By Sondra Barr
Photos by Elizabeth Reich

The Scottsdale 101 Citizen Academy, a cornerstone of community involvement and civic understanding, celebrates the graduation of its latest class on May 14. The academy, known for fostering knowledgeable and engaged citizens, has left a profound impact on this year’s participants, preparing them to take active roles in their community.

Darryl Komesu, a retired resident of 15 years, joined the academy to gain a deeper understanding of city-level governance. “The class has met my expectations,” Komesu says, reflecting on his newfound insight into how various groups within the city interact. The water conservation session particularly resonated with him, emphasizing the city’s proactive steps in sustainability.

For Elizabeth Reich, a retired nonprofit leader with a tenure at Make-A-Wish Arizona, the program demystified the mechanics of Scottsdale’s government. “It’s made me feel more confident to reach out to city leaders,” Reich shares, expressing her concern for Scottsdale’s growth and its impact on community lifestyle. A bus tour and discussions with the city manager provided a real-world context that enhanced her comprehension of city operations.

Participant George Spatola, who’s in construction design and sales, has witnessed Scottsdale’s evolution over five decades, notes the academy’s role in equipping him to address community concerns proactively. “Now I feel confident bringing [neighbors’] suggestions to the water department,” Spatola says, underlining the program’s practical impact on participating citizens.

The curriculum’s diversity is intentional, encompassing an overview of local government operations, public works, community services, and emergency services. Interactive experiences and dynamic learning sessions form the crux of the academy’s approach, marrying theory with practice. Each of the eight sessions uncovers new layers as to what it takes to operate Scottsdale effectively.

This season’s academy included dialogue with key Scottsdale figures including Mayor David Ortega, City Manager Jim Thompson, Fire Chief Tom Shannon, Acting City Auditor Lai Cluff, City Clerk Ben Lane, and City Treasurer Sonia Andrews.
While participants’ motivations for attending the academy are varied, the catalyst for Spatola’s attendance was fueled by his nieces and nephews, who wanted him to get in front of the city and bring back the popular Mighty Mud Mania event. “As I spoke with city staff, they suggested I join the Recreation Board. I applied both to that board and the Neighborhood Board, which I was chosen for. At my first meeting there was a presentation on the academy, and I knew I had to participate,” he says.

As for future enhancements to the academy, participants like Komesu and Reich advocate for more time to digest the information and engage in discussions, suggesting this could enhance the already robust learning experience.

As the graduates step into their roles as informed citizens, the academy’s influence is clear. It equips participants with the confidence to engage with city leaders and motivates long-time residents to reinvigorate their community involvement.

The free program, held yearly in the spring, is open to residents, business owners, and city employees. For more information, visit