EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of four articles in which Florence’s mayoral candidates respond by email to questions from the Florence Reminder & Blade-Tribune.

FLORENCE — Mayor Tara Walter, 43, an assistant principal with the Florence Unified School District and a 16-year Florence resident, is running for a second term against challengers Kyle A. Larsen and Gary Pranzo.

Larsen, 65, has been retired a little more than six years and has lived in Florence full time for six years. He is Councilwoman Kristen Larsen’s ex-father-in-law. Pranzo, 67, is retired, a part-time woodworker and an 18-year Florence resident. He is also chairman of the Florence Planning and Zoning Commission.

Q: Is the town doing the right things to protect and serve citizens in this pandemic? How can we best ensure our safety now and economic recovery later?

Larsen: The town has followed the guidelines of Governor Ducey and the state. I think that was the proper decision. We must continue to respect the severity of the virus with social distancing and respect the wishes of our fellow residents. Open up business as safely as possible to get the recovery started.

Pranzo: I don’t have the background to really judge the performance of the Town Government. However, it seemed to me that we were doing everything I had heard through the news media. I don’t believe that government could have done much more. My resource for learning about the virus was the Center for Disease Control.

The economic recovery will take time. The major employer in Florence is government. I have not heard of layoffs in the Prisons, Pinal County, or Town Government. In my estimation those businesses that are reliant on public spending will return to normal as people go back to their usual spending habits. There is much more to be said but space does not allow.

Walter: From the beginning of the pandemic, we proactively communicated actions taken keeping our town healthy, while ensuring delivery of critical services. We’re actively engaged in planning processes at the state, county, and local levels. We meet daily monitoring information and recommendations by public health officials, adapting our practices to reflect the latest recommendations and evidence-based best practices. Regarding our economy, we’ve maintained communication with business owners, collaborating with the chamber, providing information and assistance in securing funds. We waived rent for businesses in town-owned facilities for two months and reduced rents during summer months. Lastly, I participated with other elected officials advocating to the Governor’s Office for us to receive the $3.1M CARES funding. We’re planning and preparing to disburse, to have optimal impact towards community preparedness and recovery.

Q: As mayor, how do your duties and responsibilities differ from those of the rest of the council? What will be your priorities as mayor?

Larsen: The Mayor needs to be a leader, but I will collaborate with the council and consider all suggestions and opinions. The mayor needs to be a positive image and influence, someone to whom the town looks for guidance. I need to be a member of business associations and maintain business relations with economic development directors who can help Florence progress.

Pranzo: The Arizona Revised Statute 9-236 defines the Mayor as the chief executive officer (CEO) of the town. The chief executive officer has overall responsibility for creating, planning, implementing, and integrating the strategic direction of an organization. This includes responsibility for all components and departments. To use a business analogy, the members of the council are in essence the board of directors.

My priorities as Mayor will include but are not limited to improving the material condition of those neighborhoods south of the Gila River. I will end the adversarial relationship with Florence Copper and implement a policy of risk management. I will challenge our engineering department to provide a scoping level study on the feasibility of bringing Anthem onto the Florence municipal water system.

Walter: The mayor presides at council meetings, serves as a spokesperson for the community, facilitates communication and understanding between elected and appointed officials, assists the council in setting goals and advocating policy decisions, and serves as a promoter and defender of the community. In addition, the mayor serves as a key representative in intergovernmental relations. The mayor, council, and manager constitute a policy-development and management team. I see the Town of Florence as the next economic growth area of Pinal County, with a focus on current projects and developments and future services to enhance those development areas. The focus of every council that I have served on is growing the town responsibly and providing for high level service and protection to our citizens.

Q: How can the town best protect itself if the state follows through on plans to close Arizona State Prison-Florence Complex?

Larsen: Diversify. When one revenue stream is down, it can be picked up by another. Partner with current industries, seek new suppliers that serve local manufacturers, continued growth in housing/new developments and get the Main Street businesses thriving.

Pranzo: Closing the State Prison strongly indicates the need for diversified employment. Our employment is government heavy. I don’t know what the impact will be in terms of loss tax revenue and unemployment for those that work at the Prison.

We are currently engaged in updating our General Plan which is required every 10 years. We are allowed to amend the General Plan once a year. I believe the time has come to give serious consideration to developing a light industrial park as a part of updating the General Plan and diversifying employment.

Walter: The Town is already preparing for the economic impact if the state follows through on plans to close Arizona State Prison-Florence Complex. Through discussions that have already happened, there are plans for the state to partner with the Town to expand services to already existing facilities. The newly focused AZ Department of Corrections is intent upon adding innovative services focusing on rehabilitation and entrance back to society.

These programs and plans will add direct growth and increase services to the Town, providing financial stability. The Town is confident that though there may be an immediate hardship, these new opportunities will prove to be of higher economic value than the current system the way it stands.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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