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Taylor Mahoney Arizona Daily Sun 

Coaches watch as the Coconino High School baseball team practices plays Tuesday afternoon.

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Snow Day! Winter finally arrives in Flagstaff, to students' delight

Flagstaff's first official Snow Day for schoolchildren this winter unleashed an avalanche of snowplay across the region Wednesday.

But it's not likely to last. By late afternoon, the sun had melted most snow from streets, and some sledding hills and skiing tracks in town were showing bare earth. And today will be even warmer, while the high on Friday will reach 48 degrees in Flagstaff.

The official snowfall measurement at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport shows Tuesday night's storm brought a total of 8.5 inches, exceeding forecasts by several inches.

In addition to the school closures throughout the region, the storm prompted Coconino County and the city of Flagstaff to delay the opening of offices by two hours.

The latest storm put Flagstaff above normal for February snowfall. The area has seen nearly 23 inches of snow this month, while the average is 20.9 inches. The area is still at less than half of normal in terms of snowfall to date though.

The Arizona Nordic Village will be open for skiing and snowshoeing on Thursday, the first day of March. Flagstaff Snow Park will not be able to reopen due to a tree hazard near one of the tubing runs.

Arizona Snowbowl reported receiving more than a foot of new snow, with most of its runs now open for skiing and snowboarding.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Ben Milios, 7, catches some serious air after hitting a jump while sledding at the end of Lone tree Road Wednesday morning. A winter storm dropped more than six inches of snow on Flagstaff leading to the first Snow Day of the winter for area schools.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Mikaela Germie, 4, gives a hug to the “little brother” snowman she built Wednesday morning. “His name is Lotta and he’s 3,” Mikaela said.

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Gun-wielding driver leads three Flagstaff law enforcement agencies on snowy car chase

A late night/early morning snowy pursuit spanning hundreds of miles that included gunfire at other motorists ended in arrest for one California man after three local law enforcement agencies teamed up.

According to a joint press release, Arizona DPS troopers received a call around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday of two cars, a black or dark grey Audi and a blue Ford Mustang, racing at or over 100 mph on Interstate 40 near Sanders just west of the New Mexico state line. Troopers were able to stop the driver of the blue Ford Mustang without incident. That driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.

At 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, troopers received a report from a truck driver traveling on I-40 that a dark-colored vehicle was swerving in the lanes of traffic near Winslow. The truck driver also reported that someone in the vehicle had fired shots with a handgun at him.

A few hours later at 3:40 a.m., Flagstaff Police received a call from a motorist who was driving on Leupp Road that he and his family had been shot at by a man in black car. The motorist said he was driving into town with his family when a black car in front of them started driving erratically. The driver of the car was applying his brakes for no reason several times and then sped out of sight.

As the family came over a rise in the road, they found the black car stopped in the middle of the road with someone standing outside the car. The person standing outside the car then started shooting at the family’s vehicle.

Coconino County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the location on Leupp Road and located a black Audi traveling south towards Flagstaff. Deputies tried to stop the car, but the driver fled, reaching speeds of up to 35 mph on snowy, ice packed roads in whiteout conditions.

DPS troopers set up a roadblock with spikes at Townsend-Winona Road and I-40. Flagstaff Police officers set up a second set of spikes at Townsend-Winona Road and Cosnino Road. The suspect ran over the spikes set up by Flagstaff PD after turning west onto Townsend-Winona Road. The spikes flattened three of the car’s tires but the driver continued west on Townsend-Winona until he got to the Mountain View Ranchos subdivision. There the driver jumped out of the vehicle and fled into the woods.

Deputies, troopers and police officers tracked the suspect’s footprints in the snow to several cars parked in the driveways of several nearby homes. The suspect was able to find and drive off in a Jeep Wrangler that was parked in one driveway.

Neighbors reported seeing the Jeep driving a few streets away. Officers pursued the Jeep through several residential yards and east onto Townsend-Winona Road. The Jeep eventually became stuck on a pile of rocks after the suspect drove off the road and through a fence. The suspect then surrendered without further incident.

Brian H. Hawes, 33, with addresses out of Los Molinos, Calif., and Geneva, Ohio, was arrested on suspicion of flight from pursuing law enforcement, suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, theft of a motor vehicle and an outstanding warrant for drugs and weapons charges from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Ohio.

