Better Together

SALC Members Choose Progress Over Partisanship

By Romi Carrell Wittman

Southern Arizona Leadership Council’s member-wide meetings could be called the region’s version of a Davos or a G20 of the Southwest – essentially a leadership summit of the best business minds.

With membership of over 140 people representing an incredibly diverse array of businesses and major community organizations, SALC’s board leads a dynamic group of accomplished business leaders with deep connections throughout Southern Arizona. 

SALC Board Chair Rob Draper is president of O’Rielly Chevrolet. Vice-Chair Susan Gray is president and CEO of TEP/UNS Energy. Chair Pro Tem David Cohen is president of BeachFleischman PLLC. Board Treasurer Cristie Street is CEO of Nextrio and Board Secretary Don Bourn is CEO of Bourn Companies. 

But how does this dream team of leaders manage to lead leaders? 

Draper believes this is possible because of the perennial relevance of SALC’s mission and its consistent nonpartisan focus on collaboration. “Members are expected to contribute their time and talents, but on the flipside they reap the benefits of being part of a top-level clearinghouse of information and ideas, a place where they can hear the latest thinking of others on key issues and expand and sharpen their own knowledge and understanding of those subjects,” he said. 

This give and take keeps members involved and interested. “That and the sense of obligation and pride I think we all share in trying to make Tucson and Southern Arizona a better place to live for everyone,” Draper said. 

Gray took this thought a step further. “Our members dedicate their talent and time as conveners, influencers and advocates, connecting the dots and bringing visibility to issues that are critical to our path ahead,” she said, adding that the diversity of thought and representation ensure that SALC and its message reach all corners of the region and state.  

That SALC has managed to thrive during incredibly divisive and polarizing times is a testament to the organization’s commitment to nonpartisan consensus building and inclusiveness. “In order to be placed on our agenda, an issue must be strategic and important to the welfare of the community and must have a reasonable chance of achieving an improvement in our region,” Draper said. He added that neither of those criteria can be met when issues only benefit a select group of people. “We focus our efforts on initiatives that can have the broadest impact on our community.” 

This foundational approach sets SALC up for long-term success. “SALC is built for the future,” said Cohen. “We have invested in strong and inspired management, people that work hard and truly care about SALC’s mission and vision.”

The management team Cohen refers to includes: President and CEO Ted Maxwell; Shelley Watson, VP and COO; Nicole P. Barraza, director of governance and outreach; John J. Pedicone, director of education policy, John Moffat, director of infrastructure policy, and Ron Shoopman, director of special projects, round out this team.  

“SALC members represent the full political spectrum,” said Maxwell. “While we are nonpartisan, we deliberately engage a cross-partisan combination of individuals in our leadership teams from executive staff to board of directors. From our inception, we have maintained laser-focus on viewing issues through a business lens.” 

As Draper put it, “It really doesn’t matter much what my, or any other individual member’s, opinion is regarding what are the most critical issues facing the region. One of the organization’s core practices is to poll ALL of our members at least annually to identify critical issues of the day, prioritize them, and decide whether and how best to engage to advance them.” 

Once membership consensus is achieved, that information is assembled into an annual Legislative Agenda and set of Policy Goals, which are then pursued through SALC’s five committees, called Focus Areas. 

SALC has several items on its future priorities list, including voter-approved renewal of the Regional Transportation Authority, securing the region’s water future, and growing  a skilled workforce, among others. By nature, these are complex issues that cannot be solved quickly; in fact, many will take years to fully address. But SALC is well-positioned to see these issues through to solution and has a 25-year history of doing so on important issues. Draper attributes this to SALC’s staying power, organized approach and the committed membership and staff.

Cohen added, “I could not be prouder of the impact made by SALC in its history and it was an honor to lead the organization as its chair over the past three years.” 


Pictured above SALC Executive Staff from left – Shelley Watson, Vice President & COO; Ted Maxwell, President & CEO; Nicole Barraza, Director, Governance & Outreach. Photo by Brent G. Mathis

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