A week in the life of a new councilwoman

PHOENIX — In her first week as the city's newest council member, retiree Diane Stewart watched voters shoot down a controversial city surcharge, reviewed the state's plan to rebuild a failing highway interchange and discussed the demise of the city's fire department.

She also was handed a carload of gripping reading material on city business.

"I am not kidding. It took two ladies to carry it all to my car," Stewart said of the paper load, all geared at getting the 69-year-old up to speed on city codes, background information, acronyms and the like. "I said, 'I hope they aren't going to test me!' "

The lone woman on the council after former Mayor Vicki Bear's resignation as council member, Stewart's foray into city government is her latest post in decades of volunteerism and community involvement.

Stewart has spearhead projects ranging from community theaters and riding arenas to public safety policies. She moved to Phoenix when her children were small, purchasing a home on Coleman Creek Road in 1976 and instantly got involved in area schools and Little League.

"A lot of people still know me as the snack-booth lady," she notes.

Stewart earned a sociology degree from Southern Oregon University in 1990.

She said her concern for the city's well-being peaked with the rest of the community over the past year as fiscal concerns and other issues made headlines.

She admits citizens are leery of city government in Phoenix and hopes she can "work toward making things better."

Most recently, Stewart was appointed as a voting member of a citizens advisory committee tasked with reviewing the city's budget. Now that she's on the council, she'll assume a nonvoting role on the committee.

She was a proponent of a recent decision to contract fire services with Rural Fire District 5, effectively ending city-managed fire services in town.

"Our citizens' committee really pushed hard when we found out the numbers could work out to our benefit down the road," Stewart says.

Stewart admits she wasn't a fan of a surcharge the council passed in May to offset a dire budget situation. Voters shot it down Tuesday in a special election.

"Mark my words, I'm not a mind-reader but I do believe this community can live on the budget that has already been proposed," she said. "And it may take some doing, but I don't think we're going to lose any personnel."

Councilman Mike Stitt pushed for her to be appointed to the council because "I keep seeing her at citizens' meetings, and I see her being involved."

"She seems like a very sharp gal, and I'm happy she was nominated," Stitt said. "What the city really needs is somebody who's involved instead of just 'I'd like to give that a try.'"

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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