One Year in the Saddle: Q&A with Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski
What are your takeaways from 2017?
My biggest takeaway has been people’s perception of what a mayor is and what a mayor does in our community. Many people assume my full time job is being mayor, and that I am paid a professional wage for this community service. The reality is I am paid a stipend of $750/month (council members receive $500/month), I do not get a black sedan with tinted windows, no cell phone, no office with a view overlooking the city and no red telephone on the desk that I can pick up and immediately speak to the Chief of Police. I am a hard working individual who clocks in like the rest of us and puts in a full work day. I balance mayoral duties on top of running my business and raising children and being a good husband. I rely heavily on the city manager to follow through with the council’s collective policy direction. The day to day affairs of the city, and management of all departments are handled by the manager, which is the form of government under which we (and 90 plus other cities in Arizona) operate under: the Council/Manager form of government. The other curious thing has been the amount of power people think I wield. I have no authority to make any decision without a majority vote from council, which must take place in a public meeting. I cannot give direction to any department head or employee of the city. With all these limitations, being mayor (or holding any elected office) is a fantastic way to serve your community and invest in the progression of your city or town. I have been humbled day after day that the citizens have entrusted this role to me, and there isn’t a moment I’m not proud to represent the residents of Cottonwood.
What were your challenges?
My biggest challenge has been trying to work with staff and engage with a community that has been accustomed for the last decade before I was elected to a full time mayor who was accessible during the day. Government works from 8 to 5, and most important meetings take place during that time as well. Getting staff to understand the importance of having the elected mayor at some of these meetings, and adjusting their schedule to better accommodate mine to allow me to still provide for my family has been a challenge. Unfortunately, a lot of the important work that is done on behalf of our city is during regular work day hours, so getting community involvement in general nears impossible, those that can attend and volunteer their time are typically semi or fully retired, which presents a challenge to getting broad representation from the full spectrum of your community.
What should you have done differently?
I should have started all over with building new relationships with staff and council. I took for granted that I had worked with these folks, excepting the newly elected, for over 10 years as a council member. However, my previous role as council member was much different than my new role as mayor, and I think I should have considered that and spent some time in the beginning to meet with staff at all levels, to touch base and open communication. As it was, I hit the ground running, and running fast. Human nature suggests that change is hard, and that is especially true for government.
What were your successes?
I have no successes that belong to me alone. I don’t work independently, I work with a team that is composed of six other policy makers and a city manager. I can propose what I think is a great idea, but it takes a team to hone that idea and put it to motion. Some things I am proud of are my monthly newsletter, which is a way I keep our community or any interested party informed of the goings on in Cottonwood, I am proud of the relationship I’ve built with other agencies and elected officials in the Verde Valley, whom I consider members of our team, and I’m most proud of the council’s new Mission Statement which, once it settles in to the city organization, will be very impactful: Inspiring a Vibrant Community.
How has your leadership impacted Cottonwood?
This is a great question, but not one that I can answer. I would ask the community how my leadership has impacted Cottonwood. I would ask the community if I have been effective enough and if they feel I have responded to their concerns and moved in a direction that they can be proud of. I rely on my constituents to make sure I am on the right track so I strongly encourage any and all members of our community to reach out and let me know. The ultimate scorecard are the election results, but I certainly hope people feel free to contact me at any time to discuss their concerns about the direction of our community, the state of our economy, or the pothole on your street. It’s with this kind of active engagement that we will see the results of my leadership.