A wave of change is sweeping the organizations that promote economic development and charitable giving in Mesa as new leaders are taking the helm.
Four of the largest groups are getting new executives in what is an unusually large amount of turnover at a single time. The exiting leaders departed for a variety of reasons.
The degree of change with this new batch of leaders promises to be larger than in normal times given the rocky financial situation, said Dan Wollam, the new president of the Mesa United Way.
“I think you’re going to find with probably any of those organizations that because of the general economic conditions that the whole country is facing, every agency is having to reexamine what it does, why it’s doing it and whether it’s doing it in the best way that it can,” Wollam said.
Wollam’s been on the job since June. By early next year, new leaders will also be in place at the Downtown Mesa Association, West Mesa Community Development Corporation and the Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
The leadership change at the Downtown Mesa Association is part of the biggest overhaul to the organization in its 25 year history. The downtown property owners who make up its board of directors have already promised to get merchants more involved and do a better job promoting downtown amid growing complaints of the DMA’s performance.
The only president in the organization’s history, Tom Verploegen, left earlier this year along with the vice president.
The DMA wants to do a better job letting people know about downtown events, while improving its relationship with merchants and the community, board chairman Freddy Curry said.
“One of the biggest things we want people to see is that Mesa is trying to build a better downtown and change the perception that we’re a sleeping city in the downtown,” Curry said.
A nationwide search for a president yielded 160 applications, which have been narrowed to seven. The board of directors should choose a new president by the month’s end.
Shortly after Verploegen resigned in April, former Downtown Tempe Community executive Kate Hastings was installed as an interim leader. She’s not in the running for the permanent job, Curry said.
The West Mesa Community Development Corporation also has an interim director, former Gilbert Mayor Cynthia Dunham. She replaces Jo Ellen McNamara, who departed her post of two years for a job in Phoenix.
Dunham was chosen because of her many roles, including being executive director of the Leadership Centre, which teaches classes on homeowners associations and conflict resolution. She also lived in west Mesa 18 years, said Robin Harris, board president of the West Mesa CDC.
“Based upon her resume and past experience, we selected her,” Harris said. “She’s been heavily involved in west Mesa and the East Valley for years.”
A new leader should be in place by January, Harris said, and that could include Dunham.
The organization promotes business expansion and relocation — and a major change could be in store. Two organizations have approached it to consider a merger because they could benefit from being aligned with a community development corporation, Harris said. He declined to name the groups but said the organization will take up the matter in October.
A search is also under way for a president for the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, as Charlie Deaton will retire by year’s end after 18 years in the same role. The chamber has put out a second call for applicants after the first search didn’t produce enough candidates, Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said. This time, the city has used its experience doing nationwide searches to help cast a wider net by advertising more broadly, he said.
No broader changes have been discussed at this point for the chamber.
At the United Way, Wollam replaces Carol McCormack, who left after 11 years to join her husband at his new job in Virginia.
Wollam said he’s changed how the United Way raises funds, following a year in which donations fell short of a $4 million goal. That was too high in this economy, he said, but also was inadvertently misleading because it didn’t represent how much money the United Way had to distribute. Donations include in-kind contributions, cash for the United Way to disperse at its discretion and donations that are earmarked for specific causes in Mesa and outside the city. The United Way now divides the donations into three categories, with a goal for each one.
“We’re trying to be more transparent and I’m not suggesting that previously we were trying to cloud anything,” Wollam said. “But we have found some ways to be more clear to people so there’s a deeper and a more clear way of what were doing.”
Wollam had been the Mesa United Way’s vice president for two years. That post is now held by Claudia Walters, a former Mesa City Council member who sought the mayor’s office in 2008.