By Elizabeth Labiner
Chris Cornelison, Assistant Town Manager for the Town of Oro Valley, is a Wildcat twice over. He earned his B.S. in Public Administration, with a double major of Criminal Justice and Management & Public Policy, from the U of A in 2010; he then continued on to a Master of Public Administration (MPA) in 2012, with a dual focus in Finance and Local Government.
During his first year in the Master of Public Administration program, Cornelison was selected by the Town of Oro Valley for their 6-month Management Intern position in the Town Manager’s Office. This internship proved to be valuable for both the experience and the connections forged; after completing the internship, Cornelison was informed by Town staff of a job opportunity for the position of Constituent Services Coordinator/Management Assistant, for which he interviewed and was subsequently hired. Working diligently over the next four years, he gradually moved up through the organization to his current role of Assistant Town Manager.
This position has a wide variety of responsibilities, as the Assistant Town Manager provides oversight of day-to-day operations in specific departments and operational functions for the Oro Valley community. Cornelison explains,
I am involved with the Town’s finances by serving on the Town Manager’s Budget Team. I also oversee the Parks & Recreation Department, Public Works Department, which includes engineering, Stormwater Utility, transit and streets operations, Town Clerk’s Office, as well as other areas and functions within the Town Manager’s Office like constituent services, our U of A internship program, annexations, strategic initiatives, and intergovernmental relations, where I serve as the main point of contact in most cases.
While Cornelison’s position does not engage in politics, he still must navigate the political climate while providing necessary services and amenities for the community. He works closely with the departments assigned to him and keeps the Town Manager informed so that she can provide guidance and recommendations to the elected body in how best to address community issues.
The ability to navigate diverse perspectives and collaborate with a number of different stakeholders is a skill Cornelison developed at the U of A, he says. “Having the ability to coordinate efforts between various stakeholders in order to achieve a common goal or in some circumstances, different goals, is a skill that is increasingly important in the complex world of today.” Cornelison also points out that while the government bureaucracy has a bad reputation, local government is often quickly responsive to its constituents’ needs and concerns. The smaller scale of local government allows for faster decision-making and more immediate, direct impact on the community when changes are implemented.
Cornelison looks forward to continuing to make positive impacts in his community, which for him not only includes the city for which he works, but also the educational institutions in the region at both the K-12 and university levels. Cornelison is enthusiastic about education in part because he is grateful for his own, and because of the advantages it has given him for his current career:
Every day is different in my job, where I am constantly facing a variety of unique challenges that often reside within complex and political environments. I do not feel I would be as effective a leader or manager if I was not given the diverse challenges while obtaining my graduate degree at the U of A. I am more prepared to address the many issues of today in my community due to the high standards, challenges, and expectations experienced during my graduate education.
Cornelison hopes to be a city or town manager one day, but for now, he says, he’s serving in his dream job and is proud to work to address community problems with his colleagues.