Four candidates are running for Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, District3, which includes Patagonia, Sonoita, Elgin, parts of Rio Rico, Tumacacori and Tubac. Incumbent Bruce Bracker (D) is being challenged by Donna Federici (I), Justin Luna (I) and write-in candidate Valerie Kerby Lockey (R). We are featuring Bracker and Federici in this issue. We plan to feature Luna and Kirby-Lockey, if she gets 59 write-in votes in the August primary, in the October issue of the PRT. The candidates responded to questions posed by the PRT by email. The responses have been edited for space and clarity.
Name: Bruce Bracker
Residence: How long? Tubac, 30 years
Education/licenses/certifications/military: High school diploma, trained to be a professional Chef
Recent employment: County Supervisor District 3, Santa Cruz County AZ; 30 years at Bracker’s Department Store until shutdown in 2018; Chef for 8 years
Community organizations: EPA Local Advisory Committee, Member International Boundary and Water Commission’s Southeastern Arizona Advisory Council, Member Arizona Border Counties Coalition, Representative of Santa Cruz County Greater Nogales, Santa Cruz County Port Authority, Past Chairman, Board Member and current Treasurer Downtown Merchants Association, Past President Nogales Community Development, Founding Member Nogales Lions Club, Past President and current active member Nogales Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Citizens Academy, Graduate Santa Cruz County Workforce Investment Board, Member Nogales /Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, Member Theodore Gebler Trust/Associated Charities of Nogales, President Ambos Nogales Partnership Plan
Previous public office/service: Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors 2017-Current
Why are you running for this seat on the Board of Supervisors?
Family tradition and personal commitment drives me to find ways to make life better for the residents of our community. It is important to work with employers to make sure they have the tools they need to grow and make long-term investments in our community. That is why I continue to advocate for the interests of Santa Cruz County residents with the mine that is being developed in Patagonia. We are working with them to keep the haul trucks out of the Patagonia town center. We are also advocating for trucks that rely on alternative fuel to reduce emissions and for funding improvements for our schools, parks and community facilities. We want them to explore every possible opportunity to hire and buy locally. I also am a fervent advocate for the promotion of our eco-tourism. We must continue to fight for innovative economic development tools like the Cold Room at the Mariposa Port of entry that will help keep our County competitive with Texas and California, for more efficient government, for better roads, for better parks and for more multi-use pathways.
What unique qualities do you bring to the Board of Supervisors?
I bring decades of experience building relationships with community organizations and nonprofits. I have been able to leverage networks and relationships to help bring such results as the modernization of Mariposa Road (SR-189) and the cure-in-place of the International Outflow Interceptor. I co-founded the Arizona Border Counties Coalition (ABCC), an affiliation of the four Arizona border counties to advance economic development opportunities along the US-Mexico border. The skills I learned over the last 30 years and the challenges I faced as a small business owner for 30 years have helped me better appreciate the needs of my constituents.
What are the two biggest challenges the County faces and how do you plan to address them?
The most immediate challenge is the effect that COVID-19 has had on our County. We advocated with the office of the Governor for the ability to mandate face coverings. In addition, Santa Cruz County is securing grants to bring additional testing to our community to help deal with the spread of this virus. We will be contacting representatives from six business sectors and the public to determine what the business needs will be over the next three years. Our second biggest challenge is a financial one. Rural Arizona has not recovered from the financial crisis in 2008 and the state legislature continues to shift costs to the counties. We must remain vigilant to prevent the legislature from shifting any additional expenses. All elected officials and county department heads need to continue to evaluate if there are any additional efficiencies that we can realize. We must not lose sight that our long-term viability is based on supporting local job creation and business growth to expand our tax base.
What do you think the County’s biggest environmental challenges are, and how do you think the County should address them?
Conservation easements, solid waste and recycling, and air and water quality are the biggest environmental challenges facing the county. The county has been exploring options to develop long-term solutions for landfill service. Recycling has been a challenge in our community, a challenge that is compounded with the drop in demand for recyclables. The COVID-19 Pandemic has delayed a county pilot program for recyclable products. For some of the recyclables such as glass, we are looking for local ways to reuse. Conservation easements are an excellent tool to preserve our most treasured assets and open space. Through local advocacy and ADEQ enforcement both ground water contamination and air particulate issues are being monitored. We also work closely with ADEQ on international wastewater issues that affect the Santa Cruz River. Recently the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and ADEQ announced that $39 million that will be invested in making major repairs to the International Outflow Interceptor (IOI), a sewer line that connects Nogales Sonora to the International Waste Water treatment Plant at Rio Rico. These repairs will offer a cure-in-place for the IOI. We are also in contact with ADEQ and the Environment and Water Resources Committee of the Arizona-Mexico Commission in order to keep apprised of binational efforts to protect the environment. Finally, we are working to bring Hudbay and the Nature Conservancy together to address Hudbay’s plan for upper Sonoita Creek.
