July 19, 2006 - Last week during a heated discussion between the town of Marana's top dogs, two summer interns sat silent at the end of the table.
Eric Hockins and Josh Wright found themselves in the company of five of Marana's highest-ranking officials, hashing out ways to curb employees' personal use of taxpayer-funded cell phones and computers.
IT Director Tony Casella thought a cluster of computers reserved for personal use would solve the problem. Others disagreed, and things got heated.
Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat, Deputy Town Manager Gilbert Davidson and Assistant Town Manager Jim DeGrood all spoke their piece.
"I don't see it working," Davidson said, shaking his head.
Hockins spoke up.
"When I was up in Glendale, they had computers that people could come in and apply for a job right there."
"That's not what we're talking about," Reuwsaat said, waving his hand.
"That's something completely different," Casella added.
Hockins kept quiet the rest of the meeting. He shrugged off the direct rebuff of his comment later in the elevator.
"Ebb and flow, you come and you go," he said. "I mean, where else can an intern sit in on a meeting like that?"
Since May, Hockins and Wright have done little of the busy work associated with internships. Hockins remembered his first executive meeting at town hall. Reuwsaat looked at him and asked, "You ready to work?"
The interns have worked together and individually on projects ranging from road work to gathering elusive demographic data. Wright even swung an ax for the public works department, busting concrete so crews could replace a deteriorating road.
"That was something I've never done," Wright said. "And it helps create a relationship between the town managers and the maintenance guys, the laborers."
Both interns attended the University of Arizona, where Wright next year will get his master's degree in public administration. Hockins got his master's in May, when the town hired the interns. They earn $11 an hour and get paid for a maximum of 40 hours per week, though both regularly work about 50.
Hockins met the town's seven council members in May, during a discussion of the recently-approved $128 million budget for fiscal 2007. In that meeting, Reuwsaat hinted that the town might provide Hockins with a position at the end of his internship.
"There's no need right now," the town manager said last week.
So Hockins has applied to several jobs, including with the federal government. He has a job offer from the Office of Personnel Management in the investigative services division.
"It's wait and see," he said in the lobby of Marana's Chamber of Commerce office.
Hockins last week met with Adecco's Tucson Branch Manager Gloria Rich and chamber Director Ed Stolmaker to discuss Adecco's possible move to Marana.
At a time when the entire region looks to enhance economic development opportunities, Marana has turned to Hockins to put together a "community profile" for the town. He will complete a rough draft in five weeks, he said.
"What kind of people live in Marana? We can't answer that," Reuwsaat said. "So we're focusing Eric back in on that."
Outdated and inaccurate numbers from the U.S. Census and other sources need updating, the interns discovered.
Hockins and Wright drove around Dove Mountain, knocking on doors for one of their first assignments. The census stated that the Dove Mountain area employed more than 1,200 people. Town management, of course, thought that number off the mark.
"Go out and see," Reuwsaat instructed the interns.
"We went to the Gallery (Golf Club) and Heritage Highlands (Golf and Country Club)," Hockins recalled. "It was more like 200 jobs."
The duo last week pumped out about 50 graphs, updating demographics for the area.
In Stolmaker's office last week, Rich thanked Hockins for defining Marana's economic landscape and pinpointing potential office locations for Adecco, one of the nation's largest human resources companies.
"Marana's growing so fast, we need to have something that's accurate," Stolmaker explained.
"And something that we can update every six months or year," Hockins added. "A database we can just plug the numbers in."
Despite their successes, the interns still have "those kinds of days," Hockins said.
On the way to the chamber, Hockins missed his turn and a five-minute drive wound up taking 15. This happened after he sat in the town parking lot fiddling with the steering column on a town-owned Toyota Camry, trying to stop the windshield wipers. He inadvertently activated the wipers when he started the car after two failed attempts.
"I'm used to American cars - turn it on and go," Hockins said.
Wright in May got an e-mail from Reuwsaat, requesting the intern find out how Marana residents voted on the recent regional road plan and tax. The message contained several numbers in graph form that seemed to make no sense.
Wright stared at the e-mail for a while and gave up.
"I had to finally just ask him, 'And what do you want me to do again?'"
Mostly, the interns need little guidance. The town's management staff refuses to hover over the upstarts or double-check their work.
"I'd rather not have interns if they need that much attention," Reuwsaat said. "But these are two bright young men. They don't push paper and make copies. And it's not just getting work out of them but helping them make decisions about their career."
Wright has focused his efforts on helping staff streamline the development services processes of obtaining permits and submitting planning applications. Staff has received a number of complaints that Marana takes too long, officials said.
Wright also went on rotations, spending a day or two with each department in the town, from lawyers to cops.
"He's been a great asset," said Davidson, who graduated from the same masters program at the UA. "It's really been an opportunity for him to dig in on town projects and key issues."
Hockins and Wright seem poised to land jobs in local government, if not in Marana. Aided by their attendance at each town council meeting, the interns have mastered the art of glad-handing and show the willingness to take on any project.
Wright even might stay on with the town through his fall semester, working three days a week.