What’s your assessment of the performance of the current mayor and council during the past two years?
Darling praised the mayor and council for taking a stand against the Border Patrol’s placement of concertina wire on the local border fence – they unanimously passed a resolution condemning the wire in February 2019. And she was happy with the city’s use of an automated phone system to advise water customers when a line break disrupted their service over the most recent Easter weekend. “I thought that was brilliant,” she said of the latter effort.
However, she also said: “I’m not seeing the significant changes I’d like to see.”
“I think their performance, collectively, has been slow and methodical. I think there is a desire in perhaps a few to preserve a legacy – good or bad, depending how you look at it.”
What are one or two specific issues that you felt they didn’t move quickly or efficiently enough on?
“Economic development, as usual,” she said adding: “Can we please have consistency in city management? And I mean city manager. This is embarrassing and nonsensical in how we have a rotating door on city managers.”
What do you think you can do to improve that performance?
“I think, one, focus on economic development and two, involve more of the community in how we move forward,” she said, adding that she wants to try and get more people to attend city council meetings.
What ideas do you have for mitigating the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s residents and economy?
“Keeping the schools closed is an excellent idea. Mitigating, I think it’s education. I think this last month has been super educational, so continuing to educate kids because I think they influence their families,” she said.
Noting the recent and short-lived effort by authorities in Sonora to stop non-essential travel from Arizona, she called it “an interesting experiment,” but said, “I’m not convinced it was very successful in doing what needed to be done.”
Talking about schools, shutting down the border; are those things that the city can do?
“I think they have influence on asking for these things to be done, whether it’s using elected officials, like our legislative district delegation, or going directly to Gov. Ducey’s office. I think they have influence; whether they can actually do something, I think that’s another issue,” Darling said.
She pointed to the yellow signs posted at the entrances of local businesses. “I think that’s helpful. I think it’s encouraging more small businesses to figure out how to stay open, albeit safely. I think it also helps with the mental health of our community.”
“I think addressing specifically the idea that yes, we didn’t have a Fourth of July public event. But I feel reasonably good we had backyard barbecues and carne asadas. Could we have done something specifically targeted to say, ‘If you’re going to do this, here are some recommendations to do it safer?’ I think that’s what we could do.”
You’re running as a write-in. Why didn’t you get your name on the ballot?
“I never wanted to run for public office. I have been encouraged to do it for a while now because of my involvement in the community. I never wanted to do it,” she said. “When COVID hit, it was just around the time of wrapping up petition signatures and I felt it wasn’t the safest thing to do, to go and stand in front of Food City or go knock on doors to get signatures.”
“In addition,” she continued, “I had spoken with someone here in the community and she expressed a great deal of frustration, concern and perhaps anger, over how ‘Every level of government has failed us, Mary,’ and I thought, ‘I need to find someone to run for city council.’ And then I realized, ‘Suck it up, and go do it yourself.’ And literally the day after the petition signatures were due, I filed the write-in nomination form.”
City council elections are non-partisan. Still, you are deeply involved in the Democratic Party; and in fact, you’re employed by the party. Will the party’s agenda play a role in your decision-making as a councilmember?
I don’t believe so. I think it comes back to something I said in writing recently about the shared values of this community, and that’s faith in doing the right thing, it’s family, it’s the legacy of this community and the pride people have in this community. I think centering myself around what the community wants and what’s best for the community, I think that’s more important,” she said.
Former Manager Eddie Johnson wrote a memo to councilmembers in which he complained about Mayor Arturo Garino leading Public Works meetings and getting involved in other aspects of management at City Hall. Do you think that these are appropriate actions by the mayor under a council-manager form of government?
“No, I don’t,” Darling said. “I am always concerned when we go through these cyclical issues regarding city managers about why and what’s causing this to happen. There is a reason we have city manager form of government. So no, it is not appropriate.”
Referring to her own experience in business – she was the general manager of a hotel – Darling said: “Managers come in and out. You review expectations and roles with the team and be really clear on what your role is, what their role is and what our role is. And if that involves flip charts and facilitation, then that’s what it is. But you get really clear on what that role is and you stay in that role.”
“There is a role for mayor and council. It is very clear, it’s written. And there’s a role for city manager, and I think it is not necessary to dip into the shady grey area to lead and manage a city.”
As for the role of the mayor and council, she described it this way: “Ceremonial, and guide and direct… The mayor and council represent the community, the voters, us, to make sure the city manager carries out what needs to get done.”
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your candidacy?
“I know I am an expat in a small, rural border community. I get that,” she said. “But I could live anywhere in the world and I choose to live here.”
“I have loved this community since I was 17 and I was taken to lunch in Nogales, Mexico … I consider this home. My husband considered it home and my mother considers it home, and we’re proud of this community. And it is a community that I wish to do right by. But it is frequently mischaracterized, and I think it’s important that we shift what we do here and how we present it.”