Interview by Ray Newton
Greg Mengarelli has been a Prescott resident since 1995, when he and his wife Sheila and their family moved to Prescott. Mengarelli, CEO for United Christian Youth Camp (UCYC), was elected mayor for the City of Prescott in November 2017. It was his first experience in running for a political office. However, he had run for a non-partisan position when he was elected to the Prescott Unified School District governing board in 2014 and served as President of the school board in 2017. He finished his term on the school board at the end of 2018.
Mengarelli grew up in small eastern rural communities in his native Kansas. The son of a minister, Mengarelli experienced the typical youth of those who lived in dominantly agricultural communities. He attended Kansas State University in Manhattan, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Park Resource in 1989. It was there he met his wife, Sheila, who also attended K-State. They were married in 1990, have nine children (four of whom are adopted) and one grandchild.
Active in community and civic affairs most of his adult life, the 52 year old has steered the UCYC from a small struggling camp with a $400,000 budget to that of a major non-denominational youth camp in Arizona. It now has a budget of more than $4.4 million, and has over 50 employees. Mengarelli administers a complex organization that offers more than 35 or more different camps annually with more than 22,000 guests each year who visit one of its three Prescott campuses.
When he has free time-and that is becoming more and more rare because of his increasing mayoral and civic obligations-Mengarelli enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and river trips down the Colorado River.
Prescott LIVING: Mayor Mengarelli, you and your family have been here for 24 years. What changes have you observed in the community in the two decades?
Greg Mengarelli: Lots of things haven’t changed, which is good. I think the community remains friendly and warm, and it still feels like a small community. We like that. What has changed is there are more opportunities, particularly in retail and entertainment.
Twenty years ago, I can remember on Saturdays when I would be doing my honey-do list. If I needed to go to the local hardware store, I’d need to go before noon or I wouldn’t be able to get the supplies I needed. Now stores are open all weekend. Plus, you don’t need to travel to Phoenix for everything. You can do quite well shopping locally with what we have available.
Prescott LIVING: You have consistently said you’re committed to preserving and protecting the values and traditions in this area. What can you do to make that happen?
Greg Mengarelli: Well, I identify those values and traditions as God, family and country.
In our community, we have a very strong community of faith and lots of opportunities for people to express that faith. That’s very valuable to me and my family. I see it expressed on the Courthouse Plaza when different communities of faith gather and share their traditions, whether it be the Christmas Courthouse lighting or the Jewish community’s menorah. I appreciate that our community is open to allowing our different faith communities to express themselves on the public square. I believe that’s very valuable — a big part of the fabric of our community.
A second value — family. I appreciate that our community values family. You can see that in our traditions with our parades and our holiday gatherings. All those are family-oriented, family-centered. It’s important in our community to have opportunities for families to celebrate together.
Finally, Prescott is one of the top patriotic communities in the country. I appreciate the fact that we’re very patriotic, and that we honor our veterans. That’s an important part of our community.
Prescott LIVING: Much of your adult career has been related to directing, coordinating, administering programs and activities for young people. What is it that appeals to you in that kind of work?
Greg Mengarelli: I have a large family, so I know the struggles families face with raising children. My wife Sheila and I have always wanted to be helpful and supportive in raising young people. It’s gratifying to invest in young people, to nurture and invest in them, and to see what they can become. That’s what we want to do — help young people discover their strengths and explore their dreams and do great things in our community and give back. I love investing in young people, to help families and see them reach their dreams.
Prescott LIVING: It was almost an extension of your work in church administration and the church camp to become a member of the school board for Prescott Unified School District. What similarities do you find?
Greg Mengarelli: There are lots of similarities — investing in young people. They are our future. It’s been a real pleasure to serve on the school board with a great team led by Superintendent Joe Howard. The difference is the amount of time you have to make a difference. At camp, we have kids for a short amount of time in an outdoor setting. At school, you have them for about 10 months of the year in a day-to-day situation.
As a school board member, I’m there to support and encourage Joe and his team accomplish the vision and the goals of the district. At camp, I am the CEO and the leader. There’s a lot of commonalities in investing in our young people and helping them overcome obstacles and reach their dreams.
Prescott LIVING: Being mayor of Prescott has become almost a full-time obligation. How many hours a week are you spending in official duties and functions?
