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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Northern Arizona’s Heaven Harris (24) powers an attack through the Idaho block Thursday in the Rolle Activity Center.

"Only One You:" Thomas Elementary students create art based on local children's book

In 2006, Linda Kranz, a local children’s book author and illustrator, released her book "Only One You"; in September of this year, students at Flagstaff's Thomas Elementary School created an art installation based on the story.

“Only One You” takes place in the ocean where Adri, a young rock fish, embarks upon a journey of learning on the sea floor. Adri’s parents help him navigate his surroundings by way of their words of wisdom, guiding him through each page of the book. 

Adri’s story is meant for children and adults alike, Kranz said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff author Linda Kranz speaks Friday morning during the unveiling of an art instillation by students at Thomas Elementary School based on her children's book “Only One You.”

“The message carries to schools, to kids… I try to have the message in my books be something interesting for parents or grandparents. Something meaningful,” she said.

“If you make a wrong turn, circle back.”

“Look for beauty wherever you are, and keep the memory of it with you.”

“Blend in when you need to, stand out when you have the chance.”

Kranz’s words resonated with Kathy Marron, who teaches art at Thomas Elementary School. In September, Marron began her project of having each student — kindergarten through 5th grade — paint their own rock fish to be placed in a schoolwide art installation based on “Only One You.”

“Kathy does a really nice job in all the art that she does in the school. What she often does is has the kids make individual pieces of art that end up being a collaborative piece,” said Ginny Biggs, principal at Thomas.

The final product was a collection of individually painted rocks placed together in the shape of a river in the courtyard of the school. 

"The whole thing was really a community effort," Biggs said. 

Students began to read the book with their teachers last year under former principle Frank Garcia. The rocks themselves were donated by Landscape Connection; the FUSD maintenance department revitalized the courtyard, fixing the retaining wall, repainting the walls surrounding the courtyard, and trimming shrubs and weeds.

“All this was done so that the rock space can be a learning environment,” Biggs said. “The courtyard has a picnic table around it so classes can do work outside and the rocks are the focal point. The installation is also visible from the hallway that connects our buildings, so you often see our kids with their hands pressed to the glass looking out at their rocks."

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

A river of brightly painted rocks form part of an art installation at Thomas Elementary School based on the children's book by Flagstaff author Linda Kranz “Only One You.”

The community effort extended from the Assistance League of Flagstaff as well.

The nonprofit, comprised mostly of retired nurses and teachers, used funds from their annual Operation School Bell to donate over 330 copies of “Only One You” — one for each Thomas student.

“It’s such a positive book and so good for self-esteem," said Claudia Schroeder, membership chairman for the Assistance League of Flagstaff. 

The nonprofit has a little more than 10 philanthropic programs in town, according to its president, Gaye Knight — many of them focusing on the needs of FUSD and its students. 

For example, according to Knight, last year the program helped to provide coats and clothing to approximately 1,400 kids within the school district.

The Assistance League, Kranz and other community members were each invited to the opening of the art installation, which took place last Friday. 

“It’s really colorful, it looks like a beautiful, colorful puzzle,” Kranz said. “They did a wonderful job.”

Kranz has lived in Flagstaff for 35 years, where she has written each of her 15 children's books and journals.

The last line of "Only One You" reads: 

“There’s only one you in this great big world, make it a better place.”

"The book really has an inspirational message for students, reminding them of their unique qualities and how they even, as unique individuals, fit into the greater whole," Biggs said. "The kids really connected with it."

California town's wildfire evacuation plan raises questions

MAGALIA, Calif. — Ten years ago, as two wildfires advanced on Paradise, residents jumped into their vehicles to flee and got stuck in gridlock. That led authorities to devise a staggered evacuation plan — one that they used when fire came again last week.

But Paradise's carefully laid plans quickly devolved into a panicked exodus on Nov. 8. Some survivors said that by the time they got warnings, the flames were already extremely close, and they barely escaped with their lives. Others said they received no warnings at all.

Now, with at least 63 people dead and more than 630 unaccounted for in the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century, authorities are facing questions of whether they took the right approach.

It's also a lesson for other communities across the West that could be threatened as climate change and overgrown forests contribute to longer, more destructive fire seasons.

Reeny Victoria Breevaart, who lives in Magalia, a forested community of 11,000 people north of Paradise, said she couldn't receive warnings because cellphones weren't working. She also lost electrical power.