What would you do to improve the County’s internet infrastructure?
In a special meeting on June 15 the Board of Supervisors in collaboration with the County Superintendent of Schools, approved a contract to identify all the “middle mile” high speed internet fiber throughout the county in a study that will serve as a key building block to improving our broadband capacity. In addition, we are looking at some of the grant opportunities from the state and federal governments in helping to narrow the digital divide, some of which have already been submitted. These grants will help connect underserved parts of our community to assist in distance learning for K-12 schools, adult education and telemedicine. The result will be a robust high-speed internet connectivity throughout the county.
In the past two years there have been calls from residents in the Eastern part of the county to secede and join Cochise County. What would you do as supervisor to address concerns in the Eastern part of the district?
The call to secede from Santa Cruz and to join Cochise County has been led by a vocal minority who were upset by the closure of the Justice of the Peace Court in Sonoita. After detailed analysis, it would have been financially imprudent not to close down the facilities. This goes back to the commitment, as a Supervisor, to be prepared to make the tough decisions for the long term good and sustainability for the County. The savings from that closure now totals just under $300,000 dollars. If we had not made these difficult decisions, the recession that we are facing because of the pandemic would have meant that far more County services would have been curtailed. The push for the secession of that portion of the county to Cochise County, in my opinion, is an irresponsible one, as there has been little analysis as to the implications this could have on both counties. Regardless of the opposition and countless personal attacks, we have not strayed from the course of fighting to make improvements in the East County. I have worked with the wineries and the Rodeo and Fairgrounds to address their needs and to advocate on their behalf. Since my first year in office, the Rodeo and Fairgrounds, has received a cash contribution of $25,000 each year for the past three years. The county has supported them with maintenance needs including the work crew from the state correctional institution. In working with the wineries, it was determined that there was a need for new way-finding signage to provide a more tourist and user-friendly environment. The first phase of this project was completed this past spring with signage placed on Elgin and Upper Elgin Roads. I worked with the Deputy County Manager/Public Works Director to advance road projects and improved maintenance. As a result, the county has completed over 28 miles of chip seal on roads in the Sonoita/Elgin area including extensive work on Elgin Road. After the 2017 fire in Sonoita, the county added water capacity in the maintenance yard with a quick fill tank and by rehabilitating the pond and installing a pump to fill firefighting equipment.
Name: Donna Federici-Ciesielski
Residence: Sonoita, since 2008
Education/licenses/certifications/military: Attended Ohio State University and Columbus Business School but hold no degrees. Taken courses in business management, accounting, procurement, leadership and communication.
Recent Employment: Retired in 2007 after selling a successful haircare company that I helped found. Started a business/brand/marketing consulting company. Co-owner and a part-time operator of Sonoita Propane, LLC.
Community organizations/activities: Elgin Club, Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Assn. I have also served on the Friends of the Patagonia Library Board and volunteered for the Sonoita Elgin Fire District.
Previous Public Office/Service: None
Why are you running for this seat on the Board of Supervisors?
District 3 of Santa Cruz County is home to one of the most beautiful and diverse areas of the State, but it’s also one that is fraught with complicated problems and issues – and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic. The current lack of transparency with which county officials, supervisors, and management operate is inappropriate and contrary to the very words public process. It’s counterproductive to problem solving and diminishes trust in office. It appears that county officials have lost the concept that they are public servants whose salaries are generated by taxpayers. I believe our constituents deserve better and that my proven track record and business expertise can will help navigate the stormy waters that lie ahead.
What unique qualities would you bring to the Board of Supervisors?
As an executive vice president in the corporate world, I’ve had to deliver top line growth and bottom-line profit for owners and shareholders. I had to have the vision to know how, when, and where to manifest that growth, and from there, be able to develop the strategic plans that provided the path to all those waiting to execute them. I monitored budgets to make sure we delivered the profit we promised. Vision, planning, and communicating are not concepts our county officials seem to gravitate towards. My expertise could make a substantial difference in how we operate. Oh, and did I mention that I’m female? I’m a wife, mother and grandmother.
