Earlier this week I had the chance to catch up with one of my all-time favorite people: Corey Woods. Perpetually happy, sharp and well-spoken, this former Tempe City Council member turned down a run for a third council term in 2016, choosing instead to re-focus on his career, education and personal interests. We can only hope that Corey might run for public office again someday (but we’ll get to that in a minute).
Since leaving the council, Corey’s started a new job, re-applied to graduate school and had some time to reflect on his experience in public office. We had a chance to talk about that and more, including his creativity in the kitchen and how it’s benefiting local charities. Although Corey is a Tempe guy, his values, experiences and interests are something we can all appreciate no matter where you live. Our Q & A is below:
Nancy: So tell me what’s up, Corey. What’s new?
Corey: I’ve been off council now for about seven months. I recently took a job at ASU Preparatory Academy as their Deputy Chief Operating Officer. I’ve been in that job since November 21st, so just a little over two months and it’s been a great experience. I pretty much do everything there from working on facilities issues to helping to draw up security plans to helping with partnerships to expand ASU’s mission. So it’s been a really good opportunity. I love working for the university and for ASU Prep. Other than that, life is good. I find I’ve got a lot more free time on my hands these days, which is very interesting. I’m still doing a lot of charitable and nonprofit work, I’m still on several boards in the Tempe and greater Phoenix area, so I’m still keeping myself occupied. But I now realize there are a lot more times where I do get home and the sun is still up, which was a rarity when I was on the city council. My weekends are really where I see the difference. The workday ends at five o’clock on Friday and it picks up again on Monday. For the most part, I can do whatever I want in those two days, which I was not able to do when I was on council. There was always a meeting, something to go to, there were neighborhood meetings, there were dinners, there were events. All wonderful things to do, but you don’t have a lot of your time; it’s programmed for you. And so I’ve had to start programming a lot of my own time so as to not get too bored or too complacent. But it’s been good. I had a wonderful time as a council member and I’m having a good time as an ex-council member.
Nancy: Do you miss being on the council?
Corey: Um… yes and no. A lot of the public policy elements I really do miss. I like policy work, I’m one of those guys. I know a lot of people have talked about it during the election this past year and went on self-imposed social media blackouts because they got so tired of it. I’m kind of a junkie in that regard. I love the Sunday political talk shows, I love the cable news shows, I love debating with people and talking about things on Facebook or Twitter. So for me, I miss the public policy aspects. I loved working with the council, I loved working with staff. The neighbors were always incredibly great with me, so I miss that stuff. But at the same time, I tell people that the job was a part of me but it didn’t define me as a person. So when I left the job, I was ready, it was my decision to not seek a third term. I was just ready to do something else. I wanted to get some of my own time back and probably rediscover some things that I’d put on the back burner for many years because I was working so hard. A good example of that: last Saturday, I finished an application to go back to graduate school and finish my master’s in the fall. So with my fingers crossed, with any luck, I’ll hopefully get re-admitted to the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education and I’ll be pursuing a Master of Arts in Educational Policy. It was a degree that I started when I first moved here in 2003 but didn’t complete because I got so active in public service. But now that I’ve got the nights and weekends available to me, I really did want to go back and finish that degree. On a personal note, to my mother who was a lifelong educator, it was very important to her. So one of the things that I kind of told her before she passed away in 2012 was that at some point, when all of this political stuff slowed down a little bit, I was going to go back and get my masters. So I’m doing it, so she can look down on me and know that I’m fulfilling it for herself and my own personal growth.
Nancy: One thing I really like to ask people when they step away from being in the public spotlight or in a very demanding leadership role, now that you’re beyond that, is there any leadership lessons that you learned? Anything that you took away from it, anything you learned about people, about dealing with difficult issues?
