Farrow sworn in as Page's newest city councilor
Mike Farrow, the newest member of the Page City Council, took the oath of office during the council’s Nov. 16 meeting. It is his first time holding elected office, a “dramatic change of lifestyle” that he sees as a welcome challenge and the next logical step in a life of service to others.
“When you get too old to do some things, then you go on to other things,” he told the Lake Powell Chronicle. “This is my new call for service. It’s going to be new for me, it will be a challenge for me, but I like challenges. I don’t mind working.”
Farrow traced the start of his life of service back to when he joined Boy Scouts while growing up in Long Beach, California. Boy Scouts gave him structure and helped with his focus. It also helped him realize that once he started something, he was compelled to become the best he could be.
“Once I got into it, I just kept going with it and achieved the Eagle Scout award. I learned early on that once you start something, you become the best of what you can achieve. That’s been a driving factor for my whole life,” he said.
After high school, Farrow joined the military, serving in U.S. Air Force Pararescue in the early 1970s. The Pararescue motto, “These things we do, that others may live,” provided more inspiration for his desire to help others.
Farrow left the military equipped with a host of unique skills that led toward contract work in protective services. He also pursued academics, earning an associate degree in administration of justice, followed a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees, one of which was in strategic intelligence. He worked in creative intelligence and protective services for more than 30 years, including helping develop security at the new World Trade Center site.
“I excelled at assessing operational space, finding ways that it’s exploited and finding ways to protect it,” Farrow said.
After several years of visiting Lake Powell on vacations, Farrow moved to Page seven years ago. He was drawn by the city’s unique location, with its quick access to incredible landscapes and nature in every direction. When he started helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress issues, he found that Page’s location can also be therapeutic.
“I would take them off-roading. By the person, as soon as I got them off the highway, off the beaten path, we saw smiles, we saw reconviction, we saw repurpose,” he said. “I was able to help some of these people reconstitute themselves in terms of ‘what’s my importance?’”
Upon arrival in Page, Farrow also volunteered his services to the local police department, the city government and the school district, including conducting a security assessment at City Hall. About a year ago, he decided to run for a position on the Page City Council. He prepared by attending nearly all the city council meetings “to be exposed to the cadence, to understand how the councilors are working, how the city was working, how the city staff was working.”
The hard work and preparation paid off when Farrow won election to a four-year term on the council during Arizona’s Aug. 2 primary election. Not surprisingly, he is taking a methodical approach to his tenure as councilor, identifying “four pillars” that he believes are important focal points for the council: smart and balanced growth, community engagement, safety and security, and youth opportunities.
Smart and balanced growth
For Farrow, smart and balanced growth means making decisions for growth that are based on addressing questions about where residents and businesspeople want the city to go in the future.
“Balanced means you have to weigh the idea that somebody retired here for the beauty and quiet and serene-ness in their view and whatnot. Smart is how do I respect that and how do I make sure there’s infrastructure for the businesses to operate,” he said.
“Some people don’t want any growth. I respect that because they’re retired, they want quiet, they love the evening sky, they love the quiet nights. But we’ve got to have the services, and that includes medical services, nurses, doctors, dentists. Why do I have to go to St. George to get my spine worked on?”
Infrastructure includes everything from well-maintained roads and adequate internet bandwidth to sufficient housing for residents. The latter means addressing the issue of nightly rentals for visitors versus longer-term rentals for those who live in Page.
“We have firefighters that have to live out of town. We have struggling teachers that can’t afford a place to live, and yet we’ve got every nightly rental there is,” he said. “There are jobs that people can get, but where do they stay? Do we statistically know as a city what is the balance of nightly rentals, Airbnb, monthly rental, long-term rentals? Do we really understand that?”
Farrow believes that the city council has a duty to help businesses grow and help align them with the city’s long-term pursuits. He would also like to see more certificate programs that would help develop local human resources “K though career.”
“I want somebody to start building their career. Is there a certificate program? Can I learn welding? Can I learn plumbing? Can I learn Honda motors? Where are those programs? How do we get those programs to help?” he said, adding that it gets back to having the infrastructure, amenities and housing to attracting instructors to Page who can teach such programs.
Farrow said he would like to see more residents become involved with city council meetings. This includes engaging with students who are interested in government and journalism, as well as encouraging people to attend meetings to ask more questions and share their opinions.
“Just a handful of times have I seen somebody come up and have a thought” at a city council meeting, he said.
Residents also need to know that the city’s budget and other processes are completely transparent. They just need to know where to look.
“A lot of people don’t know, but you can see every check that these people write. Everything that they’re working on is disclosable. People think it’s not transparent because either they aren’t looking, or they may not know where to look,” he said.
