By Nick Worth
The Navajo County Board of Supervisors recognized Superior Court Judge Robert Higgins at last Tuesday’s meeting for receiving the Ignation Award from Santa Clara University.
The award, named after Saint Ignatius, is given in recognition of those alumni of the university who distinguish themselves through community work for the poor and disadvantaged, living “the SCU ideals of competence, conscience and compassion, and who have been a credit to the Alumni Association and the University through outstanding achievement in their services to humanity.”
Selection criteria for the award includes that nominees must be an alumnus of the University; service to humanity as a major determinant; individual accomplishment should reflect favorably on the Alumni Association and the University; and that candidates may not be nominated posthumously.
Some well-known alumni of Santa Clara University include former Secretary of Defense and fellow Ignatius Award winner Leon Panetta, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Olympian Brandi Chastain and pro basketball player Steve Nash.
Hunter Moore, Governmental Relations Director for Navajo County showed a video about Higgins, produced by Santa Clara for the awards ceremony. The video told Higgins’ background and spoke about him selflessly serving the poor and helping others.
Following his graduation from Santa Clara, Higgins spent two years with the Jesuit mission in Micronesia. He then returned to complete a Master’s Degree in English at Arizona State University, after which he returned to the Santa Clara campus to earn a law degree.
In 1992 he received a job opportunity that led him to settle with his wife and family in Pinetop-Lakeside as a plaintiff lawyer. During this time, Higgins did a lot of pro bono work.
He soon noticed there were no Catholic schools within 150 miles of Pinetop-Lakeside, so he set out to establish one, a task, which according to Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon, took over 10 years of effort.
Because of Higgins’ efforts, St. Anthony’s Catholic School opened in 2006. The school has grown and currently offers pre-K through seventh grade and will be adding an eighth grade next year. Currently, 22 of 110 students enrolled at St. Anthony’s are from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, a group Higgins has reached out to over his career in the area.
He is currently president of the board of St. Anthony’s and has helped to found the White Mountain Tuition Support Organization to provide tuition assistance to needy students in the area, in hopes that they will benefit from a private Catholic education, as he feels he did.
District V Supervisor Dawnafe Whitesinger told the board her children are attending St. Anthony’s. She said she has seen them grow in many ways while at the school.
“I have a son in the second grade and a son in the fourth grade,” said Whitesinger. “I have seen my fourth grader’s character, his desire to learn, his thoughtfulness grow and that comes from the school. They champion students and encourage them to think for themselves.
“I am very grateful for the service you provide and for reaching out to the White Mountain community and the White Mountain Apache community,” Whitesinger told Higgins.
“I’m not sure the board recognizes how great an honor this is,” Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon explained to the board. “Other Ignatius award winners have been national leaders and now Bob is up there with them.”
Carlyon said he and Higgins were in a law practice together in Pinetop-Lakeside when Higgins decided to start St. Anthony’s School.
“It took him over 10 years to found St. Anthony’s,” said Carlyon. “It showed persistence and the dedication he has toward the children of the White Mountains.”
Higgins said he was surprised to be recognized by the board. “Getting that award was a big surprise to begin with,” he said. “I’m so happy to work with St. Anthony’s. I love those kids and just want to make a difference there. The award is just icing on the cake,” Higgins said. “I appreciate your recognition.”
In other business, the board was presented with a county finance update from Finance Director James Menlove. Menlove told the board the county’s finances are holding steady and is projected to be in the black by about $20,000 at the end of the year on June 30. He said both the state shared sales tax and county sales tax revenues continue to show improvement, with the state revenues up 8 percent.
In other actions the board:
* Approved naming an existing road in the Pinetop/Lakeside area to Evening Sky Drive.
* Approved a letter to the Resources and Development Committee regarding the Restoration of Priority – N71.
* Approved an amendment to an intergovernmental
agreement with the Department of Corrections for correctional officer certification training.
* Authorized a letter regarding comments on the Programmatic Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Land Management Plan.
* Approved of the use of the southwest corner of the Navajo County Governmental Complex for the annual 4th of July fireworks display.
* Approved a quitclaim deed to Christopher J. Fernandes.
* Approved the purchase of Information Technology hardware not to exceed $299,000.
* Approved a contract signed by County Manager Jimmy Jayne for professional services between Navajo County and Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. and a contract for a benefit cost analysis agreement between Navajo County and Benefit Intelligence, Inc.
* Authorized a sympathy letter to the family of the Honorable Evelyne E. Bradley.
* Recognition to Chairman Jonathan Nez for his successful completion of the 2013 Shiprock Marathon & Relay.
* Approved an application for a supervised fireworks display permit submitted by the Heber/Overgaard Chamber of Commerce.
* Approved a settlement agreement in Taylor Park Meadows versus Navajo County. According to Navajo County Assessor Cammy Darris, the 42-unit apartment in Taylor receives tax credits based on the lower income of its residents. Darris told the board the settlement calls for her to decrease the valuation from $1.1 million to $650,000.
* Approved a resolution approving the submission of a joint application on behalf of Navajo County and the Hopi Tribe for funding under the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery Competitive Grant Program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the construction of BIA H-60, linking several Hopi and Navajo Nation communities in the amount of $29 million.
* Approved a memorandum of understanding between the Cornerstone/Basic Faith Ministry and Navajo County for storage of building supplies at the Navajo County Road Yard in Winslow.
* Tabled an intergovernmental agreement between Navajo County and the Town of Taylor for flood mitigation. Supervisor Sylvia Allen noted the item should be dealt with under the Navajo County Flood Control District, rather than Public Works. The item will be put on the agenda for the next Board of Supervisors meeting. Public Works Director and Assistant County Manager Homero Vela told the board there is $50,000 already budgeted for this work and so it can go forward while waiting for the board’s approval.
* Acting as the Navajo County Library District Board of Directors the board approved a memorandum of understanding between Navajo County Library District and Sequoia Village School for the provision of an integrated automated library system.
By Nick Worth