By Nick Worth
The Navajo County Leadership Academy graduated its first class Oct. 2 at the Northland Pioneer College Performing Arts Center in Snowflake.
The 36 students who received their diplomas represented every department in the county. The class was a mix of employees from the Sheriff’s Office, Facilities Management, Public Works, Clerk of the Court, Court Administration, County Attorney’s Office, Public Health Services District, Probation, Finance, Assessor’s Office, Planning and Zoning, Legal Defender’s Office, Public Fiduciary Office and the Public Defender’s Office.
The academy was the brainchild of the county’s Strategic Planning Team and came under the Team Development goal of the planning team’s five-year plan.
More than 75 of the county’s 600-plus employees applied for the 40 positions available in this year’s academy–20 in the north county at the county complex and 20 in the south county at Show Low.
The application process was open to any interested county employee, and the class contained a mix of department supervisors and workers, along with one elected official, Clerk of the Court Deanne Romo.
Because of the high interest, the students were chosen by random drawing to fill the 40 slots.
Paige Peterson, an accountant in the Finance Department, said no restrictions were put on how long an employee had been at the county, in order to apply.
“I had only been here two weeks when I applied,” said Peterson. She said the academy provided a chance to learn leadership skills.
“Everybody was given the opportunity to learn, if they wanted to make the effort,” Peterson said.
County Assessor Cammy Darris said the 35 people not chosen in this year’s selection process will have first choice for a slot in the next academy, followed by new applicants.
The academy was formed, in part, to ensure an orderly transition in the event of a change of department management, but according to LaRee Price of the Public Defender’s Office, that was only a small part of the academy’s function.
“We found there was no professional development being offered to our employees,” said Price. “We wanted to provide some professional development for our employees that was related to Navajo County’s needs.”
Price noted that outside trainers had been hired to provide classes in the past, with bad results.
Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Melissa Buckley added that many county departments did not have the funding available to send employees to professional training courses, so the decision was made to try to provide the training in-house.
The training included nine courses taught by Navajo County department directors. Each class lasted three hours and was taught at both locations.
The courses and their teachers were:
* Budget/Finance, County Finance Director James Menlove.
* Strategic Thinking/Innovation, Public Works Director and Assistant County Manager Homero Vela.
* Transition to the Role of Supervisor, Buckley and Director of Human Resources Kimberly Eavenson.
* HR Practices, Tim Norton, former risk manager for the county.
* Change Management/Communication in the office, Planning and Zoning Manager Trent Larson and Price.
* Performance Evaluation, Lieutenant Andy Ronken of the sheriff’s office.
* Leadership Team Building, Darris and County School Superintendent Linda Morrow.
* Managing in a Political Environment, County Manager James Jayne.
* Ethics, Public Defender Dale Nielson.
In addition to the leadership training, the courses also provided other benefits to the students, including a sense of empowerment, said Darris.
“Everybody has an influence, from top to bottom,” said Darris. “Everybody has a leadership role.”
Leanne Baker, a secretary in the Facilities Management Department, agreed.
“It helped to lift me up,” Baker said. “It made me feel like part of the team.”
Comments from the graduates have been uniformly positive.
“It showed the employees they are valuable,” said Darris. “It made people step out of their boxes.”
Chris Frayer of the Assessor’s Office echoed Darris’ remarks.
“The leadership academy made me feel valued as an employee, and that my input was encouraged and appreciated,” Frayer said.
Sherilynn Noble of the Probation Department said attending the academy was a very positive experience for her.
“I feel like part of the Navajo County team,” said Noble. “The information provided was helpful. It helped me grow professionally.”
Yet another benefit of the classes was the opportunity to network with other county employees, Price noted.
“We had people in the classes from Winslow all the way down to Pinetop-Lakeside,” said Price. “The instructors got to see the talents of the different employees. It gave 40 people from different departments the chance to meet one another.”
“Meeting with colleagues from different departments each month was very informative and enlightening,” said Romo. She said the trainers were specifically chosen because of their expertise, so the knowledge provided was presented with a high degree of professionalism.
The 2013 graduates were Scott Badger, Leann Baker, Lupita Banuelos, William Bess, Jeanine Carruthers, Cameron Crandell, Ricky Denton, Christine Frayer, Rene Fuentes, Lannie Gillespie, Glenn Hoskins, Alysia James, Joel Johnston, Paula Kelley, John Larsen, Janelle Linn, Sheila Malone, Russel McCray, Mike Meeks, Sherilynn Noble, Charalie Perkins, Paige Peterson, Renee Pinnell, Keith Plympton, Pamela Reid, Mark Reynolds, Davé Rodriguez, Deanne Romo, Brandon Rumzis, Peggy Saunders, Carolyn Sellers, Diana Serna, Rob Simpson, Vicky Solomon, Leah Thomas and Leighann Yazzie.
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By Nick Worth