 484a).

(2) USE OF FUNDS.—Notwithstanding the limitations on the use of moneys deposited in the fund established by Public Law 90–171, moneys deposited under paragraph (1) shall be available for use by the Secretary of Agriculture, without further appropriation and until expended, for—

(A) the acquisition of land or interests in land within the boundaries of the Scenic Area from willing sellers; or

(B) the operation, maintenance, or enhancement of the Scenic Area.

(g) NO EFFECT ON SURROUNDING LAND, ROADS, OR EASEMENTS .—The establishment of the Scenic Area does not affect—

(1) the maintenance or use of public, private, or Forest Service roads within the Scenic Area;

(2) the legal status, maintenance, or use of rights-of-way and utility easements within the Scenic Area;

(3) the management of State, municipal, or private land located in the vicinity of or within the boundaries of the Scenic Area; or

(4) the management of National Forest System land that is not included in the Scenic Area.

(h) NO EFFECT ON FOREST SERVICE PLANNING POLICIES.—Except as provided in subsection (e), the establishment of the Scenic Area does not affect the land and resource management plan for the Coconino National Forest.

(i) NO EFFECT ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT DISCRETION.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The establishment of the Scenic Area does not affect the discretion of the governing body of an entity specified in paragraph (2) to seek the resolution of encroachments and infrastructure or land use needs involving National Forest System land within the Scenic Area. Notwithstanding subsection (e), National Forest System land may be utilized or conveyed within the Scenic Area consistent with the Education Land Grant Act (16 U.S.C. 479a) and the land and resource management plan for the Coconino National Forest.

(2) COVERED GOVERNING BODIES.— Paragraph (1) applies to the State of Arizona, counties, municipalities, and fire and school districts in the State, and utilities serving the public.

nazih_hazimeSedona Fire District Fire Chief Nazih Hazime responded to Governing Board member Charles Christensen’s study “Strategies for Reducing Expenditures at [the] Sedona Fire District” in a written statement last week.

Christensen outlined 19 specific areas in his report, and Hazime replied to the 19 issues in a written report the district released to the public.

Hazime answers to some of Christensen’s questions and concerns are outlined below.

On eliminating overtime, Hazime said the overtime budget already decreased by 15.6 percent from the 2008-2009 fiscal year, with the overtime discretionary budget being cut by close to 33.6 percent.

He said discretionary overtime is created on an as-needed basis to fill required positions and to fulfill additional responsibilities and services, including those for administration, backfill, emergency medical service recertifications and non-district training.

“Backfill overtime will vary per individual based on personnel availability,” Hazime wrote in his response. “The overtime budget is supervised by the fire chief and the executive team on a daily basis.”

Regarding selling excess vehicles, Christensen wrote 50 percent of the fleet should be eliminated, Hazime replied the fire district already reduced its fleet by five vehicles and will continue to monitor the usage of other ones to make further reductions, if necessary.

“Our vehicle fleet requirements are based on operations and needs,” Hazime wrote in his response, and mentioned the community risk management division is responsible for proficient fire investigations, code enforcement, public safety and awareness and fire safety programs and their vehicles are equipped to handle these tasks.

charles_christensenChristensen reported he also thinks the only fire district employees who should be allowed to take home a district vehicle is the chief and asked why other employees were being given vehicles to drive to and from work. He named the telecommunications division as one example.

Hazime said the telecommunications division staff provides necessary on-call services to maintain constant communications throughout the district, and added the towers the division services support its 911 service.

He said this service to other agencies brings in revenue to the district.

“Maintaining our infrastructure is critical to the operations and the response time to emergency incidents,” he said.

Christensen wants to eliminate credit cards for employees to carry and charge accounts at local businesses.

Hazime said the number of SFD employees carrying district credit cards has been reduced and the carriers’ invoices and receipts are reviewed monthly before payments are rendered.

Hazime said charge accounts with local businesses allow for purchases of miscellaneous and day-to-day needed items. All receipts are submitted and reviewed.

Christensen wanted to eliminate staff hired for the Chapel Station that was never built.

Hazime said these employees were not hired for the station and instead were hired to staff the ladder truck. He also said three additional positions, for the chapel station, were never hired.

Christensen also proposed having a response time assessment done by an independent agency, but Hazime replied an independent study does not need to be conducted because SFD has the capability to do it in house by using its computer-aided dispatch and Firehouse systems.

