A decades-old advisory council that allows contractors from all over the state to hash out issues with the agency that regulates them has been put on hiatus, much to the chagrin of some of its members.
The Registrar of Contractors assembled its Industry Advisory Committee in the early 1990s. It was composed of representatives of dozens of industry organizations from across the state.
Meetings of the committee, however, came to an end after Jeff Fleetham became ROC director in February. Feelings are mixed among the council’s members, but some say it was the wrong move.
“In my opinion, that was a very, very productive committee that served the state well, as well as our association,” said John Shorbe, of Shorbe Construction and Consulting in Tucson, who has represented the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association on the council since 1995.
Southern Arizona Contractors Association President Mike Rutherford said he has heard nothing official from the ROC about the meetings, but that it’s clear that Fleetham doesn’t want them to continue.
Rutherford said the meetings were well worth the time it took to commute to Phoenix once a month because it gave contractors the opportunity to discuss pending legislation and other matters of concern to the contracting community. He said it’s foolish to discontinue the meetings, and questioned whether Fleetham saw any merit in getting input from the contractors whom ROC regulates.
“I spend the whole day by the time I drive from Sierra Vista to Phoenix, go to the meeting, have lunch and come back. My day is shot. And I’m willing to do that, as are people from Flagstaff and all over the area,” said Rutherford, of Rutherford Diversified Industries. “We’ve been through five or six different registrars over the years and it’s been of value to every one of them. Fleetham doesn’t feel like it’s necessary for him.”
One contractor, Ralph Williamson, the director of the Ceramic Tile Institute of America’s Arizona chapter, said the meetings should continue, but suggested that if ROC wanted to cut down on the number of meetings, they could perhaps be held every other month.
Fleetham is in fact considering a similar idea, according to ROC spokesman Jim Knupp. Instead of monthly meetings of the Industry Advisory Council, Knupp said the director decided recently that the ROC will begin hosting quarterly regional meetings throughout the state. The ROC has not yet scheduled a time or place for any “rock talks,” as the agency has dubbed them, but plans to hold the first meeting in southeastern Arizona.
Knupp said Fleetham believes that it’s valuable for the ROC to meet with members of the contracting community and discuss issues and policies that are important to them. But he said the monthly council meetings only included those who were able to make the trek to Phoenix. So Fleetham began looking for a better option after taking over as director.
“We’re just looking for a better and more effective means of outreach and hope to include more than those that can just travel to Phoenix,” Knupp said. “We believe more individuals, contractors and associations will be able to participate and actually attend.”
Knupp also emphasized that Fleetham and ROC officials have continued holding meetings with various industry groups across the state. He noted that Fleetham will soon travel to Sierra Vista to meet with contractors, and will be in Yuma the week after that.
Not everyone on the advisory council views the end of the monthly meetings as a big deal, and some say the agency is still very open and accessible under Fleetham’s direction.
Carol Floco, executive director of the Phoenix-based American Subcontractors Association of Arizona, said there was value in the meetings. But she said she doesn’t feel that the agency has become less responsive to the contracting community without them.
“I feel they’re keeping me as much in the loop about what they’re doing as far as activity to protect the industry as if I was going down to a meeting every month. And I can’t see that if anybody has a concern that they couldn’t pick up the phone and reach the director and have that conversation. I haven’t found him to be trying to keep the industry at arm’s length,” she said.
David Martin, head of the Arizona chapter of Associated General Contractors in Phoenix, called Fleetham a “breath of fresh air” and said the new director is streamlining the agency and getting it back to its core mission.
“I have no issue with the registrar taking a fresh look at his office,” Martin said. “If the registrar feels that reaching out to individual groups and getting feedback from them on issues that are challenges for the industry, then we support that effort. I’m not going to second-guess his decision-making on streamlining the department.”C