Greg Mengarelli: Well … it’s hard to quantify. Every day is different, every week is different. I would say I’m busy doing something at least 60 hours. The lion’s share is between the camp and the city. It’s definitely more time with the city than I thought it was going to be. But it’s gratifying, and I enjoy it so much.
The city has been the organization that’s required the most attention. I would say there is not a typical day. Some days I’ll work eight or 10 hours for the city and other days I’ll work that same amount of time for the camp. The school board doesn’t require as much lately because we have such a good team. I would say that about the camp, too. After 24 years at the camp, we have it on a good trajectory with a good executive team leading the camp.
Prescott LIVING: What have you learned about civic government that you didn’t know before you became mayor?
Greg Mengarelli: I have to say I’ve been impressed with how our government functions locally. It’s very efficient. We have some very good people on our staff who work hard for our citizens. It’s interesting to lead a team you didn’t pick. We’re fortunate to have a good team, a good city council. It’s neat to see you can really have an impact on citizens and the quality of their life through local government. That’s what I like about serving at this level.
Prescott LIVING: What qualities do you find that you admire in your city colleagues?
Greg Mengarelli: You have to be a team player. You have to be flexible and willing to compromise. Roll up your sleeves and get all the issues out on the table. Get your opinion out there and hear everyone else’s opinion. Listening is really important. Finally, you have to be able to come to a solution you can all agree on. I think our council does that.
Prescott LIVING: Identifying and fulfilling budgetary obligations and charting prudent fiscal management have always been a key responsibility for city officials in Prescott. You have been a strong advocate for conservative fiscal policies. Yet at the same time, you have been committed to meeting obligations such as Prop 443. (Editor’s note: Prop 443 was a proposition approved by Prescott voters this past year. It authorized the City of Prescott to levy a .75 sales tax to pay down the unfunded debt to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System PSPRS).
Give us some of your thoughts about fiscal management.
Greg Mengarelli: A year ago, we faced a mountain of a debt, with our PSPRS unfunded liability. And we were proposing at that time Proposition 443 as a solution. This city is very focused on fiscal responsibility. I think as a general value of our people, they don’t like debt. Proposition 443 was the solution, and my good friends Mayor Pro Tem Billie Orr and Councilman Steve Sischka led the charge.
A lot of promises were made a year ago, and now we can report those promises were kept. Prop 443 is working and generating the revenue we thought it would. And we’re maintaining our promise to pay the required payment to PSPRS out of our general fund. In addition, using this new money from the Prop 443 to continue to pay down the debt, we’re on track to have it paid off in about seven years. We’re pleased with the decisions we’re making to honor those promises.
Prescott LIVING: You also have been an advocate for growing the economy locally. How?
Greg Mengarelli: That question dovetails with the previous question. To generate sales-tax revenue, and revenue from Prop 443, you need growth. You need new businesses coming in and new jobs to make sure you can pay off your debt from previous years. That’s what we’re about, creating local high-tech jobs — high-paying jobs to keep young people in town. By creating jobs to fuel the economy … retail and rooftops will follow.
Prescott LIVING: We really admire what the city is doing now with the Destination Marketing Organization. Tell us about that.
Greg Mengarelli: I’ve said this for a while now, starting on the campaign trail. Prescott is a No. 1 tourism destination. In the past, we were a secondary destination. People were going to Sedona or the Grand Canyon or Flagstaff, and they might consider swinging through Prescott as a secondary option. But with our expanded airport and our commercial air service, and with a lot of the new entertainment and cultural arts and attractions in our city, Prescott is a destination for tourism. They will come here and then go to visit Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Prescott can be the hub of destination tourism.
Prescott LIVING: How important is it that in August, our airport became Prescott Regional Airport?
Greg Mengarelli: Prescott Regional Airport really reflects the cooperation and partnerships we have with the county and other municipalities even all the way to the Verde Valley. It’s important for us to see it that way. This is an asset that’s been given to us, and we need to make sure we leverage it in a way that’s good for the whole region. Prescott Regional Airport really reflects the mentality that we are partners, cooperating with all of the local regional municipalities in the county.
Prescott LIVING: The airport goes beyond being a commercial airport. So many other businesses are locating out there. Comments about that?
Greg Mengarelli: That whole area is a real economic engine that’s been under-utilized. There’s a lot of space for businesses there. What we’re considering is getting projects that are shovel-ready or even coming up with some buildings, so when businesses want to relocate, they have a place to go immediately. That seems to be the trend — to have shells of buildings ready to go. We need more of that kind of space, particularly around the airport.
