Oro Valley hires new town manager

The Oro Valley town council unanimously hired Mary Jacobs, fourth from the right, after a nationwide search.

Logan Burtch-Buus, Tucson Local Media

The Oro Valley Town Council hired a new town manager Tuesday, May 30.

Mary Jacobs, who is now working as an assistant city manager in Sierra Vista, will start her new job Sept. 5. 

The decision to hire Jacobs, which received unanimous support from council, comes nearly one year after former town manager Greg Caton returned to his native Colorado. Since last June Oro Valley Police Department Chief of Police Daniel Sharp has served as interim town manager. 

Jacobs has worked as Sierra Vista’s first assistant city manager for nearly two decades. Jacobs said she did not apply for the position during its initial search primarily because her daughter was still in high school. The town opened the position to a second search with CPS-HR Consulting and, with her daughter heading off to college in Chicago, Jacobs said she knew the time was right for a change.

“Tucson has always been my home,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Sierra Vista and it will always have a special place in my heart. Now I’m back in the Tucson metro area and I have a lot of knowledge about Arizona, the Tucson economy and connections within the state because of my long tenure. I just felt that it would be a good fit, and that I could really bring a lot to the town of Oro Valley.”

Jacobs graduated from Sahuaro High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Arizona. Beginning her professional journey in 1989 in Maricopa County, Jacobs then left Arizona to work as assistant town manager of Barnstable, Massachusetts, for six years before later returning to The Grand Canyon State. As Sierra Vista’s assistant city manager for 17 years, Jacobs has been the chief operating officer overseeing a wide array of municipal functions, from the library to fleet maintenance and marketing. In terms of population, Oro Valley and Sierra Vista are near matches, according the United States Census Bureau 2016 estimates, which list the former at 43,781 and the latter at 43,208 residents, respectively.

Career advancement was not the only factor in Jacobs’ decision to move to Oro Valley, she said the town leaves a “lovely impression” she couldn’t resist.

“You just drive around Oro Valley, and you see the values of the community—the parks, the view-sheds that continue to be open and the multi-use paths that are around, the presence of police,” she said. “You can sense that those values are within the town’s organization as well. That is really exciting because it means as a leader, you have something to work with.”

Though she will be the town’s new manager, Jacobs said she has no intentions of implementing any major operational changes within the town. She plans to focus on meeting her future coworkers, town residents and other constituents in her first few months on the job. Once the scene is set, Jacobs said her greatest strength is strategic planning, and she will work with individual departments to better understand its needs, accomplishments and goals moving forward.

“While the foundation is really set here in Oro Valley, what I can do is get all of the players together and facilitate collaboration that will make that vision happen,” she said.

Jacob’s gregarious disposition and team-effort mentality are two of several characteristics Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath mentioned as factors in the council’s decision to hire her as the next town manager. Though she has worked as an assistant city manager, Hiremath said Jacobs’ extensive work history and diversified portfolio proved she was more than capable for the job.

Regarding the town’s extended job search to fill the position, Hiremath said the town could afford to take the necessary time to find the right applicant. Additionally, Hiremath said that the post-election political environment has been more palatable than last year, and pointed the finger at the council as the cause for change.

“After the election a lot of the negativity died down, and so I think that a lot of people reapplied or applied originally the second time because there was no more negativity,” Hiremath said. “When you have a division on council, what manager in their right mind wants to leave where they are to come into an environment where there is a split council?”

A significant factor in recent political memory has been the acquisition and operations of the Oro Valley Community and Recreation Center, a move which Jacobs said was the “right decision” for the town.

“To get the land and a facility for that kind of value while being able to achieve that long-term vision of having a community center, I think it was a wise move,” she said. “If I had been here at the time I would have advised them to accept the property. … I think that after several years of operation, plus with the investment in updating it and some of the other plans on the way, what will happen is that there will be a sweet spot in terms of what will be the appropriate policy—or what is appropriate for taxpayers to subsidize—and what is appropriate for the people that are the users to pay their fair share.”

Though Jacobs spoke her mind on the community center, she said she would focus on the town as a whole by working to improve quality of life and the economic environment as well as shape both long and short-term visions for Oro Valley.

Sharp said he plans on helping Jacobs transition into the job, just as Caton did for him. Though his transition back into a uniform full time is still a few weeks away, Sharp said he viewed the coming changes optimistically.

“I feel as though we are going to leave the town in good hands,” he said. “I think that [Jacobs] is going to make a great fit and I leave being very grateful for all of the hard work of the other department heads, who were so supportive of me.”

Jacobs’ contract agreement is for a two-year term, automatically renewing on its anniversary, unless notice is given. She will begin at a salary of $160,000, with increases at the discretion of mayor and council. 

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