Think tank says Pinal economy better off than any other county in Arizona – Only 4% living in distressed ZIP code

FLORENCE — Pinal County is the least economically “distressed” county in Arizona, according to data collected by a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The Economic Innovation Group surveyed more than 25,000 ZIP codes across the country, assessing a community’s economy based on seven factors. Their data was released through interactive map graphics earlier this month. The individual counties of a state were shaded either red, yellow or green, depending on how well they scored on EIG’s “distress” scale.

 Pinal County was notably presented as the only green spot in Arizona, meaning that less than 4 percent of the population is living in a ZIP code that’s been deemed economically distressed.

EIG co-founder John Lettieri said just because a county is shaded green doesn’t mean it’s perfect. He explained the ZIP codes are measured in relativity to each other so the data illustrates that Pinal County is performing better when compared to other counties.

EIG measured a region’s distress level by compiling the unemployment rate, poverty level, unoccupied housing rate, the median income ratio and the percent changes of employed individuals and established businesses between 2009 and 2012.

ZIP codes were ranked by percentile in each of the seven categories and the overall distress score was the sum of these percentiles. EIG gathered their information through the American Community Survey and ZIP Code Business Pattern data.

Lettieri said this methodology allows states and counties to see where economic inequality may exist in neighboring communities.

The ZIP codes in Pinal County vary widely in terms of distress scores. The least distressed ZIP code had a score of 92 while the most distressed had a score of 2.

Diversity is a critical factor, Lettieri said, for regions to keep their economy strong in a post-recession society. He said one-industry towns such as Detroit have shown to not be sustainable and the entrepreneurship of multiple industries is what will make a region thrive.

Lettieri added that Arizona stands out as one of the most innovative states for trying new economic development strategies.

Pinal County Economic Development Program Manager Tim Kanavel said his department has been more “aggressive” with attempting to recruit new industries into the region.

He said the process can be somewhat of a “blood sport,” trying to supply information to prospective businesses in an instantaneous fashion.

One problem Kanavel continues to prioritize is strengthening the county’s workforce. He said curbing a company’s turnover rate is still a challenge.

Introducing more commercial and industrial uses in San Tan Valley is another challenge for Kanavel, who said that’s one of the county’s regions in most need of economic drivers.

Pinal County’s lower distressed status was a positive sign for County Supervisor Anthony Smith that there are reasons to be optimistic about the future.

He attributed the county’s ability to recover well from the recession to the cities and towns for making themselves attractive to new residents and businesses.

Smith said infrastructure and transportation are areas where the county still needs to make improvements and he’d like to find a way of doing so without placing a further tax burden on property owners.

Virginia Chavez said she thinks the county should spend less on roads and more on helping families that are struggling financially.

The mother of three moved to Eloy last year to manage an apartment complex and described the county’s economic conditions as “poor” and “discouraging.”

On a Friday afternoon outside the Department of Economic Security building in Casa Grande, Chavez said she had to scrounge up some loose change to pay for the gas money so she could check on the status of her food stamps.

If given the chance, she said she would move back to Tucson.

Seferina Gutierrez is a little more hopeful about the county’s economic condition. Her husband recently lost his job as an information technology worker, though she’s optimistic he’ll find another one soon.

She thinks the economic conditions have improved in the four years she’s lived in Maricopa but finds that many people still struggle to get well-paying jobs.

Good data should lead to good policy changes, according to Lettieri, who said the mission of the distress score data is to shine a light on communities in most need of investment and entrepreneurship.

EIG will be updating its economic distress scores as new data becomes available in the coming months


Federal Lawsuit: Government Corruption in Arizona County Court Clerk’s Office

The following was received through the Contact feature of this blog. The opinions are those expressed by the author of the press release. -Editor

Clerks criminally interfere in the judicial proceeding of an open civil case under the dark shadow of criminal activity.

Apache Junction, Arizona November 14, 2015

A recent survey by California’s Chapman University found that Americans’ greatest fear is GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION.

On November 10, 2015 a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights law suit 2:15-cv-02268-DJH was filed in The United States District Court against Amanda Stanford, the Clerk of the Pinal County Superior Court, and Lynn Hurley, the Chief Deputy Clerk (former Public Information Officer for former clerk Chad Roche); for willful abuse of position, interference in a judicial proceeding and Deprivation of Rights under the color of state law.

“This blatant misuse of authority is empowered by the over FOUR-year period since a serious crime attempting to ‘fix’ a case was reported as having occurred in the Pinal County Clerk’s office,” said Lee Hempfling, plaintiff.

