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His interest in public service began while working on behalf of his homeowner’s association to decommission a failing wastewater treatment plant in his community of Carefree.

Regional Profile: Mayor Les Peterson
Problem Solving Is Passion for Carefree Mayor

Regional Profile, Regional Council

Carefree Mayor Les PetersonHis interest in public service began while working  on behalf of his homeowner’s association to decommission a failing wastewater treatment plant in his community of Carefree. The plant was deteriorating, but getting it removed from the town where it was situated for 45 years was no easy task.

“A whole community had grown up around it. The closest house was 85 feet away. And it took 12 years to accomplish. All the way to the Arizona Supreme Court and back again,” says Carefree Mayor Les Peterson. 

The experience made him realize the importance of creating community connections that go beyond town hall, to ensure that long-term projects can be completed outside of any elected official’s individual term.

“For major projects, unless you have someone as dedicated as the person who started the project, it isn’t going to get completed,” says Peterson. “Many projects are just too big and too involved to get completed within a single term or two terms. You need to select someone in the community who is capable and knowledgeable to get involved, so when the person who initiated the project terms out or goes onto another position, there is an experienced and dedicated person ready to pick it up and move it forward to completion.”

His work on the wastewater plant made him well known in the community, as well as among top leaders in Carefree. He served on the planning and zoning commission, as council member and as vice mayor before becoming mayor in 2015. He is running unopposed for an additional two-year term.

While the town’s current attention is focused on the COVID pandemic and is an issue that Peterson prioritizes as one of critical importance, he also views it as a shorter-term problem that will eventually be resolved, leaving us to return to addressing and resolving the longer term problems. His long-term priorities are education, child protective services, transportation, and water. He also has been developing a new economic and financial strategy for the town, which began as nearly a 100 percent residential community.

“We had virtually no commercial development, and people would pride themselves on not allowing commercial here,” says Peterson. He explains that strategy worked when homes were being built, as construction sales taxes paid for city services. Now that the town is nearing buildout, that revenue source is dwindling, and a new strategy is needed.

Mayor Peterson photo collage

“It is understanding the dynamic that happened, and now starting to put in place economic development of retail establishments that sell products that are desired by our residents and visitors and are taxable, to carry part of the financial burden of the town’s services. So it is really changing the business strategy.”

Mayor Peterson has a long history with the Valley, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arizona State University. His early career was in promotion and marketing with Procter and Gamble and Pillsbury, followed by more than 30 years in management consulting. While working, he also spent 14 years serving as an outside judge on a three-judge panel for the MBA entrepreneurial studies program at Cornell University. During that time, more than 7,000 business student proposals were judged by the panel and graded based on the validity of each proposal.

That marketing, economic development, and business background serves him in his role as mayor.

“It’s the same set of disciplines and approaches. You work with people, you identify problems, develop solutions in concert with all those who are involved, and implement them,” he says.

In his free time, Mayor Peterson enjoys spending time with his wife, two children, and two grandchildren. He also continues serving as a director emeritus for the nonprofit at which he was a director for 15 years, New Pathways for Youth (formerly Youth at Risk), which serves underprivileged children.

“These are children from truly broken homes. The parent may be incarcerated, the parents may be drug addicts, the parents may be dead. These kids are just adrift,” says Peterson. “New Pathways for Youth has an extensive mentoring program. They work with the kids and develop a relationship with them that lasts into their adulthood. That has been very, very effective. I’m pleased to have been a part of that over the years.”

When asked if he could wave a magic wand and give one gift to the Valley, his answer was surprising.

“A gift doesn’t always have to be something new and dramatically different,” says Peterson, who has lived in multiple locations across the country. “Here in the Valley we have a whole cadre of knowledgeable, dedicated, driven people, and the gift that I would request is to maintain that kind of people involved in our government. They’re involved in what’s happening within the community—unlike some of the other places I’ve lived, where you had a small group of people who were the government leaders and a large group of others who were uninvolved. We have a larger group of involved people here, and I think that’s a gift to the region and to the state.”

In fact, Peterson says he has been amazed by what he’s found in government.

“An observation I would have after spending 35 years in private industry and the last 8 to 10 years in government, is that I’ve been very impressed with the quality of the people in government and their dedication. That was something I hadn’t realized before I got into it. But seeing situations, and seeing how the people participate and freely contribute their knowledge and experience, I’ve been impressed.” 

Published July 31, 2020

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