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At 74, Montoya still determined to see unfinished projects through

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Luis Montoya first came to Graham County as a seven-year-old.

Luis Montoya has a pet peeve. He doesn't like leaving anything undone and there are many people in Greenlee County who are appreciative of that fact.

"He has just been a leader in the community and I think he is a good reflection of the Clifton community because they want to do the right things for the right reasons," said Greenlee County Administrator Derek Rapier. "He's charismatic leader who represents his community because he just cares about it."

Montoya, 74, spent the first seven years of his life in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but his family began farming in the York area in 1954. He graduated from Duncan High School and Eastern Arizona College and then headed off to Flagstaff, where he earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Northern Arizona University. He then obtained a master's degree in political science.

He spent eight years teaching government and history at DHS before becoming Clifton High School's principal for two years. He then spent the next 23 years as superintendent of the Clifton Unified School District, which would later close when the student population dwindled to 56.  

After retiring in 2002, Montoya worked on the alfalfa farm he inherited from his father, but remained active in many organizations, including the county election's board and irrigation district. He took a stab at a spot on the Greenlee County Board of Supervisors in 2008, but lost to Richard Lunt. The widower moved back to Clifton in 2009 after remarrying and in 2012, at the urging of several people, Montoya ran for a seat on the Clifton Town Council and won. He became vice mayor in 2016 and mayor in 2017 after Mayor Felix Callicotte became seriously ill. He died in March 2018.

Clifton Town Clerk Espie Castaneda said Montoya and Callicotte worked well together because they each brought different talents to the council. The other council members and staff thought of the two men as mentors and continue to do so with Montoya.

"I was happy when he decided to throw his hat into the ring for the council because I thought he'd be a great asset and he has been," Castaneda said. "He brought in his experience from another government entity and he had experience dealing with legislation, too."

Castaneda also applauded Montoya for being among the first mayors in Arizona to discuss and then implement a mask mandate in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"He was the only one in the beginning to do that," Castaneda said. "He had the guts to stand up and he took heat about it, a lot of heat about it, but we're seeing the benefits with our low numbers."

Rapier also praised Montoya's actions on that front.

"I think he was able to quickly articulate and codify the sentiment of his community regarding masks and they led out right out of the box. They were among the first to do so. Certainly the first in our neck of the woods or in this corner of the state," Rapier said.

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Clifton Vice Mayor Laura Dorrell, who is also the chief nursing officer with Gila Health Resources, said Montoya's move was a politically risky one.

"When we met on council about the mask mandate, he said, 'We need to protect our community. This is an older community and we need to protect them,'" Dorrell said. "Regardless of what anybody said he was willing to make a stand for the greater good. I think he really is a hero, because I think he really did protect us. And he stood up at a time where everybody was kind of afraid to. He lead the way."

Dorrell's connection with Montoya go back much further than her time on the council, however. He was her high school superintendent and helped her write her valedictorian speech when she graduated.

"I've known the mayor for such a long time, and I've known his family there's just not a better group of people," Dorrell said. "And you know where where it comes from. It comes from the heart. It comes from caring about the community. He's so invested in the community and just gives to the community."

Among his proudest accomplishments while on the town council have been the creation of the town's general plan, which was approved by voters in November and obtaining funding for a new wastewater treatment plant. He and three city managers worked diligently on the latter, he said. 

In addition, the Zorrilla Bridge was also given a facelift recently, he said.

Right now the town continues to bring its ordinances up-to-date and work on plans for a splash pad and soccer fields, he said.

"I'm very goal-oriented," Montoya said. "I get obsessed. I don't like to see things left undone."



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