By Srianthi Perera
Maricopa County Supervisor Denny Barney is poised to take the baton from John Lewis and head the East Valley Partnership on a part-time basis from June.
Former Gilbert Mayor Lewis, who has headed the partnership since 2016, is planning to resign in May to take up a mission leader position for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cambodia.
For Barney, 48, who did not seek the position but was offered it, the move seems seamless.
As county supervisor, Barney oversees the municipalities of Tempe, Chandler, Ahwatukee Foothills, Gilbert, west Mesa and Queen Creek. As president and CEO of the partnership, he will oversee the economics and quality of life improvements in Tempe, Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Apache Junction.
“So it’s a lot of the things I’m doing already,” said Barney, who, on his sixth term on the County board, has decided not to run for another term and to work fulltime for the partnership from early next year.
Alongside him, former Mesa city manager Mike Hutchinson will serve as full-time executive vice-president of the partnership.
Meanwhile, Barney will also balance his duties with his role as principal of Arcus Private Capital Solutions, a specialized realty investment and finance company.
Just now, his hands are full with several new initiatives he’s helping develop for the county, he said, and they have to be completed before he can step down.
In addition to overlapping jurisdictions, Barney has a broad understanding of the area and familiarity with its leaders.
His initiatives at the county includes seeking ways to reduce inmate recidivism, improving regulatory processes and customer service and collaboratively addressing regional homelessness.
“My role at the county has given me a much bigger perspective of some of the regional strengths, and some of the regional challenges,” he said. “I’ve been able to work closely with the mayors and with the members of the business leaders in the community to understand what the weaknesses and the challenges are.”
“Because of those relationships and because of the perspective, I think it’ll help me pick up the baton that John Lewis has been carrying and Roc Arnett beforehand; those are great leaders who understand the needs of our communities and my goal is to stand on their shoulders and take the experiences and the perspective that I have from the county and go to work,” he added.
The East Valley Partnership was created in 1982 as a nonpartisan coalition of civic, business, education and political leaders dedicated to the economic development and promotion of the East Valley. The partnership advocates in areas such as economic development, education, transportation and infrastructure, arts and healthcare.
“It’s a collection of both private sector and public sector and leaders in the community that have come together in a shared vision of building and strengthening the East Valley,” said Barney, who deems this combination a core strength of the partnership. “It’s not just government, it’s not just the private sector, it’s all together and that’s what really makes it strong.”
Since its founding, the region has experienced exponential population growth and added thousands of new jobs. Today, East Valley boasts a combined population of 1.3 million in the cities and towns of Apache Junction, Chandler, Fountain Hills, Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, Tempe and Gila River Indian and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Communities.
Because of its talented and highly educated workforce and favorable quality of life, the area also continues to be a magnet for new businesses and entrepreneurial ventures, particularly in industries such as aerospace and aviation, technology, financial services and healthcare.
“Maricopa County is the fastest growing county in the US. As the county grows, we want to make sure that the East Valley continues to grow appropriately with the growth that happens across the county,” Barney said.
Barney is not an entire stranger to the partnership for another reason: before he was elected to public office, he served on the partnership’s board as well.
Barney’s role – overcoming challenges and forging ahead with new initiatives — is a hallmark of the sixth generation Arizonan’s family.
He hails from two of Mesa’s four founding families; the Robsons (from his father’s side) and the Pomeroys (from his mother’s side). In the late 1800s, they were among the pioneers that settled the Salt River Valley.
“They went on top of the mesa, where the City of Mesa is now, and found the old Hohokam canals. They knew that if they can get water on these canals, they can farm like the indigenous people,” Barney said. “They hand-dug a ditch three miles up the river to bring water to the old town and that’s how they were able to live and farm on top of the mesa, what’s now the City of Mesa.”
Barney’s parents moved to Gilbert in the early 1980s when the town had just one stop light. He went to school in Mesa and Gilbert and thereafter attended law school in Arizona State University.
He still resides in Gilbert with his wife, Nichole, and their four children; the eldest of them, a daughter, is married; the eldest son is serving an LDS mission near Santiago, Chile; and the younger boys are in high school.
“I’ve tried to be involved because this is home and it’s a place that I love and I want to help build the community in the same way that my ancestors helped build the community,” Barney said.