LISTEN: Meet Cottonwood’s new city manager: Ron Corbin
Corbin talks city priorities, staff philosophy
COTTONWOOD -- There’s a changing of the guard at Cottonwood City Hall. This time with the city manager.
As Doug Bartosh heads toward his final week after 11 years, new city manager Ron Corbin finishes up his first month on the job.
Corbin came here from Yuma where he served as their deputy city administrator.
I sat down with Corbin at the Jerona Café along Mingus Avenue and talked about city hall, annexation, fiscal responsibility and quite a few other things.
VVN: It’s been a few weeks now since you’ve taken the helm as city manager. How are you settling in so far?
Corbin: I think I’m settling in well … we are going full-board – going fast. We haven’t slowed anything down. The council agendas are full and we’ve got a full-service city with a lot going on. No breaks, no rest for the wicked.
VVN: Before you were selected as Cottonwood’s city manager, you mentioned in a previous interview that you felt a connection to the city and that it reminded you of a town you grew up in Arkansas. Can you talk more about those parallels?
Corbin: It’s been reaffirmed since I started here … I am three minutes from work from my house. I am three minutes from the gym. So there’s that small-town feel that I grew up with where everything was just so close. The hellos on the street … it’s like southern hospitality.
VVN: Cottonwood council and staff recently had their two-day retreat at the start of the month. What were some of your key takeaways?
Corbin: The biggest one was the unity. And I say that because I think it’s been no surprise that one of things people told me coming in here is that we have this divided council. That there was somehow this friction in council … they came together.
Another thing is that there was some apprehension between staff and council – at least that’s what I was told – and one of the feedback items I got from staff is how impressed they were with council and how council was impressed with staff. There was a lot of respect going on.
There was a lot of unity where based on the feedback I had been given, I expected more conflict than agreement.
Some specific items that surprised me that I didn’t realize the depth was workforce housing. A top priority for this council and the community … The other: the desire to have a consolidated city hall. I thought that was a dividing topic … I got a sense they wanted to do something.
VVN: Cottonwood doesn’t have a reputation of churning through city managers. In the past three decades, we’ve had Chuck Sweet, Brian Mickelsen, Doug Bartosh and now you. To what degree – if any – did Cottonwood’s tenure of city managers lead you to come here? Do you see yourself here for the long haul?
Corbin: I do. Which is why I bought a house. To show my commitment to the community. I want to be part of the growth and redevelopment of this community.
When you’re looking for a city manager job, most people aren’t looking for conflict, aren’t looking for problems. And so one of the things you look at is why is the previous manager leaving and how long he or she has been there.
The word on the street was Doug (Bartosh) was retiring -- 11 years is a long time for a city manager. City managers really serve at the pleasure of the council which changes every two years. So your boss -- your group of bosses -- can potentially change every two years. So normally, four to six years for a city manager is normal.
VVN: You coming from a significantly larger community, what is Cottonwood’s potential over the next two decades?
Corbin: I believe Doug has done a fantastic, bang-up job. I believe managers get credit or blame because it was not him alone. But under his leadership, Cottonwood found its way … it has solidified its position as the commercial district for the valley. So he’s gotten us here. Our job now is to go to that next level.
VVN: Have your formed an opinion yet on whether or not Verde Village should annex into the city?
Corbin: I have. It’s a political decision and I don’t make political decisions.
There are pros and cons to annexation.
Some pros: it could help facilitate sewer systems … I believe some of our unincorporated areas someday may be required to put in non-septic tanks. We could help facilitate that. I think it could help with some roads … to be fair, we don’t have a property tax and I think that’s good for businesses … I have received zero push from council members or mayor on annexation. I think we can survive without annexation. I think we’re doing well. Those people purchase items and spend money in the incorporated areas … they are contributing to our infrastructure, to our park systems and what we spend money on.
VVN: Whether legitimate or not, Cottonwood gets criticized a lot on spending practices and for being fiscally irresponsible. What is your take on this? Do you think Cottonwood has had a spending problem in the past?
Corbin: I’ve been here three weeks so I don’t have the facts yet. But everything I see is fiscally responsible. I haven’t seen any great waste. I haven’t seen any wasteful spending. Are there always ways to do something better? I like to think different than better.
VVN: What sort of unique challenges does Cottonwood have being a city of 12,000 but really and truly serving a community of around 40,000?
Corbin: A lot of the issues that Cottonwood and other cities and towns have had is our state legislature … if I call my state legislature and I represent 12,000, I have one voice. If I represent 40,000, that’s in a different league. That is one of the down sides of keeping all these small communities – which I think is beautiful and great. Please, I’m not trying to change it. But you asked the question and that is one of the downsides.
VVN: This talk of a need for a new city hall has been with the city for the last 30 years. Coming in as a new set of eyes, do you see that need? Can the city afford it?
Corbin: OK, those are two different questions … you may need it, but that doesn’t mean you can afford it. You might be able to afford it but that doesn’t mean you need it. So I think they are two very different questions.
I see a need, yes. Can we live without a consolidated city hall? Yes, we’ve done it for how many years? Forever, right.
Would it make things more efficient? Yes … I think we are taking up space that could be better utilized. And that’s one of the bigger drivers for me is I think we are just not the perfect fit for Old Town.
Now you asked if we could afford it. I’m going to defer on that one because I don’t have all the answers to that yet.
VVN: Talk about your philosophy on this: Do city managers and staff lead the city council or does city council lead the city manager?
Corbin: Wow, you’re trying to get me in trouble already. It’s actually rather simple. My philosophy is that council sets the policy -- the direction for the organization. They are my board of directors. They set the goals, the priorities, the philosophy for the organization. Staff carries it out.