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Smith: Vegas, San Diego have nothing on Duncan

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Duncan doesn't have ocean front property like San Diego or the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas and Valerie Smith couldn't be happier about that. She's lived in all three communities, but only Duncan has truly become home for her.

Smith, a Duncan town council member, moved to the community of less than 800 people in 2013. She grew up in San Diego, but moved to Las Vegas as a teen. She began a career in banking in Vegas and By the age of 30, she'd purchased her first home and was deeply involved in volunteerism. She remembers feeling restless and toying with the idea of renting out her home and traveling, but she became reacquainted with a young man she'd met while in high school and they fell in love.

William Smith had just bought a house in Duncan near family. The pair decided that if one of them found a job with comparable pay to the other, they would sell their home and move to that community. Valerie won. She found a position as the operations manager at the National Bank of Arizona in Duncan. One week after moving to Duncan, the two eloped in Las Vegas and came back to start their lives together.

"When I moved here and met the people, it all kind of fit in my head like a puzzle," Smith said. "I thought 'I can raise my children here. It's really nice. The people are very friendly and helpful.'" I could see the community was trying to build something. They were trying to get back to the Duncan glory days."

In her position as operations manager, Smith found herself meeting tons of people and getting involved in various organizations, like the tourism council and Duncan P.R.I.D.E. Society.

When the bank shut down in 2016, she used her severance pay to obtain a master's degree so she could teach.  

Nowadays, Smith and her husband are raising two children, Oliver, 6 and Eloise, 4, and Smith teaches at the junior high, coaches basketball and softball and serves on the council.

She decided to run for office in November 2018 at the urging of a native Duncan resident.

"I was like, 'Well, sure, I'll give it a try.' I had gone to a couple of meetings as a representative of the bank, just to see what was going on," Smith said. "It was quite interesting how everything kind of played out any of the times I went to the meetings. People were very combative with each other, and there was hardly any discussion. It was just really rough to watch. People didn't get along very well."

Having been involved with so many organizations in the past and wanting to help the town thrive again, Smith was glad when she won.

So was fellow council member Deborah Mendelsohn.

"Val is star," Mendelsohn said. "She's extremely intelligent and cares a lot about current events and she is, in my opinion, quite fearless."

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If Smith believes something is good for the whole of the community, she stands by her position, even if it proves unpopular, Mendelsohn said. For example, Smith has been a vocal proponent of masks and social distancing in the age of COVID-19.

The fact she has such an extensive banking background has proven to be tremendously useful, too, Mendelsohn said.

"You know, for years or maybe for decades, Duncan had been behind in some accounting procedures that needed a fresh eye, and she brought that, and she made very coherent suggestions about what should be done and what can be done to solve those problems," she said.

In addition, Smith's experience in human resources has resulted in new HR procedures, Mendelsohn said.

"She's helping bring the town into the 21st Century in terms of its policies and procedures," she said.

Duncan Public Library Director Ashlee Germaine first met Smith several years ago when both were serving on the board that organizes the Javelina Chase, an annual 25-mile bicycle race through old stagecoach routes. Since then, she has seen Smith take on one volunteer position after another.

"She really cares about other people and the community," Germaine said. "She's really civic-minded and not only does she volunteer all of the time, but she works full-time and has two wonderfully cute small children."

Smith said she'd like to see Duncan expand its online presence. In her opinion, the town hasn't fully embraced some of today's technology and therefore they are missing out on opportunities that could help them economically. Only recently has the town updated its website. 

"For the first three years that I was on the council, I didn't even know that we had a website," she said. "It was not a discussion for a long time until finally I asked 'Can we update it?'  It was not just me, either. There were so many other individuals around us that had no idea that we had a website."

She'd also like to bring other sources of revenue to the town, too. In fact, she bought an older building with the hopes of one day turning it into a hostel. Duncan has several wonderful old buildings that could be renovated and turned into businesses, she said.

"We should have other types of services here. Why couldn't we have an ice cream shop? Why couldn't we have a dedicated coffee spot? You know, why couldn't we have these things? Smith said. "If we can get some more idealists that think anything can happen, you know why not? And I know that it's crazy that I'm such an idealist. Still, even now, I'm hopeful. I just feel like we can get there if we work together and make the choices that are necessary to get in that direction."

Smith is adamant she doesn't want to change Duncan just to change Duncan. She just wants to make sure it continues to exist, while at the same time maintain it's "small town charisma." 

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