Just over an hour after the first evacuation order was issued at 8 a.m., she said, neighbors came to her door to say: "You have to get out of here."

Shari Bernacett, who with her husband managed a mobile home park in Paradise where they also lived, received a text ordering an evacuation. "Within minutes the flames were on top of us," she said.

Bernacett packed two duffel bags while her husband and another neighbor knocked on doors, yelling for people to get out. The couple grabbed their dog and drove through 12-foot flames to escape.

In the aftermath of the disaster, survivors said authorities need to devise a plan to reach residents who can't get a cellphone signal in the hilly terrain or don't have cellphones at all.

In his defense, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said evacuation orders were issued through 5,227 emails, 25,643 phone calls and 5,445 texts, in addition to social media and the use of loudspeakers. As cellphone service went down, authorities went into neighborhoods with bullhorns to tell people to leave, and that saved some lives.

Honea said he was too busy with the emergency and the recovery of human remains to analyze how the evacuation went. But he said it was a big, chaotic, fast-moving situation, and there weren't enough law enforcement officers to go out and warn everyone.

"The fact that we have thousands and thousands of people in shelters would clearly indicate that we were able to notify a significant number of people," the sheriff said.

Meanwhile, a utility facing severe financial pressure amid speculation its equipment may have sparked a deadly Northern California wildfire asked U.S. energy regulators last month for permission to raise its customers' monthly bills to harden its system against wildfires and deliver a sizable increase in profits to shareholders.

In an October filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. laid out a variety of dangers confronting its transmission lines running through Northern California, saying its system faced a higher risk of wildfires than any other utility.

"The implications of PG&E's exposure to potential liabilities associated with wildfires are dramatically magnified," the filing said.

On Thursday, firefighters reported progress in battling the nearly 220-square-mile blaze that displaced 52,000 people and destroyed more than 9,500 homes. It was 40 percent contained, fire officials said.

President Donald Trump plans to travel to California on Saturday to visit victims of the wildfires burning at both ends of the state.

The Paradise fire once again underscored shortcomings in warning systems.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in September requiring the development of statewide guidelines for Amber Alert-like warnings.

In 2008, the pair of wildfires that menaced Paradise destroyed 130 homes. No one was seriously hurt, but the chaos highlighted the need for a plan.

Paradise sits on a ridge between two higher hills, with only one main exit out of town. The best solution seemed to be to order evacuations in phases, so people didn't get trapped.

"Gridlock is always the biggest concern," said William Stewart, a forestry professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Authorities developed an evacuation plan that split the town of 27,000 into zones and called for a staggered exodus. Paradise even conducted a mock evacuation during a morning commute, turning the main thoroughfare into a one-way street out of town.

Last week, when a wind-whipped fire bore down on the town, the sheriff's department attempted an orderly, phased evacuation, instead of blasting a cellphone alert over an entire area.

Phil John, chairman of the Paradise Ridge Fire Safe Council, defended the evacuation plan he helped develop. John said that the wildfire this time was exceptionally fast-moving and hot, and that no plan was going to work perfectly.

At the other end of the state, meanwhile, crews continued to gain ground against a blaze of more than 153 square miles that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and other Southern California communities. At least three deaths were reported.

Salas clinches Flagstaff council seat as Coconino finishes vote counting

Regina Salas

After more than a week of counting votes, the final Flagstaff City Council seat up for grabs from the Nov. 6 election has been filled.

Council candidate Regina Salas, who ended election night 12 votes behind her opponent Paul Deasy, made steady gains throughout the week as the county elections office worked through the 10,000 early and provisional ballots that were remaining.

But Salas said even just after election night, although she was nervous, she was always optimistic for how results might change as more votes were counted.

“I’ve done my part -- now it’s all up to the county recorder’s office just to count all the votes,” Salas said, describing her feelings on election night. Salas added she was checking the county recorder's website two to three times a day.

And in the end, Salas' lead eventually grew to 185. Salas won with 18.15 percent of the vote while Deasy had 17.85 percent.

Paul Deasy

By Nov. 13, with Salas up about 92 votes, Deasy conceded the race and on a Facebook post congratulated Salas on her victory as well as Austin Aslan and Adam Shimoni, who also won seats on council.