Prescott LIVING: You were instrumental in bringing a company called Eviation to Prescott. What’s the impact of that?
Greg Mengarelli: I first met the Eviation executives when I was still on the campaign trail. What a great organization — an Israeli-owned company that is going to build the first electric airplane. We’re so excited they chose Prescott for their U.S. headquarters.
I only had a small part in that. I think Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) was a big part of that decision because of its aeronautical engineering program and its research and development that they’ll be doing with Eviation.
Our airport was another part of that; they really liked the access and the airspace available to them.
Eviation plans to build a nine-seater regional airplane.We’re a regional airport, so it gives them the opportunity to really test that market.
Prescott LIVING: They will employ some quality people.
Greg Mengarelli: It’s a very high-tech company, as you can imagine, with the electric motors and the batteries and 3D printing of much of the fuselage. Eventually, they’ll go into manufacturing here, and that could result in 500 to 1,000 jobs locally. It really fits within the paradigm of our economy.
Prescott LIVING: You’ve been vocal about the importance of colleges and universities in this region and the positive impact they have. Give us some examples of what they can do.
Greg Mengarelli: We’re fortunate to have four of those colleges and universities in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Northern Arizona University, Prescott College and Yavapai College. Our citizens tend to be lifelong learners. They want to pick up a new skill, they want to learn a new hobby. We have four great opportunities for people to get involved in one of these colleges or universities and do just that. I believe that contributes to the quality of life we have in Prescott.
In addition, we at the city try to leverage those higher institutions for economic development. We’ve already talked about aviation and the commercial air service.
We see this happening with RESA, a custom orthotic insole manufacturer. Yavapai College and ERAU are instrumental players for us to make sure we see RESA thrive in our community. Without those universities, I don’t know it would have happened. We couldn’t attract those kinds of businesses to our community.
Prescott LIVING: I think you’re fortunate to have on the city staff some shrewd and aggressive people who are going after economic development: John Heiney, Wendy Bridges and Jim Robb, the economic development consultant.
Greg Mengarelli: These people are out there all the time reaching out to businesses. What I like about our strategy is we’re really focused on high-paying jobs in the tech industry, because it matches who we are. It’s a reflection of our colleges and universities and what we can offer.
The other aspect is we’re also meeting with the existing businesses in our city to see how we can help them expand. It’s not just about bringing new businesses into the city as much as it is about making sure we’re taking care of those businesses that already exist in our city. We try to do both of those things.
Prescott LIVING: In October, you visited Prescott’s sister city Zeitz, Germany. What brought that about?
Greg Mengarelli: Within a few weeks of being in office I received an invitation from the Mayor of Zeitz to come visit. We went in October and had a great time. It was a lot of fun to be with Sheila, and to enjoy getting to know the people in Zeitz and their traditions. The sugar beet festival was a real pleasure to be a part of and we’re grateful to have that connection and those relationships in Zeitz.
Prescott LIVING: German tourists seem to love coming here.
Greg Mengarelli: I’ve met a few folks from Zeitz who have visited Prescott. It’s fun to have them over here to see, you know, the Wild, Wild West, as they think of it. (laughs).
Prescott LIVING: We’re going to shift gears and talk about you and your family. You’ve already made it very clear family is critical in your life. Your wife Sheila sells real estate. She’s as busy as you are. At the same time, you have nine children. They range from elementary school to college. How do you two manage to balance everything?
Greg Mengarelli: It’s rare that we’ll have an evening or a weekend just with my wife Sheila and the family. We cherish those. I try to incorporate Sheila, and even my kids, in as much as we can with city functions. I think it’s important for people to see our family together when it’s appropriate. Several weekends we’re busy with city functions and evenings as well.
Prescott LIVING: If you had a free evening to spend with Sheila and the kids, what would you do?
Greg Mengarelli: (laughs) You know, we’re pretty simple people. Anytime we’re together, we’re having fun. It doesn’t really matter where we are or what we’re doing. We’re pretty low-maintenance that way. I think many times sitting on the back deck, making s’mores around the fire is as much fun as anything we do. It’s mostly just quality time — being together without distraction and laughing about whatever events have happened recently.
