The Independent Interview: Dawn Marie Buckland

Dawn Marie Buckland

Paradise Valley Director of Administration & Government Affairs Dawn Marie Buckland is a municipal jack of all trades, but her breadth of knowledge and expertise challenges the notion of a master of none.

Prior to her career as a municipal employee that first started in the Town of Gilbert and has now blossomed at the Town of Paradise Valley, Ms. Buckland was a member of the U.S. Air Force.

There Ms. Buckland coordinated 5th Air Force missions in Japan for three years before transferring to Travis Air Force Base.

“There I managed the Headquarters 15th Air Force’s Status of Resources and Training System (SORTS), ensuring units from west of the Mississippi to the east coast of Africa had personnel, training, and resources, which included 611 aircraft and 30,000 active duty, guard, and reserve troops, to support their wartime missions.

“Through regular contact and periodic staff assistance visits, I was able to ensure these units successfully demonstrate accountability and responsiveness on policy implementation.”

While Ms. Buckland is a proven manager of time and disciplined public servant, she also brings a legitimate passion for customer service to the day-to-day tasks of helping to run a municipality.

Her role, Ms. Buckland contends, is specializing in budgeting, policy and operational analysis, strategic planning, and civic engagement. She has served in operating departments, including engineering, public works, and community services, as well as administration.

“In my role at the Town of Paradise Valley I develop processes and systems, streamline operations, engage with stakeholders, and improve decision-making,” she said of what she strives to achieve.

“I serve nationally on the Government Finance Officers Association Fiscal Resiliency task force and the International City/County Management Association Government Affairs and Policy Committee, advising on legislative policies including trade issues, taxes, unfunded mandates, homeland security, pensions and human services, fiscal policy, and infrastructure.”

The Town of Paradise Valley Independent reached out to Ms. Buckland to better understand what fuels her passion for municipal service and her views on topics of interest to those she serves. This is what she had to say:

•Covering the Town of Paradise Valley over the last few years it is apparent you are a leader within the organization. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at the town?

I have a phenomenal job. It’s different every day. I oversee finance, IT and intergovernmental relations, and am a part of the development team. So I have the opportunity to equally exercise the left and right sides of my brain, often at the same time.

•Why did you choose municipal service as a career?

Because every day matters. In local government, we deliver clean water, treat wastewater, build and maintain streets, proactively maintain public safety, and resolve emergent situations. Every city or town is different; every one. Each community has a vision for itself and its government. We get to be a part of making that happen.

•Can you tell me a little bit about the town’s success this past session at the Arizona Legislature?

First and foremost, it comes from having a tremendous team of public servants. Senator Kate Brophy McGee and Representatives Maria Syms and Kelli Butler demonstrated their commitment time and again to representing the best interests of all those they serve.  They fight for what they believe is right even when others disagree. And each of them is a work horse; they invest unbelievable amounts of time to research and understand the issues, and develop better policy as a result. That is equally true of the Paradise Valley town leadership.

To a person, every councilmember, senior staff member, and dedicated expert invested their time, energy, and expertise in representing the Paradise Valley community. With such collaboration, we were able to support advances in telecommunication while protecting the aesthetic quality of the town’s rights of way, maintain our public safety smart technology, and preserve the town’s revenue sources. We continue to work toward mutually beneficial solutions, working collaboratively on the state budget to provide funding to universities while protecting essential local government services.

•What role do you try to play at the Arizona Legislature?

Our legislators had 1,057 bills to consider this session. These are important and tremendously diverse issues (public safety, mining, health care, finance, education, groundwater, et al.) Often the best solutions are not zero sum games, so I help develop solutions that meet the original interest without creating unintended consequences. Our legislators want to make informed decisions; I try to connect them to information and expertise to help them do so.

•What kind of a financial position does the Town of Paradise Valley find itself in today?

Paradise Valley is in a strong financial position in 2017, but has some real vulnerabilities that we must address. Paradise Valley is a fiscally conservative town, and has always managed its finances well. With ANdAZ and Mountain Shadows resorts recently opening and the Ritz-Carlton underway, Paradise Valley continues to be a haven for the luxury getaway. The sales tax and bed tax generated from these resorts are then invested back into the community. The town has consistently maintained high levels of reserves, a major contributing factor to the town’s AAA — the highest municipal credit rating.

But as Moody’s noted in its bond rating review, the town has also maintained a significant unfunded public safety pension liability.  Together the town is taking on this vulnerability straight on and ultimately saving Paradise Valley taxpayers over $11 million. It has taken tremendous collaboration amongst all stakeholders to make this happen: voters passed statewide pension reform in Prop 124; the LD28 delegation successfully supported Senator Debbie Lesko’s structural pension overhaul in the 2016 session; the town council adopted Resolution 2016-19 committing to pay down the unfunded liability; PV voters passed proposition 499 providing expenditure authority to make those payments; and the town police pension board made up of resident volunteers re-examined disability case processes that lead to pension costs. The town also must take care of its infrastructure, thus a renewed commitment to capital projects in upcoming budgets.

What do you think is the most important thing for local residents to know about the current state of affairs at the Town of Paradise Valley?

Paradise Valley residents have a local government team of staff with a heart for public service and a history of demonstrated success. Each of the members of our all-volunteer council and municipal court brings exceptional experience and skilled problem solving to the table. We are dedicated to excellence, integrity and transparency, and have the courage to work through even the most challenging of issues.

•What are major items coming down the pike residents should be aware of?

It is a remarkable time to be in Paradise Valley. This is a beautiful town with world class resorts. This is a community that is actively engaged in respecting its past and shaping its present and future. That vision continues to take shape in many ways. We are establishing visually significant corridors, coordinating better cellular coverage while preserving the rights-of-way, and aggressively paying down our unfunded pension liability to preserve our long term financial sustainability. Coming down the pike, residents will soon see beautiful street improvements associated with the Ritz-Carlton development.

•What are you most proud of during your time with the Town of Paradise Valley?

I am very proud of the partnerships and relationships we have built. We work together locally, regional, and nationally to protect and preserve the values of this community. I love how effective we are. We identify gaps and needs and tackle them head on.  I believe in continuous improvement while intentionally preserving what is right and good. We do that well here.

North Valley News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 or at tthornton@newszap.com

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