governor outlines priorities for Gila River
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 27, 2006 12:00 AM
RIVER RESERVATION - William Rhodes, the new governor of the Gila River Indian
Community, on Thursday called for a smaller tribal government and the need to
fix an unspecified "crisis" in the community.
He said his priorities are to improve the community's schools and reduce the
high school dropout rate, create a Council of Elders to help elderly people and
enable Gila River residents to be screened for health problems.
He also called for more economic development to take advantage of the
community's proximity to the Phoenix area.
Without elaborating on the crisis, he said:
"Our challenge is to end the crisis without decimating vital community
services, and by next month I will release the details of my plan to do
He also called for a government "that is smaller, lives within its means
and does more with less."
Chief of staff Greg Mendoza declined comment on the crisis.
Before he left office, former Gila River Gov. Richard Narcia, said the tribal
government employment in the past decade had grown from about 500 employees in
17 departments to about 1,390 employees in 83 departments. The Gila community
has about 13,000 residents.
Rhodes did not address non-reservation issues, such as the proposed South
Mountain Freeway that many Ahwatukee Foothills residents would like to see on
the Gila River Reservation.
About 1,400 people attended the two-hour inauguration ceremony, including
representatives of most of the Native American communities in the state, U.S.
Rep. Ed Pastor, Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker and Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman.
Messages of congratulations were broadcast from the White House and Arizona Gov.
Rhodes, 73, the father of 10 children, was born in Phoenix and served in the
Navy. He is a Korean War veteran.
Rhodes worked for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and served as Gila River
lieutenant governor and on the Community Council. He has been chief judge for
the Gila community since 1999.
Children from St. Peters Indian Mission School on the reservation guided Rhodes
and other new leaders in a procession into the ballroom at the Sheraton Wild
Horse Pass Resort.
"We expected 50 (students) to volunteer and 150 volunteered," said
Sister Martha, the principal.
Pastor Fernald Gonzales, 65, a longtime friend, said: "We are all for him.
He will be a real good leader because of the experience he had before."
The celebration continued Thursday night with dinner, dancing and fireworks.