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Nikki Check and Donna Michaels debate in Sedona for Yavapai County District 3 Democratic nomination

The Red Rocks Democrats hosted a candidate forum for the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors District 3 primary election between incumbent Donna Michaels and challenger Nikki Cech on Friday, March 15, at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre.

“July 30th is a big primary election with women running for office,” DORR Chair Ellen Ferreira announced. “If you have any interest at all in being a poll watcher, please contact the DORR office. We would love for you to get involved.”


Michaels' opening statement focused on his lobbying efforts in the Arizona Legislature, including campaigning in support of House Bill 2244, which would ban meat products that did not come from once-living animals from being labeled as meat, and Senate Bill 1221, which would give counties more control over water rights.

“I was one of the first supervisors to sit down with a wonderful, engaged community and bring it through to becoming law,” Michaels said. “I listened to the objectives and priorities that you all brought to me and that I chose, and now my job is to listen, then rally, and then advocate.”

“You hear Donna Michaels bragging about her accomplishments at the legislative level, but that's not the Third District,” Check said. “The truth is, Donna Michaels doesn't have a vote in the Legislature. She has a vote on the County Board of Supervisors, but we want someone who will represent the interests of the Third District first and foremost. So I promise you, I will absolutely be keeping a close eye on what's going on in the Legislature, but I will prioritize my time and attention on the things that come to the podium at the Board of Supervisors level.”

Cech called the Democratic primary a “tight election” and noted that he and Michaels share some campaign themes, including regenerative agriculture.

“With all due respect, the difference between us is our approach to how we do our work,” Cech said. “The difference is [is] “Michaels has taken a top-down approach and has essentially had a one-way conversation with many of my constituents. I probably wouldn't be running for this seat if many of my constituents hadn't told me they were unhappy with the current administration. That's the utmost respect I can give.”

Check added that several constituents had reported having difficulty obtaining an appointment with Michaels and that several meetings had been canceled, something Michaels denied.

At a February meeting of the Verde Valley-Yavapai Democratic Party, Check reached out to local municipal leaders in the area to ask if “something is missing, if the current superintendent has really shown up,” and “not a single person has come up to me and said, ‘We’re really happy.’” [with Michaels]”

“I personally endorse Nikki Check,” Sedona Mayor Scott Jabrow said after the event. [Check] Now that we're being more transparent, we're leaving it that way.”

“What issue are you going to address that your opponent hasn't already?” asked one attendee.

Cech suggested Yavapai County follow Pima County's model and develop a conservation plan that identifies potential conservation easements, wildlife corridors and ways to protect the Verde River.

“We're already doing that,” Michaels responded. “Every two weeks, we have regular mayor-manager meetings. … We have a model that we talked about at the joint meeting yesterday, which is with the Diablo Trust, and they have a great brochure. I'm a member of them and I meet with them regularly. It's important that we work with all of these organizations to make sure conservation is our top priority, and I think that will be reflected in our updated Comprehensive Plan.”

Watch the Red Rocks Democrats' education forum in the player below.

Video courtesy of Red Rocks Democrat

Big Park Community School

Michaels again tried to pin the blame on the Sedona-Oak Creek School District for not moving forward with a proposal for the county to take over the closed Big Park Community School campus.

“I would love it if a school district came to us and said, 'We're ready to sell at this price, let's figure out how to structure it,'” Michaels said. “In fact, we've been meeting with them periodically to keep the collaborative conversation and partnership active, regardless of what you might be reading in the paper. So stay with me, work with me. The future is real.”

Check noted that he was present at the March 5 SCOSD board meeting, where the school board voted to have Superintendent Tom Swanninger explore the option of having voters decide in November whether the district should have the authority to sell the campus to a private third party.

“One of the things that came up a lot at that meeting was, [Michaels] “She had made a proposal to the school board several years ago to let the county use the building, which I think was a great idea,” Check said, “but the way she presented it speaks to her tendency to overstep the bounds of her normal authority. And the way she presented it made it seem as if the county's support was there, when in fact it took several years to get there. And it was a waste of the school board's time. They could have looked for other tenants for the space.”

Reached for comment on Sunday, March 17, SOCSD Board Chairman Randy Hawley said, “I [Check’s] While she said she “agrees with what was said,” she disagreed with her comment that “selling the building may be the best decision at this time, but in 30 years' time there may be more kids needing school assets again.”

Holley noted that West Sedona Schools has a capacity of roughly four times its current number of students, and that an administration building on Brewer Road that is currently leased to the city of Sedona could be used as classroom space in the future.

Michaels met with SOCSD administrators on Tuesday, March 19, to discuss his proposal, but no decision was made at the meeting.

One attendee wanted to know the candidates' stance on the ongoing remediation of copper slag deposits in Cottonwood and how they plan to inform the public about the issue. Michaels responded, “What we need is an outside evaluation to know what the next steps are and should be.”

“This is a topic that hits home for me as I have suffered from heavy metal poisoning myself… Although it has not been confirmed, I believe it came from the domestic well that was in use at the time,” Check said. [in Clarkdale] … But fortunately, my short-term memory returned. That happened right after the election, which is why I didn't run again right away.”

Another attendee asked, “Should the Dells be annexed into Sedona or remain in Yavapai County?”

“It is too early to discuss any commitments at this point, but why not invest in renewable energy? [agriculture] The process?

Michaels responded by reiterating that he is working with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension to look into the issue.

“Regenerative agriculture is[riculture] “That's one of the good possibilities for the area,” Check said, “and I think annexation is also up for discussion. But that process doesn't start at the county level. It depends on whether Sedona is truly interested in annexing land, so I'd like to explore that process first.”

In the Republican primary, Mingus Union High School Superintendent Lori Drake has filed a letter of intent to run for District 3 and will not seek another term on the school committee. Cottonwood resident Steve Gesell withdrew from the Republican primary.

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