Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, whose public service had an impact far beyond the town that was his home since he was 6 months old, died June 23 after a months-long battle with a lung infection. He was 74.
Tributes from across the state, including the Governor’s Office, not only noted that impact but also recalled his humility and friendly demeanor that endeared him to everyday residents and public officials alike.
“He was totally void of ego,” Mesa Mayor John Giles said, recalling how Mayor Barney made Queen Creek “an important part of the East Valley but on a personal level, he was very humble. And so that made him just remarkably easy to work with.”
Gov. Doug Ducey ordered all state flags to fly at half-mast last Friday and hailed Mayor Barney’s contributions.
Stating “he cared greatly about his community and all those who called it home,” Ducey said:
“Under Mayor Barney, the Town of Queen Creek has become one of the fastest growing municipalities in the nation, attracting industry giants and many new residents. His vision and leadership helped make that growth possible."
“He was committed to fostering economic growth and creating opportunities for Queen Creek’s growing population. His legacy as a humble public servant who cared for his community will live on,” Ducey said.
Roc Arnett, the former longtime leader of the PHX East Valley Partnership, recalled Mayor Barney's humility with a fond memory of working with him for 20 years in the Maricopa Association of Governments, stating:
"Many times, he would attend those meetings in his Levi’s with a little mud yet on his boots having come from his field irrigating. Reflecting on Mayor Barney’s loss reminds me of the entire Barney Family who have contributed to the growth, development, and stature of our great East Valley."
Former Gilbert Mayor John Lewis, now the Partnership's president/CEO, said “I always enjoyed listening to stories from Mayor Gail. He spent his whole life in the town that he loved and as mayor, it showed. His heart was in the community – always thinking and asking, ‘what is in the best interest of our citizens now and in the future?’”
Lewis recalled walking around the then newly-opened Horseshoe Park.
“We had the best time wearing our cowboy hats together,” Lewis said. “He laughed at me and said, ‘You’re not a real cowboy, but you look like you could be!’ In other words, with his positive attitude, he was telling me that I had potential. He looked for the good in others and could always see their potential.
“I laughed when Mayor Gail told me that one night he needed to rush the end of a council meeting. He said, ‘I did not want to end the meeting until all of our town business was addressed, but I needed to get home to turn on and watch the irrigation water.'”
Maricopa County Supervisor Jack Sellers said, “The passing of Mayor Barney is truly a blow to those of us who knew him as a friend and a great leader. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him in many capacities over the years and I was always impressed with the sincerity in which he served our community.”
Queen Creek Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Perry Berry said, “Mayor Barney was a good friend of mine and I am very sorry about his passing. We both shared a love for the outdoors and hunting. We would often share pictures, stories, and I loved hearing about his hunting trips. He was a good man, and will be greatly missed.”
The district Governing Board issued a joint statement praising his support and saying, “We see the impact of this wonderful founding family in the town’s culture, traditions, and in our public institutions. His legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of all who live here and through our schools and our students. He will be truly missed.”
Mayor Barney became a Queen Creek resident as a toddler in 1948 and worked on his family’s farm – which ultimately inspired his road to service.
“Mayor Barney often shared he was having trouble crossing Germann Road on his tractor, so he got involved and never looked back,” the town said in its statement.
He started his public life on the Queen Creek Planning & Zoning Commission in 1998 and served there until 2002, when he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Town Council.
In that time, Mayor Barney was instrumental in helping the town achieve many of the milestones in its development, including the opening of Ellsworth Loop, starting a fire department, and building municipal water services.
“Mayor Barney embodied what it meant to be QC neighborly – while his years of leadership and dedication will leave a legacy in the Queen Creek community – he will be sincerely missed,” the town statement said.
In 2010, he was elected mayor and continued to help the town make strategic advancements, helping to make Queen Creek the first municipality in Arizona to have a fully funded pension system and launching the town’s police department.
In 2014, Mayor Barney was highlighted in a League of Arizona Cities and Towns newsletter in which he said one of his proudest achievements was helping the town through the Great Recession with reduced staff and limited resources.
“Queen Creek even saw an increase to our credit rating - one of only nine communities in the nation,” he said. “I credit this to having such great, dedicated employees and a town council that worked together to make tough decisions.”
He also said the town’s biggest challenge at that time was ensuring enough resources for its infrastructure.
“We are building a community from scratch, and still have two-thirds of our infrastructure needed to serve our build-out population of about 95,000,” he said.
MayorBarney also served on the Maricopa Association of Governments in various capacities since 2006, including his appointment to the Regional Council in 2010 and served as chairman of the Regional Council in 2018 for one year.
His influence also impacted the East Valley in other ways, notably in the development of Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport.
East Valley Partnership Vice President Mike Hutchinson recalled, “He was active with Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport for a long time. He was just a really good guy in terms of rolling up this sleeves and working on issues and participating.
“Being a guy who showed up, if there was a meeting, there was an event, there was somebody we had a talk about lobbying, Gail was always game to be in the mix. …He didn’t care if you were the intern or another mayor: he just treated everybody well.”
Though his illness had sidelined him from Town Council meetings since April, Mayor Barney remained active apparently right up until the day he died.
Giles said he was shocked to hear of his passing because Mayor Barney had joined by phone the June 21 meeting of the Gateway airport authority board and
had been on the phone with him and other mayors for a MAG conference call on June 22.
Under the Town Code, Vice Mayor Jeff Brown will continue to perform the duties as mayor.
Mayor Barney is survived by his wife Pam, three children, 16 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Details about remembrances and services have not been made available yet.
Lewis eulogized him, stating, “Mayor Gail was and is a farmer who knew how to raise crops, a family, and a community. It is always hard to say good-bye to friends, but I am grateful to have known this dedicated, humble, and servant leader, I call my friend, Gail Barney.”
Tribune staff writer Josh Ortega contributed to this report.