Paradise Valley Town Council candidates discuss virtues of municipal leadership

Local voters will go to the polls Tuesday, Aug. 28 to elect a new mayor and three people to Paradise Valley Town Council.

Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, who is running unopposed, is seeking the top spot at the apex of the local governing board while four council candidates are seeking one of three seats.

Paradise Valley Town Council candidates are:

  • Ellen Andeen — a Paradise Valley Police Department volunteer.
  • James Anton — a member of the Planning Commission.
  • Paul Dembow — an elected member of Paradise Valley Town Council seeking re-election.
  • Anna Thomasson — a member of the Board of Adjustment.

According to Town Clerk Duncan Miller, the Town of Paradise Valley does not hold district elections as the mayor is directly elected and the council hopefuls run at-large.

The Town of Paradise Valley Independent reached out to each candidate to begin an eight-part series focused on the issues that matter to local residents. This week’s installment is focused on what qualities these candidates believe are vital in hiring a new town manager.

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke announced his resignation from the municipality just before noon Tuesday, June 12. He is reportedly taking a position with the city of Peoria, as future public works director.

Mr. Burke’s official resignation signifies a 60-day notice, with his last day being Saturday, Aug. 11.

This is what candidates had to say:

Jerry Bien-Willner

Jerry Bien-Willner

•In the council-manager form of government adopted here in Arizona a symbiotic relationship between town manager and sitting council appears imperative. If you are elected, what qualities would you be looking for in the next permanent town manager?

There are many attributes that we should look for in our next town manager: demonstrated relevant experience and success, proven management ability, intelligence, integrity, interest in engaging with and embracing our community and its values, a focus on quality and customer service levels, and a strong work ethic and ability to see things through are high among the attributes that I believe are necessary to excel in the position.

• In your view, what makes a great municipal leader?

We are very fortunate to have many examples of great municipal leaders in our past, present, and, I believe, future. Our elected leaders should always act to represent the members of our community to the best of their abilities. We all want to feel — and deserve to be — proud of our elected leaders.

Characteristics that I believe are key to success are: a desire and ability to work well with others — as a team — for the common good, dedication to and respect for our town and its residents, honesty and integrity, the willingness to listen and learn, and the curiosity and courage to always reach for the best solutions possible — together with the work ethic, ability, and skill to drive toward success, motivate, and dig deeper whenever necessary.

• As an elected leader, would you support a local search or national effort to find the next municipal leader of the Town of Paradise Valley?

We must actively seek out the best candidates possible for the town manager position, and I’m excited to be personally involved in leading those efforts. I support conducting a broad search — which would include the local, regional, and national levels — to ensure that we are able to interview and select from the most qualified and able candidates available, as the council has done in the past. We will also look for professional assistance in conducting this important search, as we have also done in the past.

Ellen Andeen

Ellen Andeen

•In the council-manager form of government adopted here in Arizona a symbiotic relationship between town manager and sitting council appears imperative. If you are elected, what qualities would you be looking for in the next permanent town manager?

Cohesive leadership between the council and town manager is imperative to drive results and add value to the stakeholder, both internal and external.

If elected, I would be looking for a town manager who understands the uniqueness of our town and is passionate about preserving our town character. For a cohesive leadership team to thrive, the qualities of the town manager would need to be someone who shares in the vision of the town, agrees on the mutual adoption of goals to make an impact along with someone who has humility and self-awareness.

I recently read an article from the Center for Creative Leadership where it states there are four categories that government management is challenged, “managing & motivating subordinates, organizational operations & performance, balancing multiple work priorities and talent management.”

It’s a delicate and difficult balance for a town manager to create synergy, motivation and results within the teams served. The question would be how to quantify that value add to internal and external stakeholders.
For the internal stakeholder, the town employee, it would be through positive results on employee satisfaction surveys, low turnover rates, positive efficiency ratios, etc. To the external stakeholder meaning our residents, resorts and broader community, satisfaction and engagement surveys would be one way to discover if the town is driving value. As you can tell I am a firm believer in surveys if administered well, and the sample size is high enough. Then again, I also believe that if we do not hear from our residents, we must be operating efficiently.

I also believe in driving value through social media.

It gives our community another outlet for their voice to be heard but also delivers timely input to the Town and if administered correctly creates great bi-directional feedback. If I were to guess, I’d say we have a lower than average percentage of town residents on social media, however, I believe this is another tool where the town manager could create visibility, results and value, plus it drives an environment of inclusion with our town.

