On a hot Friday afternoon, senior staff members at the Town of Marana hosted a group of Washington Mandela Fellows in the Town Council Chambers. Prior to their arrival, Jocelyn Bronson, Marana’s Town Clerk, had diligently studied the roster: she wanted to pronounce each name exactly right. Standing before the group, though, Jocelyn conceded defeat. The range of names, spanning a variety of languages, each with its own linguistic idiosyncrasies, had eluded her.
This diversity of names speaks to the diversity present in this group. Hailing from countries across sub-Saharan Africa, these Fellows were visiting Marana as part of a five-week educational experience at Arizona State University. During this program, they hoped to learn how public organizations in the United States provide high-quality public service.
Tom Simbule, the deputy director of the Mufulira Planning Department in Zambia, is approaching this fellowship with the outlook of a planner. “This is a great opportunity for me,” he says. “My goal is to become a servant leader. I want to put others before myself. I want to take time to listen. In planning, we have a wide array of stakeholders, and I need to listen to all of them in order to serve the public effectively.”
Over the course of three hours, the Fellows engaged with several key leaders at the Town. Kicking off the afternoon, Town Manager Gilbert Davidson welcomed the group by highlighting Marana’s approach to civic service. “Marana’s top priority is to serve our residents. If we’re not providing excellent customer service, we’re not doing our jobs,” explained Davidson. “That central focus drives everything we do.”
Human Resources Director Curry C. Hale, Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson, and Communications Manager Vickie Hathaway spent the remainder of the afternoon explaining in detail exactly how the Town accomplishes the mission set forth by Davidson. Whether through recruitment of high quality staff, meticulous preservation of Town records, or creative engagement of the public, Marana staff are constantly looking for innovative ways to serve the public.
Throughout the afternoon, the Fellows gradually became more and more active in their engagement with Marana staff. For much of their time, Fellows focused on how Marana maintains a positive, productive work environment. Human Resources Director Curry Hale emphasized the role his department plays in educating, informing, and updating Town staff. The Fellows, though, were quick to ask pointed questions to ascertain exactly how Marana’s organizational culture evolves over time. One Fellow directly connected this question to his own home context:
“There are lots of technical experts in my workplace. We have to adapt our organization to their personalities. How do you adapt the organization to meet individual needs? What programs do you have to cater to these different team members?”
“Our goal is to treat everybody fairly,” responded Hale. “That’s different from treating everyone the same. It’s about finding out what motivates a particular employee. For some people, that’s autonomy. For others, it’s constant feedback and interaction. Whichever approach we use, it’s about making sure we get the job done.”
Around the room, heads nodded in agreement.
By the end of a Friday afternoon, it’s easy to expect a certain amount of lethargy, but not with the Mandela Fellows. From start to finish, they demonstrated an acute sense of curiosity, of wanting to glean as much as they could from the day’s speakers.
“We want to have an idea about best practices, to have knowledge so that when we go back home, we adopt them as best we can,” explained Ya Amie Touray, who works as a legal licensing and enforcement officer at the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority in Gambia. For her and for her colleagues, this program offers the opportunity to apply international lessons in a variety of contexts. The Town of Marana is proud to be part of that effort.