Marana residents are about to launch into seven weeks of brainstorming, at the upcoming fall Marana Citizens’ Forum, to decide on recommendations to better the town.
“The Citizens’ Forum is an active participatory method for the public to engage in town projects,” said Vickie Hathaway, communications manager for the Town of Marana.
Twice a year, Marana holds citizens’ forums where interested residents along with designated representatives from the Marana Unified School District, Northwest Fire District, Marana Health Center and the Marana Chamber of Commerce discuss that forum’s designated topic, including, but not limited to town beautification, safety, education and policy.
Marana resident George Kennedy has attended the forums for three years. A retired Senior Foreign Service officer and federal executive, he moved to Marana in 2005. He serves as chair for the Marana Chamber of Commerce’s economic development, and said the forum is for citizens who, like him, want to be “newsmakers.”
“As opposed to just reading the news and forming an opinion that’s ill informed, why not get involved?” he said. “I hope more and more people become interested in the work of the forum, and see it as an opportunity to become more engaged.”
Prior to each forum, the town council picks three to four topics to present at the forum’s orientation meeting. Forum participants deliberate over the topics and choose one by the end of the second meeting.
The council chose four topics for the upcoming forum: developing a public art program, fostering a healthy community, tourism and the top choice—establishing thematic elements and design guidelines for the Gateway to Marana Main Street.
If the forum chooses Gateway to Marana Main Street, they’ll make recommendations on how the main street should look. The public art option, which was the previous forum’s second choice, would involve coming up with recommendations on a public art policy, look, location and marketing.
The forum, usually 25 to 30 people, receives input from town officials early on about what projects are possible. The topic is decided by a majority vote after everyone who so chooses has a chance to argue their point or express their opinion.
Council members, the mayor and town manager participate in the meetings as much as needed, discussing what resources are available and presenting data. Then, after several months of rigorous deliberation, the forum comes to a consensus on recommendations and presents them to the council.
At the first forum Kennedy attended, he was impressed to see all the town council members there, and realized the work they were doing at the forum serves a larger purpose.
“They do care what we think,” he said, about the council. “That’s what persuaded me that this is the most effective way to get involved in my community.”
The town has been successful in implementing the forum’s recommendations, said Jocelyn Bronson, town representative for the forum. The town has not been able to implement a few of the recommendations yet, and depending on the project and outside factors, implementation time varies.
Bronson said this model works better than having separate committees tackle issues in specific topic areas.
“This gives a greater number of people an opportunity to select one issue that they think is relevant to their community and to the growth and vision of the community,” she said. “This model is really more inclusive. It has a broader scope, and it has something that is probably of more importance to the entire community rather than just a single segment.”
Kennedy said Marana residents who hail from all over the country bring unique perspectives to the forum.
There are two forums a year: a fall forum that runs from September to November and a spring forum that starts in February, takes a summer hiatus and finishes in April. Each forum consists of seven weekly or bi-monthly meetings that generally last an hour to an hour and a half.
“When people get engaged in some of these topics, time passes quickly,” Kennedy said.
Past issues include how to deal with signage for companies affected by the Ina construction, so companies could advertise without creating too much clutter or obstructing views on outlying roads.
Another topic was educating citizens on what crime is prevalent and how they can assist the police force to cut back on these crimes.
Recommendations included putting resource officers in schools to better use by having them talk to students about safety, and creating a “basic level of community awareness” by instructing residents on simple steps like not leaving valuables in a car in open view and calling police upon seeing suspicious activity.
Marana residents interested in joining should go to the orientation on Sept. 21, at 5:30 p.m., at the Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive, in the second-floor Conference Center.
At a time when people are more and more polarized, even at the local level, the forum is a concrete way to influence the community—”what it means to be a citizen,” Kennedy said.
“It’s an opportunity as a single individual to identify common problems and come up with solutions to benefit the greatest good,” he said.