“I have a duty to help people know where to look and make sure we do a stronger job at sharing and articulating where we are, what we’re doing and make ourselves presentable. I need to talk to the press frequently and I need to be on the record, and the record needs to be challenged and corrected by the people that voted for me.”
Farrow said another part of being transparent is asking local business owners what they are thinking, as well as asking residents what they are thinking about the growth of businesses and the direction the city is taking.
“We need to know their pain points, we need to know that they’re upset about the prices of something, we need to know they’re upset about their access to something,” he said, adding, “That’s the challenge. When you say, ‘what do you think,’ you’ve got to be prepared to sit there and listen to it.”
Farrow was not yet prepared to speak in detail about his “public safety and security” pillar, explaining, “That’s one section that I haven’t had a chance to work on with the chiefs yet. I’ve identified things that I can use from my past, but I haven’t sat down with my actual priorities. Before I do that, I want to give them an opportunity to look at it and say, ‘Yes that’s achievable, that’s a bridge too far.’”
Farrow looks to his own upbringing for inspiration when addressing the issue of youth opportunities.
“If you look around, what have they got to do? When I had nothing going on is when I got in trouble. When I had structure, I got out of trouble,” he said.
He believes that young people can flourish when they are not only given a track to follow, but also given a purpose in following that track. This can be done by using mentors, coaches, educators and others to help keep them on track.
“You put them on a path, and that path has structure. And all structure has measurements and accountability. We understand how things go wrong. It’s lack of accountability, lack of structure, lack of path, lack of measures on that path,” he said.
Farrow circled back to the idea of establishing certificate programs for skills that are relevant to the community. Again, one issue was finding instructors, and he suggested that some of them can be found already living within the community.
“We have some of the greatest teachers. We have retirees in town, we have strong business leaders in town. Let’s change the criteria and recognize them as educators and see if anybody wants to be an educator and add to our structure,” he said.
Related to youth opportunities is the safety and security of the school system. This includes taking a close look at how bullying is dealt with. He cited Secret Service statistics indicating that school shooters are often those who have been bullied in school.
“If we know that statistically, why are we ignoring it? Are we ignoring it or just not addressing it? That’s something I intend to find out,” he said. “The bully is usually caught and suspended. But what happens to the person that was bullied? Do they talk to a mental health professional? Were they able to share their experience? Did it upset them? Are they afraid? Do they feel different?”
Farrow said safe schools can only be achieved with the participation of the students. A plan to make a school safe, no matter how great, will not work if it is imposed without the youth feeling empowered to support the plan.
“You have natural leaders in school. You have student council, band members, AP students, athletes. They have their tracks going. They have been encouraged or guided to have structure. They are tapped into the school network. They know what social media is for their band of activity,” he said. “We should be tapping them to help us identify communication bands and then we should be training them to identify early indicators and warning signs of trouble.”
He said a successful program would mean that everyone at the school has the same training in recognizing warning indicators, from coaches and teachers to receptionists and school safety officers.
“Then they have a mechanism that says that you if see certain behaviors, you don’t wait until they mature. You report the little things and then they’re assessed for what they are,” he said.
Farrow also cited the concept of “marginal gains” as a means to improve the lives of students. Marginal gains, also known at the 1% Factor, was originally developed by British cycling coaches based on the theory that a series of small but significant improvements can lead to monumental results.
Applied to students, this would mean making small improvements in different aspects of their lives, including home, neighborhood, going to and from home, arrival at school, their social group in the school, the classes the person has and study habits. Small “gains” in each area can add up to huge overall improvements.
“The biggest thing is you’ve got to make people feel the confidence from the process. When you’re dealing with youth, you want to create a level of confidence in them, and then they’re head up, chest high, more proud, less victimized,” Farrow said. “They start having that purpose and they’ve been rewarded with the confidence of that purpose, and they feel better.”
In addition to his four pillars, Farrow cited three maxims that he lives by and plans to apply to his work on the city council. The first is, “Do what’s right, integrity is the core of our success.”
“I don’t care where your fundamental beliefs are if you’re centered on doing what’s right. Because you’ve got to live with yourself, integrity is the core of your success,” he said.
The second is, “I lead by example, give my best and expect the best from others.”
“I know that I can get the best out of other people because I’ve learned not to give up. In Boy Scouts, if I had given up, I would never have made Eagle Scout,” Farrow said. “If I gave up during my careers, I would never have been the instructor and head of the programs. If I had given up, I would never have had this opportunity to re-serve my community, which is my driver – to serve.”
His third maxim is to treat others like he wishes to be treated.
“Every project I’ve ever done, I’ve always approached it with, what are the pillars,” he said. What’s the environment, what are the opportunities, what are the challenges, how do I get people empowered to do their job, how do I know this plan is going to work for the future?”