What are the two biggest challenges the County faces and how do you plan to address them? The shelter-in-place, traveler restrictions, and quarantines have crushed the economy and are killing small businesses across the state. Santa Cruz County will be greatly affected if state and federal monies dry up. Had Governor Ducey not dropped $2.9 million into the county already, we would no doubt be in dire straits. If elected, I will lead a concerted effort to reach out to help existing businesses stay afloat and will put a true effort on economic development. We must also acknowledge that industry diversity is paramount to county growth. We cannot rely too heavily on the border for our economic expansion. The hardest part of that challenge will be to grow our county economy without harming our natural resources. The other critical issue facing our future is Public Health and Safety. Santa Cruz County was ill prepared to deal with this pandemic and still has no County Health Board as mandated by ARS 36-183. If elected I will fight to have funds redirected to a County Health Board, with a physician at its helm. We must be prepared to fight future pandemics while acknowledging that, as a border county, we face more challenges than most. We must protect our citizens and all essential border crossers.
What do you think the County’s biggest environmental challenges are, and how do you think the County should address them? Water conservation/water pollution and wildfire mitigation are two of my biggest environmental concerns for Santa Cruz county. Our county is mostly dependent on groundwater, especially the Santa Cruz River. It’s why we must protect our ground water and also stay vigilant with the repairs and maintenance of the IOI. A source for continual pollution when breached by storms or mechanical failures, it could be a public health risk of immeasurable proportion if not protected. Wildfire mitigation can be a life, and property, saving decision. We need a task force in the county to provide education to our constituents, and to liaison with the fire departments and wildlife groups. There is money available for a program like this via Wildfire/Hazardous Fuels grants, which are available to fire departments, local governments and educational institutions.
What would you do to improve the County’s internet infrastructure?
Broadband access is more important than ever due to shelter-in-place and social distancing. Remote learning, telemedicine, video conferencing, and of course entertainment, all depend on it. This county has a unique challenge with regards to topography and cell towers. Our other challenge is that cell towers are a love/hate situation with regards to constituents. Everybody wants and demands better service, but ONLY if it’s not in their sight line. Doing nothing about this is not the answer. Businesses gravitate to other regions with greater broadband infrastructure, capacity, and resiliency. This situation will continue to impede our growth. This is another area where lack of vision, planning and communication affects our county. There are monies available. The ACA (Arizona Commerce Authority) provided 3 million dollars in grants in 2020 to help rural Arizona communities of less than 150,000 residents improve broadband service. The monies went to non-profits focused on economic development and for-profit companies in the telecommunication industry. Planning awards went to counties and cities, while development awards went to corporations. We need leaders with the foresight to see the challenges in advance, and the impetus to change – before change is needed..
In the past two years there have been calls from residents in the Eastern part of the county to secede and join Cochise county. What would you do as Supervisor to address concerns in the Eastern part of the district?
District 3 is unique, and challenging, in that it is the most widespread and diverse district in the county, covering everything from border produce in Rio Rico, to riparian areas in Patagonia, and agritourism and wine country in Sonoita-Elgin. The eastern part of the county has felt disenfranchised and abused by county officials, supervisors and managers for years. Paved roads, trash pick-up, street lights, etc., all the things you take for granted in other areas as being provided in exchange for real estate taxes are non-existent here in the East County. Is it any wonder that when our County Supervisors and County Manager decided to close the Sonoita Courthouse with the promise to save $200k per year, that it felt like the last straw? We still aren’t seeing that kind of savings. Also, it didn’t help when the District 3 County Supervisor that voted to close the courthouse for the savings, also petitioned the County Supervisors to give the Port Authority, where he serves on the board as Treasurer, $250k to build cold storage facilities on the border. Save money here in the East County to give it away there. My goal is to be a Uniter. To listen to all constituents of District 3 and let them know that their voice matters. If it’s real estate tax adjustments that are needed, then my job as a representative would be to turn over every rock to find it. And if a suggestion is made by a county manager to close down a service to save money, then my job as a representative is to reach out to those affected and get their input before these decisions are arbitrarily made. Had the county performed a sufficient cost benefit analysis on the closure of the Sonoita courthouse and provided the info to the residents of the east county before they made their decision to close it, I don’t think we would be where we are today.