• In your view, what makes a great municipal leader?

For a leader to be effective and bring cohesiveness, the leader must be able to speak the understandings of the “constellations of political logic and community dynamics as well as the administrative mind set.” They must be adept in knowing their audiences as not to lose confidence or credibility in any of those that they serve. The manager must be creative at cultivating relationships internally and externally to drive participation, input and results.

• As an elected leader, would you support a local search or national effort to find the next municipal leader of the Town of Paradise Valley?

I’m a firm believer in promotion from within as that drives value to internal stakeholders. However, if that is not an option, I would be open to a statewide and national search.

James Anton

James Anton

•In the council-manager form of government adopted here in Arizona a symbiotic relationship between town manager and sitting council appears imperative. If you are elected, what qualities would you be looking for in the next permanent town manager?

My furniture manufacturing career has allowed me to work for, and more importantly with, both outstanding and mediocre leaders. Paradise Valley residents will only embrace an outstanding leader that understands the agenda set by the town council and leads our town employees-volunteers towards reaching their goals, the same as we do on the Planning Commission.

• In your view, what makes a great municipal leader?

Honesty, integrity and an understanding of what makes Paradise Valley unique are qualities we must ensure are embraced by any candidate. For an example of a great hire, one needs to look no further than Peter Wingert, our chief of police and the outstanding job he does for our town.

• As an elected leader, would you support a local search or national effort to find the next municipal leader of the Town of Paradise Valley?

Naturally, our search for a new town manager should begin as close to Paradise Valley as possible. Understanding our lifestyle and desire for minimal government interference in our lives is imperative. I have complete confidence in our current town council to initiate this search that will lead us to our new town manager.

Paul Dembow

Paul Dembow

•In the council-manager form of government adopted here in Arizona a symbiotic relationship between town manager and sitting council appears imperative. If you are elected, what qualities would you be looking for in the next permanent town manager?

Being an excellent town manager is at the top of my list. It’s easy to say, not so easy to find. Having a town manager who really understands what our residents want and what makes Paradise Valley a unique town. Having a town manager who takes their skill set from another city without getting to know what makes Paradise Valley unique will be a total failure.

We are exceptional and we need a town manager who understands what our residents want. Working with a council is a given for the position, however understanding that each council member has one vote it is critical that the town manager not play favorites with council members or have an agenda that is not in sync with the council.

• In your view, what makes a great municipal leader?

A great municipal leader does one thing, and one thing only, listens to residents and then acts on that. Keeping government out of the residents lives as much as possible is critical. Nobody wants the government telling them what to do. Limited government is key to great municipal leaders, less government is always best!

• As an elected leader, would you support a local search or national effort to find the next municipal leader of the Town of Paradise Valley?

We need to cast a wide net of similarly situated cities to get the best town manager possible. We have had a history of looking for talent not necessarily local talent.

Anna Thomasson

Anna Thomasson

•In the council-manager form of government adopted here in Arizona a symbiotic relationship between town manager and sitting council appears imperative. If you are elected, what qualities would you be looking for in the next permanent town manager?

An experienced town manager who has managed a town with similar demographics and values as Paradise Valley. The ability to understand or quickly learn our town history and values will be critical. We also need a self-confident leader with the wisdom to understand what it takes to negotiate when necessary, and the courage and skills needed to reach consensus and gather support from all stakeholders.

• In your view, what makes a great municipal leader?

After 30 years consulting to a variety of organizations undergoing leadership changes and human resource challenges, I place great value on those with true leadership skills. Our new town manager will need both leadership skills to work with our elected officials as well as listen, lead, coach and inspire our town staff, while also deploying the management skills needed to tightly manage the budget, continue to ensure our safety, and hold staff accountable for meeting performance goals and enforcement of the General Plan.

• As an elected leader, would you support a local search or national effort to find the next municipal leader of the Town of Paradise Valley?

We deserve a highly qualified town manager, and, as we did during our search, I would support looking nationwide for the best candidate. We know the Town of Paradise Valley has unique characteristics that require an experienced municipal leader. Since the Phoenix metropolitan area is such a desirable place to live and the town is a fiscally disciplined and highly regarded municipality, I am confident we will be able to recruit top talent for this position.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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