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County should approve 'navigator' to protect D-M

OUR VIEW: Appointee would advocate for area, be point person on military matters

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will consider a new economic development plan at its Tuesday meeting. Within the plan's 14 chapters is an item that will help our community strengthen its connection to Davis- Monthan Air Force Base, the Air Force and other military operations.

The proposal to create a 'navigator' position as our area's point person on military matters, similar to what other communities have done, should be approved. Our region must be forward-thinking in how we can work to protect D-M as the A-10 fighter jets are phased out and national military leaders seek to close bases.

We recommended that Pima County create such a position in a June 7 editorial in the Star's weeklong series, 'Mission Critical: The future of Davis-Monthan.' It's time to professionalize and coordinate our joint public and private efforts to advocate and support D-M, we said.

We are heartened that Pima County also recognizes the value of such a position. In fiscal year 2014, D-M provided an economic benefit of $1.5 billion and almost 10,000 jobs, of which 2,900 are civilians, according to the Pima County Economic Development Plan 2015-17.

Our call to quickly address the navigator position was fueled by reporting trips to cities in Georgia, New Mexico and Nevada to see firsthand what communities do to keep close ties to their nearby bases, and advocate for them on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon.

It was clear that while Tucson supports D-M, our hands-on way of expressing it is fractured and risks duplicating efforts, or worse, allowing issues to fall through the cracks.

At the same time, for example, we saw in Valdosta, Georgia, the benefit of the Air Force leaders, on base and in Washington, having one designated person to call when they needed to communicate with government officials or the community at large. 'Make sure the Air Force and congressional offices have your phone number,' we heard over and over. It's good advice.

'Davis-Monthan's assets are too important to ignore,' the plan states in the 'Protecting Our Existing Major Employment Base' chapter. 'We must provide the level of community, institutional and jurisdictional support necessary to ensure DMAFB remains here and grows here.'

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said learning about other communities' efforts through the Star's series brought the need here into focus.

'It gave us another perspective on it - the need for a go-to person,' he told us last week.

Board of Supervisors' approval of the concept is the first step, Huckelberry said. He would then talk to D-M officals about its usefulness before inviting regional partners, such as Tucson and other municipalities, and private booster groups, like the DM50 and Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, to join the discussion.

'If that goes well, we have to talk about how to write the job description, the tasks, what they will do, how they will work, and define the roles of the various jurisdictions and groups,' Huckelberry said.

While we suggested that the municipalities kick in money for the navigator's salary, Huckelberry said the county likely will not ask for funding from others. He envisions it as an executive-level position with annual pay of $ 80,000 to $120,000.

We urged Pima County to take the lead in creating this position because it's the governmental agency with the largest umbrella. The base is within the Tucson city limits, and this navigator position should not interfere with the advocacy of elected officials. This effort must be united.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild recently met with Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James in Washington, D.C. This level of engagement is crucial, too, and would not be usurped by the navigator. Rothschild and Huckelberry have not talked about the proposed navigator position yet, but Rothschild told the Star he is open to the idea.

'I think it's a good idea that we have a public official who is accountable to the taxpayers and who can take input from all the groups,' he said. 'It's a welcome idea, and it will give us an opportunity to all work together to get to the best results.'

We urge the Board of Supervisors to support the navigator position, and for the other municipalities and interested groups to join the effort and help create an effective regional way to support and help protect D-M.

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