Christensen, in his study, said a health insurance co-pay or an increased deductible needs to be implemented, and the fire chief’s response is the district is already evaluating cost saving health care insurance options and discussing options with employee groups.

Christensen said he read the chief’s responses and is still not satisfied. He accused the chief of stonewalling and trying to fend off the points he made.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-District 1] notified the city of Sedona on March 5 she was submitting National Scenic Area legislation to Congress.

Some residents and community leaders were happy to hear the NSA is moving forward but also wondered what will be included in the final draft.

Keep Sedona Beautiful President Steve DeVol said the organization is very happy the bill was finally introduced.

DeVol said the designation will help preserve what Sedona has in relation to its proximity to U. S. National Forest Land.

He said KSB was confident the designation was coming, but added no one knew for sure when this was going to happen.

“The prohibition on land trades was the key area that needed to be included,” DeVol said, adding what Kirkpatrick submitted was close to the Sedona City Council’s suggestion.

The proposed bill aims to restrict exchanges of land involving Forest Service land included in the scenic area and managing the designated  land as provided in the land and resource management plan for the Coconino National Forest, according to the draft legislation.

“The people of this region understand that the only way we can ensure Sedona remains a wonderful place to live and visit is through the prevention of future land trades,” DeVol said. “Tourism is the lifeblood of Sedona’s economy.”

He said everyone is waiting to see what happens to the bill as it moves forward.

DeVol also said the community would like for the Kirkpatrick to visit Sedona to tell them about the bill and process.

Incoming Councilwoman Barbara Litrell, past president of KSB, said she has been working on the NSA designation for five years and is thankful the bill is moving forward.

“I will do everything I can to raise the level of awareness and support to make this happen,” she said, adding it is pretty clear this is something Sedona residents want.

Like DeVol, Litrell said it would be wonderful for Kirkpatrick to visit Sedona to talk to residents about the bill.

Councilwoman Nancy Scagnelli, who still feels local control is the way to go, said she is glad Kirkpatrick used most of council’s language and suggestions when coming up with the draft.

Scagnelli said she spoke to one of Kirkpatrick’s aides to see where the designation stood.

“I don’t think it is needed, but it has always been up to our Congressional leaders,” she said. “We gave it our best shot.”

Sedona-Oak Creek School District School Board President Bobbie Surber said the proposed bill is now in the hands of Kirkpatrick and the U.S. Congress. She added she is waiting to see how the bill progresses.

“It’s out of our hands now,” Surber said.

In a press release, Kirkpatrick stated she looked at all the comments submitted to her office before acting.

“I have always felt that good ideas and good policy come from the people, and I want to make sure that folks here are able to make their voices heard,” Kirkpatrick stated. “I appreciate the contributions of all those who have offered their thoughts on this bill, and I look forward to working with them as the legislative process moves forward.”

She asked the community to stay involved as the bill makes its way through Congress.

“I am going to do everything I can to make sure this issue is resolved in a way that truly meets the needs of Sedona and the entire region,” she stated.

Angela LeFevre, president of the Democrats of the Red Rocks, said the latest information is good and exciting news, and added members of her organization will write letters of thanks to Kirkpatrick.

She said the Sedona-Red Rock Scenic Are Coalition, comprised of the Sierra Club, Democrats of the Red Rocks, Red Rock Rural Community Association and the Big Park Regional Coordinating Council, met and will make a few minor suggestions to the Kirkpatrick’s  staff.

“The coalition will do whatever it can to enable its passage as soon as possible,” she said.

The proposed bill states the establishment of the NSA does not affect the discretion of the governing body to seek the resolution of encroachments and infrastructure or land use needs involving the Forest Service.

Oftentimes parents wish their baby or toddler could tell them what they want or need but there is a language barrier — the baby or toddler cannot talk, not yet.

Cindy Wilmer discovered a solution and teaches American Sign Language to parents and their small child, or children, at the Sedona Public Library.

singandsign“I read about it when I was pregnant and started teaching Skyrah when she was four months old. At six months I could see she understood. By eight months she started signing back,” Wilmer said. Skyrah is Wilmer’s daughter.The first sign Wilmer began with was milk, which is a partially opened hand to a closed hand. Every time Wilmer nursed Skyrah, she made the sign and spoke the word. It is one of the three Golden Signs. The other two are for “more” and “eat.”

