Tommie Cline Martin has generations of Rim Country ranchers running through her veins, but she mixed up her home-grown knowledge with tools gained from her international career in natural resource management to apply in service to Gila County.

Martin’s 15 years as Gila County’s District 1 supervisor has shown her political astuteness through programs launched to address issues of the land and the people who live here.

Martin seeks a fifth term because she has several projects to complete.

Martin speaks with a western twang peppered with country sayings as she talked about her ideas for economic development, creating forest health while protecting homes in the wildland-urban interface of Gila County from wildfire.

Economic Development

Near and dear to Martin — broadband.

“I am determined we are going to have easy, reliable, plentiful, affordable broadband throughout Gila County,” she said.

The pandemic has made everyone realize the critical role broadband plays to connect county residents to the world.

Education, commerce and even economic development rely on broadband.

“Broadband is now a utility. It is not a luxury,” she said.

That’s why Martin would like the county to take on the responsibility to provide broadband to the community.

She envisions the county laying cable to every house that would like to buy into the county system. That way, the county owns the highway that delivers the internet service to the home. When it breaks, the county fixes it. The county controls repair and upgrade costs. The residents can vote in the management of the utility (the supervisors) — or vote them out.

The plan puts the consumer back in control. Martin admits she still needs to “figure out a way that is affordable.”

But broadband only serves as a conduit. Tourism brings visitors to experience Gila County up front and personal — as well as spend dollars.

Soon after Martin was first elected, she envisioned a marketing tool that would bring tourism to Gila County.

The Industrial Development Authority, a volunteer group made up of members from the south and north part of the county, took up the cause and decided a website would be the best answer.

After years of fits and starts, the IDA liked a proposal by Razor Thin Media and the Discover Gila County website was born with financial help from the supervisors.

Martin has seen firsthand how the website has inspired tourists to book a weekend getaway to explore the hikes, rivers, forests and towns of the county.

Ultimately, Martin hopes to turn those forests into an industry.

She, along with supervisors of northern Arizona counties, the Forest Service, environmental groups and industry hammered out an agreement to turn the ladder fuels that choke the forest into commercial goods, called the Four Forest Restoration Initiative or 4FRI.

The effort has stalled for lack of an economically viable model, but Martin continues to chip away at the Forest Service bureaucracy that has such different priorities than industry.

If 4FRI works, it solves not only the economic development problem, but forest health. Once thinned of the ladder fuels, forest managers can return fire to keep the forest healthy.

Wildfires

Gila County doesn’t have earthquakes or hurricanes or blizzards.

It has wildfires.

Martin has created many county responses to the threat.

She created a northern countywide program that places bladders and dip tanks around the county to aid firefighters.

Recently, one of those bladders near the Jim Jones Shooting Range south of Payson, saved the area from blowing up into another massive forest fire, like the Bush Fire.

But Martin has also paid for brush pits, worked with the Forest Service to create firebreaks around Gila County communities and holds a yearly wildfire meeting with all the agencies from federal to local that would play a role in a wildfire.

She hopes the voters will return her to office to continue those programs.

But a couple of policies that would help communities built deep into the woods — a wildland-urban interface building code and a code that requires landscape around the house be up to Firewise standards — remain unfinished.

WUI codes would affect construction going into the future, but Martin fears over burdening builders.

“I keep being afraid of running people off from getting permits,” she said.

Martin has, however, empowered residents who live next to brush choked lots that pose a wildfire hazard.

“We have something called Lien and Clean,” said Martin.

Residents who live next to a lot the owner will not clean up may complain to the county.

The county will at first seek to work with the owner, but if the owner won’t budge, the county can clean it up and ask for payment. If the owner won’t pay, the county can put a lien on the property.

But Martin stops short of mandating Firewise clean ups on property.

“We have no way to enforce the mandate with our laws,” she said.

Martin faces fellow Republican Hallie Overman-Jackman in the August primary.

Mail in ballots go out by July 8.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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