Steve Christensen of Payson became a county supervisor on Jan. 12, filling the vacancy created with the December death of District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin.
“Most people are elected to this job, so (they) have time to prepare. I had four days,” Christensen said — so he has been climbing a steep learning curve to get up to speed.
“I feel so blessed they chose me — and a little stunned,” he said.
Christensen said he was asked to run in the past, but chose not to oppose Martin over the years. He learned his name was suggested for the vacancy, so he let the Board of Supervisors know he would like to be considered.
While Martin had just been elected to a new four-year term, filling the vacancy Christensen serves for only two years and then must seek election in 2022. He said that is his plan.
The biggest surprise and most challenging aspect of the job has been the massive amount of information he needs to look at to learn all the things the county is doing. The projects include broadband; getting familiar with ordinances that must be enforced by the BOS or are coming up for revision; and adjusting to all the meetings he has to attend and people want with him.
“COVID-19 is still a big deal,” Christensen said, adding to the list of things he has had to catch up on and keep in stride.
Another challenge is learning about the county’s staff and who is the best person to whom to refer a constituent problem.
“I get calls and they want something done,” he said. Since he does not have unilateral authority to issue an order, he has to refer the individual to the best person to handle their problem.
Christensen said staff members that have helped him include Cheryl Sluyter, his administrative assistant; James Menlove, county manager; and Homero Vela, assistant county manager. “They are all sources of great information,” he said.
He also said one of the most reassuring things he has discovered about the county is the obvious quality of people who work for Gila County.
“They were all very welcoming and continue to be welcoming. It’s a joy to work with them.”
Christensen said it takes awhile to learn the momentum and connections needed to get things done, but once he has a handle on that, he plans to push for some projects for his district.
He is very excited about the new county building under construction in Payson. “For years people have been saying the county seat should be here. While the building won’t do that, it will give the county a real presence in northern Gila County. We can have jury trials. It will be a wonderful thing.”
Christensen said he wants to see federal money used to help improve and maintain Forest Service roads the county manages.
“It is something I talked to Senator Mark Kelly about. These roads need to be improved for evacuations, access, and providing a safe connection between 87 and 260.”
He said Congress is to consider an infrastructure bill and he wants the senator to keep the county’s needs in mind. Christensen specifically mentioned the Control Road and the Young Road. It would take tens of millions of dollars to improve those two roads.
Christensen also wants to keep pressure on the Arizona Department of Transportation to get the bridge over Tonto Creek in Tonto Basin built. “We have the money, but it is not on ADOT’s schedule.”
Additionally, he believes ADOT needs to get the two-lane section of East Highway 260 at Lion Springs back on the schedule and paving the road south out of Young.
“That’s a state highway and it needs to be paved,” he said.
Broadband is another infrastructure project he wants to push. Christensen said he recently had a meeting with APS and learned it is installing lines that include more broadband strands than it can use.
“Just two of those would give Payson more than enough broadband capacity,” he said.
The lines either already exist or are being installed from Phoenix to Flagstaff to Prescott and Joseph City; from Phoenix to Payson to Joseph City; and from Payson to Pine.
Another company is coming in with lines from Show Low.
The issue is who will bring the lines to businesses and homes to use.
“Those things are coming,” he said.
Something else to deal with in the coming months is getting the census numbers and beginning the redistricting process.
“At this point we don’t know if we will need to change any supervisor (district) lines,” he said.
Christensen and his wife, Karen, have lived in Payson for 32 years. His parents, Ron and Clarice, also made a home here — in fact, the late Ron Christensen served as the District 1 Gila County supervisor prior to Tommie Martin’s election.
The couple has two children, Sarah and Casey, and four grandchildren. Casey and his family live in Texas. Sarah and her husband, Ian, along with their two children, live in Payson.
Both Christensen and his wife grew up in Douglas and moved to Flagstaff while Karen finished college at Northern Arizona University. Afterward they moved to Payson, but found it really difficult to make a living, so went to Phoenix where they lived for four years.
“We didn’t like it, so came back,” he said. They ran Tonto Silk Screening and Embroidery until selling it several years ago. At that time, Christensen was able to take up woodworking full time and obtained his construction license. Karen is a contract mail carrier serving residents in the communities off the Control Road.