Cathy Carlat was elected to the Peoria City Council in 2005. Ten years later she became the first female mayor of the city.
Carlat is “committed to cutting-edge public safety, attracting quality employment that embraces the workforce of tomorrow and leadership to strategically plan for a lasting economy.”
She is involved with the Maricopa Association of Governments, Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Central Arizona Conservation Alliance and Flinn Foundation. She also serves as Secretary/Treasurer on the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association Board of Directors and Vice President of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns Executive Committee.
In 2018, Carlat was named one of the most influential women in Arizona by AZ Big Media.
Chamber Business News talked to Carlat about her time as mayor and where she hopes to see Peoria go in the future.
Question: Why did you originally decide to run for mayor?
Answer: That’s just a great question, I ran for mayor for my kids. For the benefit of my children. I have two kids and at the time they were eight and 15 and I wanted to make sure that they could grow up in a city that was going to allow them to stay here. I wanted my kids to stay here. I wanted them to raise their families here and keep my grandkids here. Truthfully, cities are communities that are just all about families and I wanted my family close and I’m sure everybody else wants their family close, so we need to build a city that has places for them to work, places for them to go to school, places for them to take their kids to play ball and all of the things that are safe and warm about a community and I wanted those things for my kids.
Q: How have you worked to make Peoria a family community?
A: Oh, so many ways. You know, seriously, the first thing that you have to do to make sure that your city is benefiting families is to make sure it’s safe and that has always been a top priority of mine. You know, we’re a really, really fast-growing city and so when you’ve got all of this new growth and all these new roads and homes and all of those things, you really have to try to maintain that small-town feel that made people move here in the first place, that makes people love Peoria. So the way that you do that is by making sure that people can feel safe walking their dogs on the streets at night, that there’s a low crime rate and the perception of fear is just not there when you’re at home in Peoria.
Q: What unique qualities do you think you bring to the office of mayor?
A: I’m Peoria’s first full-time mayor and of course, I bring big dreams and vision for the future, but I also bring a lot of experience. I have lived in communities before and I have seen the transformation that happens when a community is at its best and that is a complete city, what I call a complete city. It offers places for people to have gainful employment, it offers amenities where people can go outside and have a healthy lifestyle, so a complete community is what we are building and I have seen that happen in other places. You bring in corporations and they not only employ people but they contribute to the community, they donate to the schools and they support little league teams and they support arts and culture and they bring about the unique qualities. They help to bring about the unique qualities that are already existent in our residents.
Q: Currently, what are your biggest priorities?
A: Economic development is a huge one for me, and so we spend a lot of time working to make sure that areas of our city have the correct infrastructure or expanded infrastructure so that we can attract employers and attract the kind of places that are going to perpetuate our families and give our families strength. That’s a big one for me is economic development. Also, the safety of communities is a really big deal. Making sure that we maintain the heritage that brought us to where we are right now. Our city started with one tiny square mile, and we’re sitting in that square mile right now, but we are currently 178 square miles. So with all of that geography, we need to remember what our roots are and retain that depth of what it means to be a Peoria resident, no matter how much we grow. So that’s a really big deal, making sure that we retain our unique character.
So we’ve got economic development, we’ve got our heritage and we’ve of course got the safety that we need to have in our streets. I want to make sure that we do government right. That is an option for all of us in politics, for all of us in government. That we bring transparency and ethics to this job. It does not have to be government as usual, it does not have to be politics as usual. It can be about who we want the personality of our city to be. Cities take on personalities and I want this city to have an honest and ethical and straightforward background in representation of our citizens, it’s the way government should be done and that’s one of the things that I’m very passionate about.
Q: Where do you see Peoria in the next five years?
A: Peoria is continuing to be a fast-growing city. So we have lots of home builders, lots of development that is coming to us. Five years is a very short period of time when it comes to the history of cities, but for us, one of the main things that I want to make sure that we do is not allow that growth to impede the beauty of our Sonoran desert. That it doesn’t overtake us, we have to preserve and conserve the things that matter most to us and will matter in the future. So if we need to change our general plan so that we are providing more open space, more parks and more trails for the future, that’s what I want to make sure that we do in the near term.
Q: What accomplishments have you been most proud of so far?
A: I’m really most proud of the things that enhance the quality of life for our residents.