“By the time she was one year old, Skyrah could sign more than 150 words and phrases,” Wilmer said, then laughed. “At 11 months old my daughter signed that she was angry with me for leaving her for one hour. It was amazing.”

The key to teaching sign language to a very small child who does not have a hearing impairment is to speak the words along with the sign. For example, if they come in with a scraped knee, ask the child if they have a “hurt” as well as make the sign, which is opposed index fingers at the location of the injury.

“In this way they get the idea and can tell you they have a tummy ache or a headache by doing the sign where they have the hurt,” Wilmer said as she demonstrated. “How often have parents been so frustrated when their child cries and they cannot figure out the problem?”

Wilmer said children naturally sign, such as raising his or her arms to be picked up or pointing to what they want. For example, they point to a glass but it is surrounded by other objects. A parent usually picks up the objects, tries to give them to the child and they refuse each one until they get the one they want.

“With signing they still point, but then can give the sign for water or drink,” Wilmer said.

While learning and teaching a baby or toddler to sign it is important for the parent to not manipulate their child’s hands if they do not get the sign correct. Acknowledge what they are asking for and make the correct sign and repeat the word, Wilmer said.

“Signing is a great bonding tool because you’re engaged with your child because you are looking at each other while you’re communicating. Secondly, they are learning a second language as they grow. ASL is recognized as a language,” Wilmer said.

A fear of some parents is that signing may hinder their child’s verbal skills. Wilmer said research has shown that learning to sign may boost verbal skills.

“In studies I’ve read the children actually learn more quickly once they start to speak,” Wilmer said.

Celine Daher brought her son, Emile, because she has a hearing aid and wants to communicate with him more easily.

“I want to understand my son. He’s learned ‘kiss,’ ‘hug’, ‘eat’ and ‘sleepy,’ so far. He’s learning very fast,” Daher said and signed “hug” to which her son responded quickly by jumping into his mother’s arms.

Stephanie Sandvall-Young brought two young girls she takes care of while their parents work.

“When I had my son nine years ago I got hooked on an ad I saw for baby sign, so when I got here I hooked up with Cindy [Wilmer],” Young said.

As the class commenced, Wilmer had everyone sit on the floor in a circle, and they sang and signed the song, “The Wheels on the Bus.” Little arms made circles from front to back to indicate the wheels moving.

Sing , Say and Sign

  • When: Second and fourth Thursday of the month, 10:30 to 11 a.m.
  • Where: Sedona Public Library, 3250 White Bear Road, West Sedona

Gardens for Humanity has six gardens in Sedona, Verde Valley

It used to be the cook of the house just went out to the garden to get the needed ingredients for a meal.

Today, for most Americans, the food comes from the grocery store from the produce department, in cans or plastic bags from the freezer section. It is harvested, prepared and packaged sometimes more than 1,500 miles away.

gardensforhumanityGardens for Humanity is trying to turn the trend around and have people grow their vegetables, fruit and other food items close to home — in the back yard or a community garden.

“The way to stay healthy is through eating healthy food grown in a healthy way. A person whose had a tomato off the vine compared to the store knows the difference. There’s no comparison to the smell and the taste,” Gardens for Humanity Board Member Ruth Hartung said.

The greater Sedona area has six Gardens for Humanity: Kachina Point, Sedona Schnebly Community Garden on Brewer Road, Three sisters at St. John Vianney, Crescent Moon Ranch, Hopi Garden Project in Cornville and the Karmapa Garden, which is a project between Sedona Creative Life Center and Gardens for Humanity.

“We’ve had projects with West Sedona School creating gardens there, and this year is the second annual Sedona Verde Valley Spring Planting Festival. People come together and learn about gardening hands-on,” Hartung said. The festival started Sunday, March 14, and will continue until Sunday, March 21.

People from the gardens also recently participated in the Sedona International Film Festival with a Locavore event to bring local chefs together with local growers.

“They both fall into one of the missions for Gardens for Humanity about educating the community about the different aspects of plants and gardening,” Hartung said.

Crescent Moon and Three Sisters are specifically for growing food and involving local gardeners and those who would like to learn about gardening.

Teri Bays, who helped get the garden started at St. John Vianney said the idea came about after she attended the 2009 Sedona International Film Festival and watched movies about preserving the earth.