For the record, I think my wife’s busier than I am, which is hard to do. (laughs). We have a lot of friends, neighbors and family who wrap around our family and help us get everything accomplished. Our grown children are helping us out. Both of our moms live here, and it really makes a difference to have two grandparents helping. Everyone pitches in and does their part even within our own family. Everybody has chores and duties around the house.
Prescott LIVING: How long has this lifestyle been a part of your life fabric — since you were a youngster? Or is this something that evolved over time with you and Sheila?
Greg Mengarelli: It’s interesting; on the Mengarelli side, family’s very important. We actually don’t have any divorce on the Mengarelli side of the family, believe it or not. -That’s always been a value, all the way back to my great-grandparents who came from Italy. My great-grandpa used to talk about the family in Italy and how they all lived together and took care of each other. It’s a long-standing value that you take care of each other.
Prescott LIVING: What about Sheila?
Greg Mengarelli: Similar. She has one brother. They have a little smaller family. I can remember all the family reunions and the importance of getting together. Family is very important for both of us.
Prescott LIVING: You’ve been married how long?
Greg Mengarelli: Twenty-eight years.
Prescott LIVING: You’ve got nine children, four of whom are adopted. Tell us about that.
Greg Mengarelli: We agreed we wanted to at least have four children when we got started. We just enjoy kids. After we had five, we were made aware there were 2,000 orphans in our state. We decided we wanted to give more kids the same opportunity our kids have. So first we adopted one sibling group and then another sibling group. We have two adopted sibling groups. We have one daughter who has some special needs. She’s deaf and we’re learning sign language. We have learned a lot about education for the deaf community. We’re fortunate to have her in the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf.
I’m a grandpa. Our oldest son lives in Prescott Valley and he and his wife work in the area and have one son. We have one in post-graduate school at NAU. Two are at University of Arizona studying medicine and nursing. After that, they run the gamut … one in high school, one in middle school, and the rest are in elementary. You get to know a lot of different people when you have kids in all those different schools and age ranges. It’s been a real pleasure.
They cheer and lead each other on. They love when everybody has something special going on in their lives, whether it’s a grandbaby or graduation from high school or college. The younger ones admire the older ones. They’re great role models.
Prescott LIVING: You and your family, in the 28 years, have established some traditions. What are the two or three favorite traditions you have?
Greg Mengarelli: We love just being together — quality time. We really try to be flexible as the kids change and grow. Now we’re grandparents. We need to try to make sure that whatever we’re doing accommodates everybody. And so things evolve and change. I’d say in terms of traditions, we enjoy going to church together weekly as much as we can.
We also enjoy going to Beaver Lake, which is near Rogers, Arkansas. That’s been a constant every summer. We go there and take as many kids as are available on vacation.
Christmas is always a special time for our family to get together. We like to recap the year and count our blessings, all the good things that have happened the past year.
Prescott LIVING: Do you have traditions — like every kid puts an ornament on the tree?
Greg Mengarelli: We’re kind of nontraditional traditionalists that way. I can’t think of any things that we do. When I grew up we used to always have breakfast for dinner on Christmas Eve. But that was because my dad was the pastor. We had responsibilities around Christmas time. But for us, most of it is just enjoying each other’s company. We usually hang out at home. We get as many as we can home for Christmas. We find that too many traditions make it hard to be flexible in allowing others to join in. We want others to feel comfortable spending time with us and therefore don’t want to put traditions above caring for people.
Prescott LIVING: What do your kids think of you being mayor?
Greg Mengarelli: (laughs). Well, they love it. They think it’s cool that dad’s the mayor, and they still enjoy wearing the T-shirts and hats from the campaign. They think it’s kind of a celebrity thing. They brag about me at school and stuff, which is kind of neat.
Prescott LIVING: What does Sheila think?
Greg Mengarelli: (laughs). You know, she knows it’s a passion of mine, that it energizes me and that I enjoy it. She supports me and loves to see me doing what I love to do in leading the city.
Prescott LIVING: What do you want your legacy as mayor to be?
Greg Mengarelli: That’s a good question. I’d like to improve the quality of life for our citizens. Hopefully we can do some things to improve what was already an amazing quality of life here in Prescott. I think for the city staff and our culture here, I want to make sure we improve those opportunities for city employees. I think if we can invest in them and improve their workplace and their culture at work that should turn around and positively benefit our citizens with quality customer service.
I hope that’s a large part of my legacy.