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One story stands out as the biggest of 2023 in Chandler, and it broke hearts across the country: A Chandler woman with many names was arrested and charged with abusing dozens of special needs dogs.
Still, it was an eventful year. Here is a look back at the top news stories in Chandler in 2023:
Dog abuse charges
Chandler Police found out about possible animal abuse happening in their city because some activists were worried. It all started in June in Mississippi where a shelter found 92 dogs living in horrid conditions, many with chains around their necks.
Activists had only a few days to find new homes for the dogs after they received some treatment because most could not handle that many.
Special needs dogs are the hardest to place because of the extra care and money they require.
Some of those 92 dogs were sent to Chandler and Special Needs Animal Welfare League, run by Sydney McKinley, also known as April McLaughlin and as April Addison.
When shelters that sent dogs to Chandler later tried to check on their progress, they did not like the answers they were getting. They called police. One local activist, Koko Garcia who runs Handover Rover in Phoenix, took to social media to literally cry for help.
Soon after emails, letters and calls were coming in to elected officials and police begging them to save the dogs. When police executed a search warrant they found 55 dogs living in terrible conditions, many in stacked cages where the urine from above would fall onto the animals below.
The small two-bedroom house had no working toilet, and the floors were covered with feces and urine. Some of the dogs had open wounds that appeared to be infected. In one case, they could see bone.
The dogs that did not have use of all four limbs did not have a wheelchair to help them get around. Instead, they dragged themselves.
Police did not find one bowl with water in it. A number of dogs were kept in the garage, with no air conditioning during the Arizona summer.
McKinley was charged with animal abuse and for abusing her mother, who lived with her. Maricopa County Attorneys sent those back to police because most of the charges were misdemeanors.
Prosecutors wanted felony abuse charges, and eventually police believed they had enough evidence to support that. She was arrested again. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 30.
There was some good news in 2023. The City of Chandler believes it has paid off its debt to the Public Service Personnel Retirement System with a $72 million payment it made in July.
That frees up money that can go to other services. The city will still need to make annual payments to keep the account current, but that is expected to be about $8 million less than what it was paying a few years ago.
Police Chief Sean Duggan announced that he will be retiring with the end of this year. That leaves the city with two top positions to fill. In addition to hiring a new police chief, it must also find a new development services director. Derek Horn retired at the end of June.
Two new Council members were sworn in to start the year. Angel Encinas and Jane Poston will celebrate their first anniversary on Council in early January.
Chandler Unified School District took a major step toward addressing the mental health crisis confronting young people with the opening of the Hope Institute in late August.
It is meant to be a short-term facility that provides immediate help to any teens struggling with thoughts of suicide. The typical treatment plan is about five weeks, then clients are referred to another agency for longer-term care.
CUSD is moving ahead with its reimagining plan. Officials had named nine schools with declining enrollments that they wanted to reimagine.
One of those schools, San Marcos Elementary, was originally planned to close. However, people in the community rose up and eventually persuaded district officials to leave it open.
Superintendent Frank Narducci said if enrollment falls below 300, then the district will have no choice but to close it because it will not be financially sustainable at that level.
A number of parents were unhappy with the district’s decision to switch from Saxon Math to My Math in its Chandler Traditional Academy classrooms.
District officials said they had no choice, because they were told Saxon Math would not be continued and they had to order resources in February. The publisher of Saxon Math relented in August, bringing it back for at least one more year. By then it was too late for CUSD to switch back.
For the first time since it opened, all the students at Hamilton High School have a place to sit in the lunchroom. The state’s largest high school has struggled since its opening with seating.
The expansion of the lunchroom was completed over the summer, and the school’s principal says there is finally enough seating for everyone in the three different lunch periods.
Residents in South Chandler rose up to stop a plan to build affordable housing in their community. Dominium Apartments wanted to build more than 500 units for family living and senior living.
However, the developer pulled back after over 100 people showed up at a Council meeting, and 150 showed up at a neighborhood meeting to oppose the project.
Dominium has retooled the proposal for the land, which it bought, to just senior living with some light industrial buildings.
There were a couple of high-profile openings in the Chandler area. Scheels opened at the end of September at Chandler Fashion Center. The massive store is expected to be a boost to the city and the mall as people drive from far away to experience it.
The Santan Mountain Casino also opened during the summer. It is just across Hunt Highway on Gila River Indian Community land.
One of the last major pieces of available land in downtown was sold and a project approved. One Chandler is planned to be a mix of retail, office space and residential at the corner of Arizona Avenue and Chandler Boulevard.
However, the Jack in the Box on that block is not going anywhere. That company refused to sell, so One Chandler will be built around it.
It was a championship year for some Chandler Unified high school teams. The Hamilton golf team won the Division I title this fall and Hamilton Baseball won the 6A title in the spring while Casteel won the 5A championship.
Perry fielded two titles as well, as Perry boys basketball won the first ever Open Division basketball championship and Perry boys soccer won the 6A championship.
Basha won the 6A softball championship last spring.