The swearing in of a new Gila County supervisor Tuesday brought to a close Jose Sanchez’s 14-year political career, which was punctuated by serendipitous timing and dedication to the community he served.
After a 35-year tenure with the United States Postal Service, Sanchez won a seat on the Miami Town Council in 1994. Post office rules previously prohibited Sanchez from running for partisan office.
Six months after the election, Miami’s mayor moved out of town and Sanchez, then the vice mayor, entered the top spot.
In June of 2001, then-Supervisor Edward Guerrero died and Mayor Sanchez was appointed to fill the seat for District 2.
“It’s been that kind of thing,” Sanchez, 73, said Monday about the perhaps fateful events that maneuvered his political career.
Supervisor-elect Mike Pastor officially took Sanchez’s seat at the swearing in ceremony Tuesday morning at the Gila County Fairgrounds.
Sanchez, however, is ready to retire. “At my age, there are other things I want to do,” he said.
Sanchez hopes his legacy will center on his affect on others.
“I want to be remembered as someone who enabled the employees to be a part (of county operations) and to develop their skills to the fullest,” Sanchez said. “The employees are so vital to the operation of county business.”
During his tenure as supervisor, Sanchez met monthly with his constituents.
“How else can you know what’s going on out there?” he asked.
Combining what was once three separate road districts into one public works district marked what Sanchez categorized as a controversial, but significant, accomplishment.
“Folks were hesitant to let go,” he recalled. “Every supervisor had their own road crew, their own foreman, their own equipment to take care of the roads in their district.”
The system was also potentially ripe for corruption. “That’s how you stayed in office — by fixing roads,” Sanchez said.
One of his bigger disappointments was last year’s failed bond election for new jail and justice facilities. “I think that was a sign of the times,” Sanchez said. “People weren’t ready to take on new debt.”
Another unrealized goal was the failed effort to build a bridge across Tonto Creek, where crossings occasionally close when flooded. Sanchez said the area is rapidly growing, with large numbers of snowbirds traipsing up the hill from Scottsdale helping the expansion.
“A bridge across there would open up an entire real estate opportunity for a lot of folks,” he said.
One of Sanchez’s triumphs, which he attributed to voters, was the provisional community college district they approved in 2002. The new district ended the county’s subsidizing out-of-county tuition for students taking classes at Eastern Arizona College.
“That has enabled us to really build our community college system,” Sanchez said.
While he served as supervisor, the county began an employee wellness program that drastically reduced the number of insurance claims filed. “We were about to get dropped out of the insurance pool because our claim numbers were so high,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also helped start a neighborhood block watch which brought sheriff’s officers and residents together to fight crime and nuisances like four-wheelers roaring through neighborhoods.
“The residents became our eyes and ears out there,” Sanchez said. Residents even carried cameras or notepads to snap pictures of suspicious activity or jot down license plate numbers.
“The residents, they overcame this fear of being intimidated,” by ne’er-do-wells, Sanchez said.
Sanchez says his health is near perfect, he has grandchildren to spoil and golf to play. He still sits on the board of the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens and says he will help with the Boys and Girls Club planned for Globe, especially in trying to engage young people to volunteer.
“The function of county government is to be of service to the residents,” who pay for those services, Sanchez said. “We need to support each other to make those things happen.”