In 2011 Lee & Suesie Hempfling of Apache Junction, Arizona acting as Plaintiffs in a medical malpractice suit in Pinal County Superior Court identified and reported to the court, on the record; criminal activity within the Pinal County Superior Court Clerk’s office where an alleged attempt to ‘fix’ a civil case was uncovered, while both Stanford and Hurley were employees thereof.

In the lawsuit, the Hempflings claim Stanford and Hurley illegally declared the unfinished court case to be ‘over’; declared the Hempflings to be losers in the case, then started forced collection of filing fees in an apparent retaliation for the Hempfling’s political support of the former court clerk’s reelection. No judge had ever issued such a decree. Arizona law requires the fees to be paid by the losing party.

The Hempflings report that in 2011 the malpractice case was witnessed as a default, by a Deputy Clerk. Originally assigned to Superior Court Judge Boyd T. Johnson, the case was re-assigned in May of 2012 to Judge Bradley M. Soos when Judge Johnson was removed from all civil cases.

For four years there has been no known prosecution in that initial reported criminal activity. No arrests. According to two court clerks the civil case remains without any filed final order.

On March 25th 2014 a draft order was placed on the docket referring to a Special Action mandated by the Arizona Appeals Court. On April 02, 2014 Former Pinal County Clerk of Court Chad Roche stated, “Once the final order is completed and signed the draft will be deleted and replaced with the actual order.”

On July 21, 2014 Jeffrey P. Handler, Clerk of the Court of Appeals Division Two stated: “…this court’s mandate issued March 10, 2014, and constituted the final order as far as the special action which arose from your case. I assume that since only the special action was decided, the “final order” in the case must await further proceedings in the trial court…”

There have been no further proceedings in the trial court. Roche’s correspondence was copied to Stanford.

The lawsuit claims Stanford and Hurley illegally interfered in an ongoing judicial proceeding by summarily deciding a loser in the civil case; without a court order, and declared the case was ‘over’; that there would be no further proceedings and no further orders. “They did so while blatantly abusing the rules and restrictions of their office and positions and breaking the law by interfering in a judicial proceeding, while totally ignoring the statements of Roche about the case and possibly for other reasons,” said Hempfling.

According to the lawsuit the Superior Court Case is in a state of default and claims that the Hempflings cannot legally be the losing parties.

While running for the office Stanford declared, “I believe in ETHICS in GOVERNMENT! Help me spread my message of transparency in government.”

Prior criminal government corruption in the Clerk’s office was reported to the court by the Hempflings and remains unresolved four years after a criminal investigation and prosecution should have commenced. the civil case is apparently held up because of those allegations. No one has been brought to justice.

The lawsuit alleges that the misuse of the power of the Clerk of the Court has caused the Hempflings to have federally protected rights violated (42 U.S.C. 1983) and prohibitions of personal reprisal violated against them in an illegal use of official power and authority, under the color of state law. “We have had enough,” said Hempfling. “Corruption of this nature cannot be tolerated in any elected office.”

The law suit demands a minor monetary award and equitable relief.

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Apache Junction Loses Fifth School Override Vote In 8 Years

Nov. 4, 2015

The Apache Junction district expects to save $150,000 on food service, transportation and utilities by moving to the four-day week. (Photo by Alexandra Olgin – KJZZ)

Apache Junction Unified School district is one of a handful of districts that appear to be losing override and bond elections. To cope with previous budget cuts, the district had moved to a four-day school week this year.

This is the fifth spending increase Apache Junction residents have rejected in the past eight years, so this didn’t come as much of a surprise to Superintendent Chad Wilson.

“The money hurts,” he said. “But the punch in the gut that the majority of the community does not seem to support us or education is way more problematic.”

The override would have provided the district with $3.5 million to help reduce class sizes, raise teacher pay and lower the cost of pay-to-play sports.

A group of parents, teachers and other residents had canvassed and called voters for months in support of this override. One of the reasons for the push was because the spending increase would have allowed the district to consider returning to the five-day week schedule. Mesa Public Schools, the biggest district in the state, neighbors Apache Junction to the east.

“Our neighboring districts have more financial resources to run their business than we have,” Wilson said. “I believe the failure of the override makes it that much more problematic for us to move forward competitively.”

Wilson expected this 4,500-student district to lose several hundred students this year, partially because of the four-day week and elementary school closure