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Some supervisors frustrated with county manager severance package

Newly released documents related to the departure of Coconino County Manager Cynthia Seelhammer last month show at least two county supervisors were frustrated with or now regret voting for a severance package that included nearly $99,000 in additional compensation for the departing employee not required in her contract.

In an email that was provided in response to a public records request from the Daily Sun, Supervisor Art Babbott called Seelhammer’s involvement in negotiating her severance payments “manipulative.”

The documents also show that the county wasn’t obligated to provide Seelhammer any severance pay because, according to Supervisor Matt Ryan, chair of the board, she resigned voluntarily, without any request from county supervisors.

But Seelhammer has a different take on her resignation letter. Before she left, Seelhammer wrote an email that she asked be sent out to employees. The email states: “The Board of Supervisors and I mutually agreed that it is time for me to end my employment with Coconino County and step down as County Manager. As all professional government managers know, this is part of the profession. The Board is elected to their office specifically to choose the Manager and set the direction for the County.”

Seelhammer officially resigned Jan. 9, but she and county officials discussed and negotiated her severance agreement before that.

Seelhammer’s employment contract stated she would receive a severance payment equal to four months of her annual salary, only if she resigned following a request, either formal or informal, from a majority of the board to do so. In the event of a voluntary resignation, the employment contract didn’t require severance pay.

After negotiations, though, Seelhammer ended up with six months’ pay —$88,600 — as well as a $10,000 contribution by the county to her deferred compensation plan.

“It comes back to that Cynthia did a really good job,” Ryan said in explaining the board’s decision to provide a compensation package. In an interview on the day of the resignation, Ryan also said Seelhammer needed the severance payments to have enough time to look for another job or professional opportunity.

Then news came out that Seelhammer had been applying for at least one other job as early as November. On Jan. 15, less than a week after Seelhammer had resigned, boardmembers found out via email that she had been named as a finalist for city administrator in Breezy Point, Minnesota, though she didn't end up getting the job. 

In an email to fellow boardmember Liz Archuleta, Babbott wrote: “This would have been great info to have prior to the severance agreement discussion. Shows how manipulative that process was on her part as she was actively looking back in November. Voting for the severance agreement will definitely go into my ‘votes i would do over’ had i know (sic) this.”

A day later, Archuleta responded, writing “my thoughts exactly. That’s why she wanted to tie down the contract on Jan 3rd... to do that before word got out she had already applied for jobs. She knew Breezy Point was going to announce finalists on Jan 4th and that word would have gotten out by the 9th.”

In a subsequent interview with the Daily Sun, Archuleta said her email expressed some frustration and was “unfiltered and honest.”

She said she felt she made the best decision she could with the information she had at the time, and said she didn’t know how she would have voted differently with more details about Seelhammer’s previous job search.

Babbott said his email speaks for itself.

“Had I known that the hardworking county manager had been actively looking for other employment well in advance of her evaluation, I would not have supported the severance package,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “The reality is in order for us to make good decisions on behalf of taxpayers we need to have complete information in order to make the best decisions.”

Ryan said he still feels comfortable with the board’s vote on Seelhammer’s severance package.

The board had begun a yearlong evaluation of Seelhammer’s performance last year that was slated to be completed by February, so it wasn't finished before she left, county spokesman Matt Rudig said.

Previous versions of the severance agreement that were drafted in early January show the county would originally have paid out seven months’ pay or about $103,000 plus nearly $17,000 in contributions to Seelhammer’s deferred compensation plan. Those drafts also included almost $36,000 in payments for accrued vacation time while the final severance package had much less — $8,700 — in accrued vacation payouts.

Seelhammer declined a request to comment further this week. 

"I am honoring the requirements of the severance agreement and will not be speaking about this matter," she wrote in an email. "I loved my time at the County and I miss the talented staff every day. It’s an extraordinary community of extraordinary people."

Other emails that were included in the county's response to a Daily Sun public records request show at least three residents reached out to the supervisors to question or express disapproval with their approval of severance compensation for Seelhammer.

“I would like you to know that I am extremely disappointed in the county board of supervisors approval of a severance package for an employee who quit her job,” Jim Madden wrote. “The $90,000.00 you just gave away belongs to us, not you.”

Taylor Mahoney, Arizona Daily Sun 

Cynthia Seelhammer