Corey: I would say probably two main things. One is that it’s very, very difficult to balance the needs of the community. It’s sort of like the old saying about one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And that’s the reality of it. I was talking to a person about this on Facebook the other day who was talking about the need, not just in Tempe but the Federal government, and saying it doesn’t really matter that we cut programs for National Endowment for the Arts or we cut back or we privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which kind of seems crazy considering it’s the Corporation for Public Broadcasting! But that being said, it’s tough to scale things back, but you want to be a good fiscal steward of people’s taxpayer money. But the challenge is that there are certain things that if you cut them back, people get very frustrated. A good example of that for me on council was the infamous bulk trash changes. That was one of the things where our Public Works staff did an extensive amount of research, came back to the council and realized that roughly only 25% of Tempe residents actually use bulk trash pickup. So they thought they could try to scale it back because of the cost of service delivery, we were going to be doling out double-digit rate increases to residents. So we thought, in sort of fiscal sanity and environmental sustainability, as opposed to doubling Nancy Puffer’s bill for solid waste, why not just simply cut the service back? As you know, there was an uproar about that. People got very frustrated and just said, ‘Why in the world would you do this, you’re cutting back services!’ And we said it was because we were trying to stave off this double-digit rate increase, which is where we were going to go. So it becomes challenging, balancing the fiscal sustainability versus the environmental sustainability, where one program that one person doesn’t use someone else uses extensively. So you cut it back and one person is happy and another person isn’t so happy. So that, I would say, is one of the biggest challenges. The other thing that I really learned was how much I loved working with people. It’s kind of like an elaborate ballet or Rockettes performance or whatever where you’re talking about synchronization. Onnie Shekerjian and I talked about this all the time when we were on council together, how there was this element of loving how, when you actually sat down and talked to someone and learned what made them tick, what their interests were and what their dislikes were, what buttons you shouldn’t push, and you could actually come together on a policy that was a compromise solution or something that we thought would benefit the needs of all citizens or most of the residents here in Tempe. It was a great thing. It was great when we were actually able to sit down and say, putting aside whatever we’re bringing into this conversation from a predisposition standpoint, what can we actually do to show that we’re putting that stuff aside and just worrying about Tempe residents who put us here. And when we actually got those things done it was kind of a beautiful thing. It sounds almost silly. But we always felt so good about that. Onnie and I had any number of conversations about that during my time. For us I think it was interesting because we shared an office for six years and she was very actively involved in the Republican Party, I was actively involved in the Democratic Party, yet we were able to put all that aside, and we still talk once a week. We’re still very close friends, as I am with a number of people that I used to work with on council. So I think it would be those two things: the beauty of the synergy of working together with people and the issue with explaining to folks how to balance what someone wants and maybe what someone else doesn’t want and vice versa. Those things are the two most important things I learned in those eight years.
Nancy: You seem like you came away from it still maintaining your sense of perspective and balance. I’ve seen some people come away from public office feeling a little bit jaded, or that it was just a lot for them and their families. How do you feel about that? When we hear people encouraging women, for instance, to run for public office after the Women’s March and do what they can to make a difference, what would you tell somebody who hears that message but can see how hard it can be for those in public office especially in dealing with people who can get really angry. What do you think about that or what advice would you give?
Corey: About the jaded part, I appreciate that. I’m definitely not jaded from the experience. It was a great experience. I’m glad the residents of the city gave me two opportunities to do it for eight years. Of course I have my times like anyone else, where I’m reading something in the paper or watching something on TV and I think, ‘Oh, come on!’ And that is from my experience and the scar tissue I developed being on council. I just think it’s very important for people to remain level-headed and remember what’s really important in life, first of all, is that your family and your friends and those things, your health, are really the things that matter the most. And if you put those things ahead of everything, I think for the most part that kind of keeps you level.
For me personally, I had a wonderful family, my friends were always incredibly supportive, my own personal belief in God, those things kind of kept me centered. That’s what’s really important here, and I’m not going to get tied up in my title, and ‘someone has to call me councilman for me to be happy,’ or ‘someone needs to call me vice mayor.’ My perspective was my parents named me Corey and that was just fine by me. In terms of some of the movements and marches and things like that that we’re seeing recently, yeah, I do think it’s important to turn moments like that into something longer-term and more sustaining. If we’re seeing the large women’s marches that happened right after the inauguration and then people were saying, look, from this we see it’s important to get more women elected to the school board or the city council, state legislature, congress or president, I think those are positive developments. I think that’s nothing that anyone should be bothered by. And I would hope that every group of people felt that way. We need more people involved in public service because we do need more diversity of people and more diversity of thought.
Nancy: Do you have plans to run for any other public office?