“I thought it would be a good idea. We had the property and Father JC [Ortiz] is a gardener so it seemed like a good fit,” Bays said. “It’s good to bring the community together and get us all in touch with the earth, plus it’s good education for everyone.”

The Hopi Garden received an education grant. They will bring children from the Hopi Reservation and from local schools to learn and work in the garden.

They will teach them traditional Hopi gardening and the traditional way of tending the garden such as removing pests like gophers. Hartung said she heard about a man who talked to the gophers and told them the garden was not for them, then used a food trail to lead them out and away. They never returned, according to the story.

“Part of our job is to bridge the gap between traditional and the new green methods. There’s a need for both,” Hartung said.

The Sedona Schnebly Community Garden started as a rescue operation. The city was about to bulldoze the remains of the homestead to make room for a needed parking lot. Many townspeople objected. Gardens for Humanity took the lead, along with the Sedona Historical Society and the Sedona Main Street Program, and saved some of the land, and her irises, in her memory. Volunteers, businesses and organizations made the garden a reality.

The mission of Gardens for Humanity is to honor local farmers and build upon the crop raising legacies, inspire and strengthen community participation, connect diverse people, increase environmental awareness and make gardens welcoming places for the arts and celebration.

“We’re also trying to restore this area to agriculture, like it used to be. It’s been about 70 years since we’ve been away from that,” Hartung said. “There is a move to restore that culture and Gardens [for Humanity] wants to be a part of that.”

Hartung said Gardens for Humanity has focussed on the Sedona and Verde Valley region because of it’s agricultural past and hope something drastic could happen through the gardens. The goal is to grow enough food to feed 125,000 people.

“If we can do it here we can do it elsewhere. A community that doesn’t grow it’s own food is vulnerable to what happens, like shipping problems, weather and growing conditions,” Hartung said. “The quality of the food lessens the further away it is from the source.”

Saving good seeds is another goal of local gardening, especially preserving native seeds that do well in the area.

Gardening can be done is Arizona — even in the desert regions, Hartung said. With some knowledge and preparation, a garden can be grown in the ground, a pot on the window sill or outside under the eaves.

“You do have to amend the soil here. One of the things we focus on is building the soil. If it has lots of nitrogen and minerals, things will grow,” Hartung said.

Water is another consideration, but people can harvest rain water and use it for the plants.

Many of the skills for growing food and how to preserve it once it is harvested have been lost to the latest generations, Hartung said, but with some education everyone can reconnect with the earth and the plants.

“Something magical happens, and people get hooked,” Hartung said.

Of the 6,778 registered Sedona voters who received mail in ballots for the March 9 election, slightly more than half returned them.

Lynn Constabile, Yavapai County elections director, said 3,639 voters, or 53.6 percent, cast ballots in the city’s primary election in which nine people ran for five seats on the Sedona City Council. A question of whether the mayor should be elected by the people or appointed by council also appeared on the ballot.

Constabile said a 53.6 percent turnout is high for an off-time election where no state or federal offices were on the ballot.

As an example, she pointed to the 85 percent voter turnout in Yavapai County in the 2008 presidential election and added voters were required to visit the polls for this election.

Constabile said a 53.6 percent turnout is also great when there are no heated ballot questions or highly contested races.

She added this is not the first time registered voters in Yavapai County were mailed ballots for them to send back through the U.S. Postal Service.

Constabile said this year’s election numbers in Sedona, while high, were lower than two years ago when the mayor’s race between Mayor Rob Adams and Councilwoman Pud Colquitt was decided by just a few votes in the general election.

The 2008 primary election received a 57.4 percent  voter turn out, and 62.2 percent of registered voters returned ballots for the 2008 general election.

Constabile also said Yavapai County decided to enact mail-in elections to save resources after Arizona voters in 2006 rejected this measure for state and federal elections.

She asked the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors to amend the contract it offered outside firms to allow elections to be done by mail.

She said the recent Sedona election is just one example of how successful this has been, mentioning the turnout would have been much less if voters had to visit the polls on election day.

“If it was a polling place, you would only get 10 percent,” she said.

Constabile added voters like the opportunity to research candidates and issues before voting, and mail-in ballots allow them to take their time and not be rushed.

She mentioned Sedona’s turnout of 54 percent was 12 percentage points higher than what Clarkdale received in its city election on the same day.

“Usually about one half is normal,” she said.

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