“We may have fundamental differences in opinion on policy issues, but I know they want the best for Flagstaff,” Deasy said. “Thank you so much to everyone for your support. I am grateful for the opportunity to run for council, and have learned much through this process. I look forward to serving our community in different capacities and remaining involved in local politics.”

Deasy said although he was disappointed at how the votes turned out, he would still have done it all over again, and that the race had been a great learning and bonding experience for himself and his family.

For her part, Salas said she looks forward to getting to work on the council and is working hard to get ready for the new position.

This outcome is similar to the council race in 2016, when councilmember Charlie Odegaard came from behind to beat Shimoni for his seat on council by only 59 votes.

This election, however, Shimoni won a seat on council with 21.12 percent of the vote (12,820 votes) followed by Aslan with 18.82 percent (11,426). The three newly-elected members will take the places of Celia Barotz, Scott Overton and Eva Putzova, who all declined to run for reelection.

The councilmembers-elect have now been preparing themselves for the job of getting better acquainted with issues and meeting with city staff, university officials and business leaders.

Shimoni said at the top of his list of issues to address once the new councilmembers are sworn in on Dec. 18 are affordable housing and helping nonprofits now that Proposition 418 failed to pass.

“I really think we can work well together,” Shimoni said, referring not to just Aslan and Salas, but the remaining incumbent councilmembers as well.

Moncher's perjury conviction could endanger past convictions

When you stir hot coals, you can sometimes find a flame.

Multiple attorneys are now watching for the signs of heat after the Carli Moncher case. They watched not because her theft charge of more than $8,000 but because she was convicted of perjury while working across the state to help convict suspected criminals. Moncher, a former Flagstaff Police Department officer, testified as an expert witness in many cases.

Because of this perjury conviction, the defendants in cases where Moncher testified, who may be serving time in a prison cell, can now file for what is called post-conviction relief. Post-conviction relief could give imprisoned criminals the opportunity for a new trial, explained Roberta McVickers, a public defender with the Coconino County Attorney’s Office.

“We have to notify our clients of (Moncher's) conviction and let them know that they may want to consider a petition for review, post-conviction relief,” McVickers said.

It is not clear how many previous convictions Moncher's perjury could affect.

In post-conviction relief, the sentenced defendant and their attorney must prove that an error was made in their original trial, and that the error harmed the court's ability to properly determine guilt or the severity of the sentence. In some rare cases, if proven, this could lead to a change in sentencing or their form of detention.

As an expert witness who helped work toward the truth in trials for the Safe Child Center with Northern Arizona Healthcare, Moncher helped interview and testify on behalf of children who were victims in cases of child abuse or sexual crimes across many counties in northern Arizona and in federal courts.

Moncher also testified as a expert in cases involving sex crimes where she was employed to explain to a judge or jury topics that are consequentially important to a case -- for example, when and how sex-crime survivors might develop a gap in the victim's memory.

While it is not clear how many people convicted of various abuse and sexual crimes could receive new trials, a figure from Moncher's own count indicates that there could be a considerable total. Todd Lawson, assistant Arizona Attorney General, referred to a possible number in a document filed into Coconino County Superior Court.

“She had experience with child sex victims (having conducted by her own admission over 2,000 interviews of victims),’” Lawson said.

Moncher’s perjury conviction came from when she testified under oath about from whom she was receiving payment for her employment. She was convicted of theft for allegedly forging documents in order to be paid by both Northern Arizona Healthcare and the individual courts for which she was working, while also receiving travel and expense reimbursements for nonexistent travel and expenses.

McVickers explained that in sexual abuse cases, sometimes testimony can be the only evidence involved in the case. She was concerned about the alleged counts of forgery, which Moncher referred to as "adjusting" in her comments at sentencing.

"If she’s willing to manufacture court orders and subpoenas, what else would she be willing to do to secure convictions?" McVickers said.

The post-conviction relief petitions will have to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. One attorney in Yavapai County has already begun the post-conviction release process. The attorney did not want to be identified for this article.

“I have a client who was convicted and I’m asking based on (Moncher's) testimony, was her testimony credible given the charges that she has for perjury?” the attorney said.

McVickers said this case is a reminder of the importance of these positions.

“It’s similar to when a police officer is found out to have been dishonest in his conduct. It affects every case he’s been involved in. It’s unfortunate, but you have to,” McVickers said. “If the players aren’t going to be honest in the process, how can the process be trusted?”