Corey: At the moment, no. I say that because, look, I just turned 38 in December and I think for anyone at 38 to claim that they are completely retired from anything, politics or anything else, would be probably silly, and no one would believe me anyway. There’s nothing on the table currently. People talk to me about stuff all the time, which is really flattering that some people still think there is something I can add to the discussion. But my attitude is always, in life, never say never. There are jobs that I’ve taken that I would have never thought I would have ended up in that spot, there are other situations I’ve been in where I never thought I would have been there, there are issues on council that when I first got there I would have never imagined that I might have voted that way, but over time you grow and you evolve and you see things and experience things that sometimes change your perspective. So my attitude is, I love what I’m doing now, I love working for ASU Prep, it’s such an incredibly fast-moving, innovative place and it’s the kind of environment that I always craved to be around, so it’s wonderful. But if someone ever comes back to me at some point with an offer to do something politically that I find interesting, from an elected stance, yeah I’d definitely look at it. And it doesn’t mean that I would leave the University, frankly. There are things that I could do and obviously still be at Arizona State University and help them continue to further their mission and also get back into elected life. But as of the current moment as we sit here, there’s not anything right now. But I’m not ruling out the possibility of a change somewhere down the line.
Nancy: You’re doing a lot of great cooking; I see a lot of delicious-looking recipes and food coming across on my social media pages from you and I think, ‘I want to have dinner at his house!’
Corey: Everyone’s got to have a hobby. For me personally, that is my hobby. As a kid I developed this very big interest in food and as I’ve gotten older it’s kind of continued to expand. I like to do all of it; I like going to restaurants and I like cooking at home. The best compliment that a couple of folks ever gave to me was, ‘Corey, you’re one of the few people who I’d actually want to come and eat when you cook as opposed to going to a restaurant,’ which was like the highest form of flattery. I read the restaurant reviews in the New Times or in The (Arizona) Republic, and I check a lot of the restaurants out if it peaks my interest. The cooking thing is my creative outlet.
I don’t have any ability when it comes to any artistic ability, I can’t sing, can’t play any instruments, so for me personally, cooking is the creative outlet. On a Sunday I’ll turn my music on and I’ll get in the kitchen with a bunch of ingredients and pots and pans and just sort of go to town. For me, that’s what I really enjoy. It’s probably the one part of my discretionary budget that I have not been able to get under control from a personal standpoint. When I look at my budget every month I see where my expenditures are, and I think, my gosh, there is so much money here going toward food, whether it’s groceries or eating out. But you know, look, I could probably curb it a little bit more but we all have to do the things that we enjoy. I haven’t taken a week-long vacation, I haven’t gone on a 7-day, 6-night cruise and spent that kind of money associated with that or gone overseas. Some people spend their money that way. I choose to spend my money making a pot roast or vegan stews. It is what it is, I guess. I started posting pictures and videos about cooking because it was just a hobby, something that I like to do and I wanted to kind of show people that I was a whole human being. Then, the fact that it became its own thing, frankly I’ve give credit to the Tempe Leadership class who did the Bike Corral (project). It was that evening at the Hayden Flour Mill, I think that was the first time someone ever auctioned off a dinner that I was actually making. So I give them a lot of credit for birthing that and then it kind of took on a life of its own. It was weird, I would walk through town and go shopping, I’d be at Fry’s or somewhere and people would walk up to me and say, ‘What are you cooking on Sunday?’ And I’m thinking, like, how do you know this? But they were following my page, they were friends with me and they would see this. So it’s interesting, to date I’ve probably cooked four or five dinners for charity where I’ve not received any money for it. Matter of fact I put money out to purchase groceries, typically, and to cook and of course my time, and I’ve got probably for or five more on deck, so that’s another way that I can help to raise money for some really wonderful charities in Tempe and help people. I’m glad to do it while doing something I love, which is cooking.
Nancy: Why did you choose to live in Tempe? What makes it so special for you?
Corey: I just love being a resident here. I moved here back in 2003 so it’s been almost 14 years now that I’ve been an Arizona resident and I’ve only been in Tempe that entire time. I can’t imagine going anywhere else. I just love it here. Love the residents and love the city government, all of it. I still walk around town and bump into residents that I used to work with on various issues. A lot of folks are very cool, they’ll walk by and say, ‘Hey, we miss you on the council,’ and it’s really nice. I think, ‘I can’t believe this person even knows who I am or remembers me.’ But it’s a nice feeling to know that you touched someone’s life at some point in a way that stuck with them.