PHOENIX – Fostering a positive attitude about being Latino and living in Maricopa County was the message community leaders delivered at a public forum held this week in Downtown Phoenix.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, along with other community leaders, answered questions in a public forum called “New Voices,” hosted by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The AHCC hosted the event as a way for community members to speak to leaders who hold positions that can substantially impact the Latino community.
Approximately 50 people attended and audience members asked questions of the panel. Most of the questions were directed toward Penzone.
“What I wish for in the sheriff’s office is that the day comes when you travel around this country and the world and you proudly state that you are from Maricopa County because the sheriff’s office here respects the rights and privileges of all while trying to keep you safe,” Penzone said.
“What I inherited was my predecessor’s reputation,” Penzone said, referring to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “Judge me on my actions. Judge me on the things we commit and carry out and accomplish. … I am considerably different (from my predecessor).”
Penzone said he was determined to improve the department’s relations with the Latino community. He said this task has been difficult so far and he has inherited two court orders and 260 lawsuits from the previous administration.
Also on the panel were Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes; Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Dist. 46; Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar, and Rep. Tony Navarette, D-Dist. 30.
“The concept around “New Voices” is to give the opportunity to newly elected and appointed officials in any leadership capacity exposure to our community,” said Gonzalo de la Melena, CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“To get those leaders more connected to our constituents and get them more civically engaged is the objective of this type of a forum,” De la Melena said. “As you think about people who are setting the policy for the city, state and counties it’s important to understand the issues and opportunities available.”
He also said he hopes this type of engagement becomes more common in Phoenix.
Fontes spoke about some of his responsibilities to the Latino communities as county recorder.
“I don’t know if there is anything new here,” he said. “I just think that it has a different angle, but we live in a democracy and the city of Phoenix is a part of that. The Latino demographic just like the Asian, African American, Caucasian or any other voting demographic is important because they are all eligible American citizen voters.
“Those are the folks who are important to this process and at the end of the day we are all Americans and these are all issues that are important to us,” Fontes said.
Penzone also said he hopes to improve the department’s reputation primarily through community outreach.
“The best thing we can do is give back more than what we take,” Penzone said. “Recognize that it is a privilege and not an entitlement; that it is an authority given to us by who we serve. When we use that power in a way that is discriminatory we violate all the authority given to us and we have to fight against that.”
Arizona State University junior Oscar Hernandez, an attendee of the forum and an undocumented immigrant, said he hopes Penzone will stay true to his word.
“He spoke very deeply … he did mention undocumented students and I’m glad that he did that and I understand he backs us undocumented students, but we’ll see if he commits to his word.”
(Video by Nicole Gutierrez/Cronkite News)