Keep your eye on these East Valley figures with big plans — or big challenges — in 2006
PEOPLE TO WATCH
Position: Self-taught musician
Residence: Queen Creek
Venice Maki learned to sing and play guitar by listening to an older brother's record collection. Opting for a career in music over soccer, the Zaire native moved to Los Angeles and inked a record deal. He recently relocated to the quieter environs of Queen Creek and has played several high-profile gigs across the country. Possessed of a gorgeous tenor voice and a melodic guitar style, Maki's debut album “Which Way is Out?” will be released Jan. 31 on the WRC label. For information, visit http://venicemaki.com/.
Position: Mesa city manager
Incoming City Manager Chris Brady will have a few things on his plate this year. For starters, he must hire a police chief, grow the city's job base and balance a $36 million budget shortfall with or without a property tax — which is up for voter approval in May. But Brady says engaging a public that has been largely oblivious to the fiscal troubles will be even more important to the city's future. "If they don't feel like you're making a positive difference in their life, then what are you doing?" he said.
Amy Milliron, the mom-turned-activist who pushed for a 2005 breast-feeding ordinance in Chandler and then Tempe, has set her sights on statewide protection for nursing women in 2006. She and other activists will begin lobbying the state Legislature when it opens its regular session this month. The measure would declare that a breast-feeding mother has the right to feed her child anywhere that both are already authorized to be. "I feel really good about it," Milliron said. "There are a lot of people who are in support of what we're doing."
Position: US Airways chairman and CEO
Residence: Paradise Valley
On paper, Doug Parker has done a fine job merging two of the nation's largest airlines. But this year will determine whether the airline can stave off labor issues and make money. America West Airlines will begin using the US Airways name on Wednesday, and the combined carrier will offer more than 4,000 daily departures to 233 destinations in 26 countries. But the bigger challenge will be trying to combine pilots, flight attendants and mechanics from both companies without stepping on toes of either labor group.
Position: ASU athletic director
Arizona State University vice president of athletics Lisa Love will be a busy woman in 2006. First, she has to finalize the contract extension recently agreed to in principle with football coach Dirk Koetter. Then, the fate of embattled basketball coach Rob Evans will be in her hands. Her most vital job, however, will be to find well-heeled alumni willing to donate money to the athletic department. Love wants to raise athletic department revenue from about $38 million to $50 million within 10 years.
Position: Mesa City Council candidate
Pat Esparza hopes to become the first Hispanic member of the City Council. But she will face plenty of competition in the March election: District 4 incumbent Kyle Jones and two other men also are running for the seat. But the 41-year-old federal investigator and substitute teacher thinks enough change is afoot in the city to work in her favor. "Not only for visionary leadership but for electing a Chicana leader," Esparza said. "Not that I put a lot of emphasis on it, but the time is right."
Position: Apache Junction police chief
Residence: Moving from New Mexico
Like a scene from the Wild West, a new lawman is striding into Apache Junction ready to clean up the town. Glenn Walp, the city's first permanent police chief in more than two years, is taking over a department still scarred by past sins of its leaders. It'll be a tough job nursing the battered agency back to health, but Walp carries a reputation as a straight shooter who can fix even the biggest messes.
Position: Mesa Symphony Orchestra director
Since taking the helm of the orchestra in mid-2005, Guillaume Grenier-Marmet has led the group out of a $20,000 deficit and into the symphony's most exciting year in recent history. Grenier-Marmet's fundraising efforts led the symphony to end the year in the black with new corporate donations and season subscribers — boosting subscriptions by 31 percent. Thanks largely to Grenier-Marmet, the symphony's principal clarinetist and executive director, the group fell just 20 tickets shy of selling out its Dec. 18 Christmas concert in the Mesa Arts Center's 1,600-seat Ikeda Theater. “The symphony turns 50 years old this next season,” said Grenier-Marmet, 30. “And we will (look forward to) the next 50 years.”
Position: Tempe Union High School District superintendent
Tempe Union High School District Superintendent Shirley Miles says she will spend 2006 looking at school finance, student achievement and increasing the district's partnership with Arizona State University and the community colleges. "My No. 1 goal is student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap across ethnicities," said Miles, who came to the district from Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2004 as the East Valley's first black superintendent. "We need to focus on the whole child." But Miles will face other challenges this year. A wrongful-termination lawsuit that she inherited when she came to Tempe is scheduled for trial on April 17, and parents who allege corruption at Desert Vista High School will watch Miles closely as she oversees the hiring of a new principal at the Ahwatukee Foothills campus.
Position: Homebuilder and philanthropist
Residence: Ahwatukee Foothills
A leading Valley homebuilder is sharing his wealth with Arizona State University. Ira Fulton, a Tempe native and self-made millionaire, recently gave $100 million to ASU for various educational programs, bringing his total donations to more than $160 million. Fulton's contributions have made him the largest single donor for the university — and he and his wife plan to give even more through matching grants. For Sun Devils athletics, the Fultons recently matched $1 million in donations. That kind of money can bring influence, which is why Fulton will be a person to watch in 2006.