SIERRA VISTA — Following a question-and-answer debate at the Klein Center for the Performing Arts Sept. 22, voters will have their work cut out for them when they cast their ballots Nov. 8 for a new mayor and three city council members who will shape the direction of a growing Sierra Vista for the next four years.
All candidates — four running for city council and three for mayor — fielded questions from moderators Herald/Review Publisher Jennifer Sorenson and Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Melany Edwards-Barton ranging from ways to improve the city, attracting new businesses and solving pressing issues coupled with economic growth.
Their answers in front of a crowd of about 150 did not disappoint.
Mayoral candidates Steve Conroy, Rachel Gray and Clea McCaa spoke with confidence and sureness, with strong awareness of issues and fresh ideas, pointing to a future of Sierra Vista they all seem extremely capable of molding into a cohesive community on the cusp of becoming what all three envision: Making “Sierra Vista the greatest city” in Arizona.
The four city council candidates vying for three seats — Kevin Weston, and incumbents Mark Rodriguez, Carolyn Umphrey and William Benning — were equally spot-on. Impressive in their strong understanding of developing new strategies and initiatives to help lead the city into a new future, they handled the moderators’ questions with poise and assurance, never faltering in their 90-second responses.
“I just don’t want to hold office in Sierra Vista, I want to build Sierra Vista for the next four years,” said McCaa, a 1984 Buena High School graduate. “The possibilities are stretching before us. The role of the mayor is to work collaboratively with businesses to build this community. When it comes to budgeting, I have managed $100 billion in my career. I’ll fight for businesses, I’ll fight for families, and I’ll work everyday to make sure Sierra Vista is the greatest city.”
To attract new businesses and young professionals to the city, McCaa — who said he has personally visited 84 businesses — would aggressively market the city through its website.
“This city has so much to offer, and I want everyone to know this city is easy to work with,” he stressed. “We have excellent educational and medical facilities that are top notch, and the physical beauty here is unmatched. The hospital saved my life two years ago.”
Gray, the city’s mayor pro-tem, said when she first ran for city council she worked tirelessly to streamline the city’s often-maligned bureaucratic red tape for start-up business.
“I will continue to do that to make it easier to open a business in Sierra Vista,” she pledged. “I’m a strong leader. I have a great working relationship with our state, county and federal representatives who are willing to listen and talk with me, and that’s important for our city. As mayor, I’ll continue to work on those relationships.”
Gray pointed out she’s had 10 years working with city budgets.
“I fought in my 10 years on city council against the status quo,” she said. “I have made this city better than when I started.”
A city resident for 33 years and a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, Conroy said he has worked with budgets of all sizes throughout his military career.
“I have no problem working with a (city) budget, and I think I’d do a great job,” he said. “People say the city doesn’t listen, but I want to try to get everyone in Sierra Vista involved. I want to stretch the imagination and come up with better options. You and your children are the future of Sierra Vista.”
Conroy pointed to a five-year plan that would upgrade the city’s infrastructure as well as improve the city’s amenities for the community.
“It would not only improve our roads, it would also get all of our sidewalks fixed, “ he said. “I want to get the community involved with the community. We have wonderful resources that are so attractive for any business to relocate here. And that is something I would do: Market the city to get more outside businesses to move here.”
City council candidate Weston, a retired U.S. Army veteran, said a council member’s role requires strong leadership and steadfast commitment.
“To run for city council, it’s a calling that I take real seriously,” he stressed. “It’s developing long-range plans and strategies to make this community a better place. It’s also about being transparent to the community. I’m retired and have the time to read and check up on city matters and plans that come through the council. I know how to lead and develop comprehensive long-range planning.”
Rodriguez, who was appointed to the city council in June 2021, is seeking a four-year term. A Noncommissioned Officer Academy Senior Trainer with ORSA Technologies LLC at Fort Huachuca, Rodriguez was passionate about improving Sierra Vista and making the city an attractive and desirable place to live.
“I know there are a lot of empty buildings in the city, especially on the West End, and we need to put those buildings to use,” he said. “That’s something we are working on. I always strongly believe that you can get things done in city politics.”
But it’s the city’s youth commission, which was halted during COVID-19, that Rodriguez wants to get revitalize if he’s elected.
“I want to get it back running again and turn the commission into youth delegates to showcase for the rest of the state what our Sierra Vista youth are accomplishing,” he added.
Benning, who serves as council liaison to the city’s Park and Recreation Committee, stressed he wants to improve the city’s response time for fire and EMS personnel.
“It has extremely improved in six months time,” he said. “By doing that, we can save lives. We have one of the five best EMS, fire and police operations in the state.”
He said there are still goals he wants to accomplish.
“We’re getting a master plan together, and I want to keep our city parks and sports complexes going in the area we’ve been going, which is in a very positive direction,” he added.
Umphrey, who was elected as councilwoman four years ago, said she had a vision then that Sierra Vista could be the best city, and no one should accept anything less.
“I have stayed true to that vision, and I am incredibly proud of my record and what we have accomplished together,” she said. “And while we’ve made so much progress, work like this is never done.”
The current chair of the Sierra Vista Metropolitan Planning Organization and liaison to the West End Commission, Umprhey said representing the city is the No. 1 way she knows how to look after it.
“This (being a councilwoman) is the best way I know how to take care of the people and the city I love,” she said.