So I’ll give you an example. We have a retirement community and they had a truck route actually going right down the middle of this retirement community and there’s sand and gravel area near there. So they had at one point up to a thousand trucks a day bisecting their retirement community. They could not enjoy a peaceful, quiet life. So I was able to get the funding to build a haul road that took those trucks in another direction that was not impeding them or any other community. So I’m really, really proud that those people now get to live in an environment that doesn’t have a lot of diesel fuel and doesn’t have a lot of noise and truck brakes and things that are impacting their quiet enjoyment in their community. That’s one of the things I’m really proud of.
We have brought our ambulance service completely in house because the private ambulance services really were sort of getting a monopoly and their profit-driven response times were getting low and there was an instability in that industry. So we brought that in house and we bought our own ambulances and we trained our own people and now we can control that service to make sure that our citizens have an ambulance on time when they need it. It’s just a core service and we need to take care of our citizens when they need it most.
One of my very, very first priorities when I became mayor was to make sure that our firefighters had the correct equipment and things that they need to make sure that are impacted the least amount by the deadly carcinogens that they have to breathe in every day when they go to fires. So we made sure that they have duplicate sets of turnouts these industrial washers in all of the fire stations and we took out all of the carpets in all of the fire stations so that they’re not bringing those things into the fire station where they live 24/7. Bringing it in on their boots and leave it on the carpet, so pull all that carpet out. We’ve done a lot of things to make sure they have the best equipment that they can have to keep them really safe. That’s one of the things I’m really, really proud of. We have to worry a lot about our first responders because they worry a lot about us.
We’ve also expanded our veteran’s memorial in a large, large degree. We’ve made it so we have a very large granite wall that’s got war events that are sketched on it. So we finished off the wall, we expanded the area so that people can now sit there and quietly reflect in a shaded area on a lake. It’s really nice. We also added an honor wall so that our residents can find the names of the veterans that they know and love and people that are in their family so those can be permanently etched on that wall at our veterans memorial. We have also added a Vietnam veterans memorial and we’re now in the process of expanding that. So we’ve really made a big statement to how much we respect and care for our veterans.
So those are just a few of things that I can think of off the top of my head.
Q: How have you seen Peoria change since you were first elected to the city council in 2005?
A: 2005 was a long, long time ago. We have really made a tremendous amount of changes. We are really though transforming ourself from a small town, from a bedroom community into a modern community that will, as I said, [be] a complete city that will employ its own residents, that will offer all of the things that somebody needs right here in the city of Peoria needs to live and work and grow a healthy family, health community. They can go to the parks, there’s plenty of trails for bikes and for hiking and for horseback riding.
Our playgrounds are now all accessible. So we are retrofitting all of our older playgrounds with accessible playgrounds for all children and we’re building all of our new playgrounds so that every kid can enjoy the fun, not just abled body kids, but everyone.
We are transforming our water portfolio so that we plan for the future. That’s really what I’m passionate about is the future of the city of Peoria. How are we going to situate ourselves so that we are ready 20 and 40 years from now for the populations that are going to be here then as well as today? So we’ve got a really great, strong water portfolio that’s very diverse, but in a city as large as ours, especially geographically, we have to be cognizant of the infrastructure that we put in, making sure that we can have reused water in every area of our city, not just some of the more populated areas. We want to make sure we squeeze every last drop of water out of every drop of water we have. We have a lot of diversification in our portfolio but we’re also recharging a lot of our own water. We need to make that we have the infrastructure in place to get that to the newer areas as well as the older areas. So that takes a lot of preplanning because those things are very expensive to put in place.
So those are some of the things that I’m passionate about and some of the things that have transformed our city as we build a complete city.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not being mayor?
A: I’m always being mayor. Truthfully, there is not a time when you’re not a mayor. This is a 24 hour a day job, but it’s my family. It’s just all about my family. I’ve got grandkids now and they’re always a big part of our lives and I like to have fun with my family and my kids. My mother still lives here, my sisters live here, all of their families. I am really, really fortunate to be surrounded by such a great security system.
Q: What’s a fun fact about you that most people may not know?
A: So my dad’s parents, my grandparents, came over to Ellis Island on a ship from Sicily. My father was the first in his family, the first generation to be born in America. They settled in Pennsylvania and in 1929, he was born in Pennsylvania in a town that was just filled with other immigrants from Europe, almost exclusively from actually from Italy, in Clearfield, Pennsylvania.
When he grew up, he met my mother in Pittsburgh and her family was 100 percent Irish. Immigrated from Ireland and so my parents had to elope to be able to marry outside of their nationality, their heritage. They did that and it’s really kind of Romeo and Juliet story, except for it’s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania so you have to take out those castles and the princes and all of that and insert brick mills and coal mining instead.
They did live happily ever after for 50 years. So it’s a good story.