Ryan Stanton, rstanton@ExplorerNews.com
Nov. 16, 2006 - "When you think of Marana, what do you think about?" Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat asked, as he stood before a small classroom filled with about a dozen Marana residents Oct. 4.
"Cotton," one resident replied. "Farming," said another. "Growth," a third finally said after a long pause.
While it might be to the benefit of the first two residents, the Citizen Resource and Education Workshop can help anyone who wants to know more about their local government and how it works, said Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson.
After attending eight weekly class sessions during the past two months, eight residents graduated from Marana's CREW program last week and many of them came away with a new opinion of how their town's various departments operate.
"I'm a hard sell, and I'm very impressed with the program," said Carol Dayton, a 58-year-old Massachusetts native who heard about the free workshop through the newspaper and decided it would be worthwhile to sign up.
Dayton lived in Seattle before moving to Marana four years ago and said CREW sounded like a great opportunity to learn more about the town with which she was still becoming familiar.
"The amount of detail that presenters are willing to share with the public shows that this is not a closed system," she said. "I'm a little surprised. I've not been disappointed."
While the program gives residents a bird's-eye view of local government, it also serves as a benefit to the town, which hopes to tap the talents of individuals in the community. Throughout the classes, Marana officials and department heads spoke of their role in the town, while letting residents know about volunteer opportunities in which they can participate.
"It's really for their interest and to give them more information to become involved in whatever capacity they feel that they've got interest or expertise in," Bronson said. "We've gotten a number of volunteers to come work in the town through the CREW program and through the citizens police academy."
About a dozen residents attended each session, a slight dip from the 20-plus residents who attended the program last year, Bronson said. This year's class was the fourth to go through the program, though Bronson said she wasn't sure why enrollment has declined.
"We have a lot of participation, a lot of people asking questions, and that's really what I think local government should be about - asking questions and finding out what it is we're doing for you," she said.
Coming from a big city, Dayton said she stepped into Marana thinking it was a rural community bound to make mistakes, though she now has a different opinion.
"What I see is more organization and more thoughtfulness looking ahead than I expected," she said. "It's a very interesting thing to be in a community that has an opportunity to create from the ground up and I'm shocked at how well organized everything is."
John Kmiec, another graduate of last week's class, said he moved to northern Marana in 2002 after living in the Detroit area his whole life. Coming from a poverty-stricken city with a continually dwindling population, Kmiec said he sought someplace with a positive future, and the CREW workshop reaffirmed that he made the right choice by choosing Marana.
"It's going to be exciting to watch my children grow up in a community that's growing and actually has a future," he said. "The employees and participants within the community of Marana are obviously thrilled with what they do and with their work, and that shows in their presentations."
Terri Winger, who owns Continental Ranch Insurance, said she moved to Marana from Pennsylvania because of growth, which is vital to keeping her business going. As co-chairwoman of the Marana Chamber of Commerce's legislative and economic development committee, Winger said she decided to take the CREW class partly to get an inside look at what the town is doing to bring jobs to the area.
"I feel that the town is growing with homes and population, but now it really needs to look at the economic growth," she said. "People say 'Build it and they will come,' but I feel they need to bring serious jobs to the area."
Winger asked Mayor Ed Honea at one of the sessions about how Marana plans to get out from under the casting shadow of being a bedroom community. Honea said the town is putting in infrastructure around the airport to create industry jobs there and a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dove Mountain should bring about 200 jobs in the near future, some paying upwards of $70,000.
"We want to bring businesses, but we want to be choosey," he said. "We don't want smoke stacks and we don't want to change the way of life."
Town officials announced at the CREW graduation that they would be recommending Winger for appointment to the Northwest Fire/Rescue District's Emergency Services Commission.
Two Avra Valley residents, Bill and Theresa Huffman, said they decided to take the CREW workshop this year after their daughter took the class and recommended it. Even though they're not town residents, they said Marana is often the center of their activities and they want to know all they can.
"For me, it's seeing the face of the government and actually seeing and speaking to them," said Theresa Huffman. "What's great is knowing where things are, like knowing the upcoming plans for the water, the sewer, the airport, all these buildings going on, and parks. And the new library looks great. In a way, we want Marana to come out and annex our part of the county."
Harry Christman, 83, said he's lived adjacent to Marana for the past 20 years, first in Pinal County and now to the east of Marana. However, like the Huffmans, Marana is often the hub of his regular activities, so the CREW workshop was an education for him.
"For 20-plus years now, my heart has really been associated with Marana as a whole," he said. "And the progress that they made in the last five years is just so tremendous that it made me wonder how they were handling all this administratively, and in a semi-efficient fashion."
Terry Snyder, who recently moved into Continental Reserve after living in California's Silicon Valley, said he entered the CREW program for practical reasons. A retired graphic designer, Snyder is planning to build his long-awaited dream home in Marana, complete with an art studio, and said he wanted to know the ins and outs of the town's building department.
"I knew I wanted to sell some property and buy some property to build a house on, so I knew that would entail permits and dealing with builders and realtors," he said, adding that the sessions gave him a basic knowledge of what he needed to know. "It's nice to know where every function of government is now, and I think I know people I can call now."
John Dailey, who was recently appointed to the town's planning and zoning commission, also graduated from the class last week. He said he's been bringing himself up to speed on the town's operations and felt the CREW workshop was a necessity.
During the program, participants heard from outside groups such as the Marana Arts Council, Marana Chamber of Commerce, Marana Health Center, Marana Correctional Treatment Facility and Marana Unified School District. Sessions began at 4 p.m. at various locations in the town's facilities and lasted an average of two and a half hours.
At one meeting, Reuwsaat informed citizens of Marana's council-manager form of government, in which the mayor and six other council members are popularly elected to set the policies, vision and direction for the town. There's a level of mutual respect that's developed among council members, he said, adding that they make decisions based on the best interests of the community, not along party lines or by where they live.
"I'm very proud to say I think we're the leader in Southern Arizona in just about any area you look at," Reuwsaat told the residents. "I wake up and I can't wait to get to work and I know our council members do, too. That's why they work so many hours. It's a great time to be living, working and participating in the town of Marana."
For more information, or to sign up for the next CREW workshop, call the Town Clerk's Office at 382-1999.