Two of Oro Valley’s recently elected councilmembers, Rhonda Pina and Bill Rodman, took a trip to Mesa last month to participate in the League of Arizona Cities and Towns training program for newly elected officials. The two day course, which has run for nearly two decades, offers newly elected members of local governments the opportunity to better understand the structure of municipal government and the factors involved in their legislative positions.
The League of Arizona Cities and Towns is an organization comprised of voluntary members and represents the interests of cities and towns before the state legislature, among other services.
The conference consisted of large seminars on a variety of topics like the council-manager form of government, budgetary processes, aspects of leadership as a governing official, public service ethics and more. All members of town’s council have attended the conference in the past, with the exception of councilmember Steve Solomon. Oro Valley provides its own orientation for newly elected officials, which all seven members of council have attended and completed.
Though they reviewed and discussed information on several subjects, Rodman said that he and Pina both went into the experience with what they believed to be a strong understanding of what is required in terms both understanding and disposition to be a member of council, and were reinforced in their beliefs as a result of the trip.
“I think that we went into the experience with the right notion,” Rodman said. “We thought we kind of knew what we were supposed to do so it was never like, ‘Oh my god, really?’ But over that time period I got the feeling that I did learn something, that I got a different perspective. … as it went on I would keep saying, ‘Oh, this is good.’ It wasn’t rocket science but it helped with my perspective.”
According to Pina, the experience expands the base of knowledge from which an official can consider and make decisions, and by taking it from the onset of an elected term that knowledge can be vital in avoiding any issues down the road.
“What I took away was the idea of what things not to do, and what those things could lead to,” Pina said. “When you don’t follow some protocol, you may allow yourself to get into a situation in which it may not be exactly what you want. The pitfalls to avoid and really why you should, and they are pretty magnanimous with some of them if you don’t follow some procedures – there can be some serious fallout.”
While both Pina and Rodman said that going over information like budgetary functions and governmental mechanisms is always an important refresher for any elected official, both said one of the more interesting takeaways from the experience was the perspective gained from speaking with officials from other municipalities.
The interests, circumstances and priorities of a small community like Jerome vary greatly from those of Oro Valley, and meeting with officials from across the state allowed both Pina and Rodman to reflect on the town’s current financial strength while some communities in the state struggle to maintain building integrity and provide services to residents.
“It gave me an interesting perspective of our state, it really did,” Rodman said. “It was a big room full of folks, all of whom were newly onto a town council. The questions or the situations they described, why they were serving - It told me how lucky we are in Oro Valley, in many respects. Forget about the town politics, if you will. Just how lucky we are to have the flexibility to do the things that we ultimately decide are the right thing – for the most part. We’re not in 2008 right now, but you still got that feeling that there were a lot of towns still without that flexibility.”
Though they both learned from the perspective of others, Pina and Rodman said the conference allowed them to feel confident in their own philosophies of elected representation and how they should conduct themselves.
“I think what you learn, because you’re actually there hearing the way it’s supposed to work, is that council sets policy,” Pina said. “Getting into the weeds of the operational side and guiding the operations – that’s not the role or the job of a councilperson. … What I think it did for me is that it allowed me to realize that if I take away what I am really supposed to be doing within the role of an elected official, I am going to be more efficient and not only be respectful of the people I work with and the staff, but also the constituents.”