Four incumbents and three challengers are running for a place on the Marana Town Council this year. Tucson Local Media caught up with the four incumbents to talk about their time on the council thus far, and find out what they see for the future of the town. Next week, we’ll catch up with the challengers.
Running this year to retain their seat on the council are Herb Kai, Patti Comerford, Jon Post and John Officer.
Kai, 70, has been on the town council since 1993, and held the position of vice mayor for a decade, until 2011.
Kai would like to see the town improve its economic development and job growth. He said Marana needs to be prepared for interested businesses. He wants the town to work on drawing a data center company that brings with it auxiliary jobs in addition to primary ones, and mentioned the vacant Bashas’ at Dove Mountain and Tangerine Road as an ideal location for it.
The Marana Regional Airport is also ideal for attracting larger employers, Kai said. He believes it played a role in Monsanto moving to the area.
“When you hear about these opportunities, you need to chase them as hard as you can,” Kai said. “Keep chasing them, and if we don’t have the infrastructure, we’ll get it.”
Another issue that’s important for him is maintaining adequate water levels for the town. The town has acquired new water sources since its original 56 acre-feet, Kai said, such as the 1,500 acre-feet from the Flowing Wells Irrigation District and 1,800 acre-feet from the Avra Water Co-op, Inc. in Picture Rocks, the latter which Kai assisted allocating. He’s directed town staff to monitor possible future acquisitions in Quartzsite, which may be five years off.
He served on the boards of the Cortaro Marana Irrigation District, the Southern Arizona Water Users Association and the Arizona Department of Water Resources. He says, as a farmer, water is very important to him.
As part of one of the first influential farming families in Marana, Kai’s roots in the town go way back. He was involved in Marana’s incorporation in 1977.
Kai thinks the current makeup of the council should remain, pointing out recent improvements like the new public safety facility, the new and improved parks, the Twin Peaks and Ina Road interchanges and the expansion of the sewer system—adding affluent water to Marana’s water acquisitions.
“I think our current council has done a great job for the Town of Marana,” he said. “We’ve had our differences, but get the job done.”
Comerford, 58, who’s served on the town council since 2001, said the most important focus for the town is maintaining a safe, clean, well-maintained community while being fiscally responsible.
“We have so much going on,” she said. “You don’t want to lose sight of that core principle.”
Comerford is proud of how the town handled the Great Recession. Even then, she said Marana maintained its level of service and didn’t have any layoffs, though council and staff took voluntary pay decreases.
Because of the choices the town made during that time, Comerford said they were in a good position for when the economy bounced back. And recently, the town has been able to take on a number of big road projects and park improvements, in accordance with that level of service Comerford said is so important.
“We’re not perfect, but we strive for that,” she said. “We’re always looking for ways to better ourselves….Recovering from challenges is the key of a strong government.”
Comerford would also like the town to focus on bringing development to its downtown area. The council recently approved two zoning adaptations to attract business.
Comerford has served three terms on council, and served as vice mayor from March 2011 to March 2013. Before that, she was on the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission for six years. She recently told Tucson Local Media that should she win, this will likely be her last term.
Concerning the upcoming election, Commerford had a simple explanation of her views on council’s makeup: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve, and I hope voters allow me to serve another term,” she said.
Comerford voted to appoint fellow council member John Officer to the dais in April because of his ongoing involvement with the town. She said that the three challengers running for council haven’t been involved with the town, and “bringing them up to speed—that’s going to take some time.”
When asked about candidate Jack Neubeck’s past involvement with Marana, she said his work was beneficial 30 years ago, but the town has changed a lot.
Vice Mayor Jon Post, 49, said the town’s most important focus is financial stability, along with smart growth and attracting jobs. He also wants the town to build a new visitor center and chamber building. And after the recent storms, he thinks the town should look at its drainage plan. He said the town needs to support small businesses and continue working on being a place that companies want to bring their business to.
Post owns Post Farms in Marana. He was first appointed to the council in January 2008 to fill the open seat vacated by the resignation of Tim Escobedo. Post was elected vice mayor in June 2013.
Before joining the council, he served on the Marana Planning Commission and was involved with the chamber of commerce by continuing to maintain and improve roads, parks and public services.
Post said one of his achievements on the council was changing how the town decided the budget. Because of his input, staff did more of the planning before bringing it to council. This was during the Great Recession, and his suggestions shifted decisions about some of the necessary but difficult recommendations on budget cuts to town staff before it came to the public setting for approval.
Post echoed Comerford’s sentiment on the town council challengers, saying he’s never seen them before, except Neubeck some years back. He said Officer was an easy appointment because he’d already worked with him when Officer was on the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission.
“One of the things that has made Marana work so well is the makeup of the current council,” Post said. “We don’t always see eye to eye, but because we know each other, there’s a really good working relationship in the council ….[It would be] detrimental to break that up.”
Officer, 57, has been active in Marana for 25 years. He ran for council in 2016, and lost his bid against two incumbents. The council appointed Officer to the council with a 5-1 vote on April 17, to fill the seat left open by the death of Carol McGorray.
Until being appointed to council, he was on the Marana Planning and Zoning Commission. He served on the Parks and Recreation Commission while Marana was establishing its general plan, and before that was active on an early version of the Marana Citizens’ Forum.
Shortly after Officer was appointed, he told Tucson Local Media that his years of town involvement have taught him how to explain to constituents why the town does what it does.
In an interview last week, he said discovering the inner workings of the council are interesting and coincide with and supplement his previous town knowledge. He said he’s gained a better understanding of issues like north Marana not having a grocery store. He said “it’s not the town’s responsibility,” but up to developers, adding that developers aren’t going to come until there are more people.
“Developers want to build in areas, but it just takes time,” he said.
He said the town is very transparent and that he’s trying to figure out the My Marana mobile app, adding he’s better at face-to-face interactions and not “a student of modern technology.”
He said his contribution to the council so far has been “getting along,” and added there were a couple examples of “not not getting along,” when he questioned if things were being done as efficiently as possible. He said his biggest challenge so far has been “communication,” and that he’s working on learning people’s names.
Officer is a lead maintenance specialist for the Central Arizona Project, where he’s worked for 30 years. He’s also owned a weed control business since 1996.
He said he doesn’t really think about what the town’s biggest issue is, and he doesn’t think the town needs any drastic changes. He said because of his career in maintenance, he’s keeping an eye on any road erosion that needs repairs as well as assessing the pavement preservation plan to make sure it’s working.
“I join great organizations in my life, and this is another great organization that I can put my input in,” he said.