Mesa Council interviews four finalists for Higgins' seat, to make decision Sept. 12 - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa Council interviews four finalists for Higgins' seat, to make decision Sept. 12

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 1:30 pm | Updated: 1:02 pm, Fri Sep 6, 2013.

After cutting the original list by 17, the Mesa City Council interviewed the four finalists to replace departed councilmember Dina Higgins as the city’s District 5 representative during a special meeting on Sept. 5.

The quartet of finalists — Debra Duvall, David Luna, Kathleen Rahn and Kevin Ruegg — were picked from a field of 21 candidates to complete the final 16 months of Higgins’ term. Higgins officially left office in August and cited the demands of her full-time job and frequent travel as reasons for her decision.

“It was difficult to reduce the list to the four we have in front of us,” said Mayor Scott Smith before the interviews began.

The process had the candidates answer questions posed to them individually by council members, with two minutes at the beginning and the end of the interview to outline their qualifications for the position.

The four candidates each came to the interview with markedly different backgrounds, according to their respective applications. Duvall served as the superintendent of Mesa Public Schools and as an advisor to Gov. Jan Brewer. She currently works as the Executive Director of the Arizona School Administrators Association.

Luna is also connected to Mesa Public Schools as the district’s director of educational television and teaches communications at Mesa Community College. He has volunteered with multiple organizations in Mesa and was a member of the city’s Day Labor Task Force in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

Rahn is a retired school psychologist who is a member of the city’s Planning Advisory Committee and the Parks and Recreation Board. She has volunteer experience through the Mesa United Way and was the chair of the District 19 Democratic Club for three years.

While the above three have resided in District 5 for at least 19 years, Ruegg has lived in the area for approximately five-and-half years, but has volunteered with Mesa through the United Way and was a board member for the Arizona Law Alliance. She is involved in several youth-oriented civic education initiatives like Kids Voting AZ and “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” as well.

Much of the discussion that took place on Thursday morning was tied to the candidates’ views on where the city is heading long term, with the four sharing a generally optimistic view of the decisions made by the city and council in recent years.

Similarly, the prospective council members were also asked what challenges the city and District 5 face. Among the answers the candidates offered were finding ways to continue the city’s economic development efforts to curb ongoing urban blight and helping the city’s destitute residents.

“We do have a considerable population that lives in poverty,” Rahn said.

That goes along with a point Ruegg made about one of her objectives, which she said is to represent all of the city and district residents, including the impoverished portion.

“That’s something I’ve devoted my life to; I really believe in giving voice to people who would not be heard,” she said.

Another topic addressed during the interview was whether council members should address issues that are outside the governing body’s purview. On the whole, Rahn, Ruegg and Luna said the council’s attention should remain on the city unless a view is offered through a joint statement, with Luna adding the council can also educate residents on the limits of the body’s powers.

“You’re restricted by certain laws and regulations; you can only do so much as a city council,” Luna said.

While Duvall concurred the council should focus on Mesa, she said some issues stemming from the state and federal levels can have a direct effect on the city.

“We should not wear blinders and we should be aware of the issues,” she said.

A final question posed to all four contenders was whether they intended to run for Higgins’ seat during the 2014 election. Duvall, Luna and Ruegg said they hadn’t considered doing so, while Rahn said she reserved the right to make a decision.

Smith said the council will make the final decision on Higgins’ replacement during the council’s Sept. 12 study session.

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