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  • Workforce warrior takes well-earned retirement

    Arnold Palacios jokes that he knows what he’ll be doing on Oct. 1.

    Sleeping until mid-afternoon.

    Palacios will have earned a good rest. After spending the past several months helping the County navigate the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic while overseeing the merger of two major departments, the director of Community & Workforce Development (CWD) has taken a deep breath and announced his retirement. His last day will be Sept. 30.

    The 70-year-old Palacios, a native Tucsonan, has spent more than 45 years as a leader in some form of community service – in economic and workforce development, and with a particular passion for youth education.

    He said he’s very much at peace with his decision – always planning to retire at 70 -- and the path of his lifetime achievements.
    Arnold Palacios at a Las Artes graduation
    “I am deeply satisfied and content with the opportunities I had in my professional career to give back to my community that supported me and nurtured me in my own development,” Palacios said. 

    Palacios, wrote County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry in a Sept. 17 memo, "leaves behind exceptional service within a department that administers critical programs to improve both the lives of the people of Pima County and the economic sustainability of local businesses."

    A University of Arizona graduate and a member of the Pueblo High School Hall of Fame, Palacios was named director of the Community Services, Employment and Training Department (CSET) in December 2018 after serving as the interim director for about five months. CSET merged with Community Development and Neighborhood Conservation on July 1, 2020, a streamlined approach to address areas such as housing, emergency services, homelessness, youth programs, employment and job training, and business services.

    All those services became even more critical during COVID-19.

    “It’s been wild horses,” Palacios said of the past several months.

    Nils Urman, the program manager for CWD’s Business Services, will take the reins as the department’s interim director.

    “I appreciate the opportunity to fill in and support the newly merged organization while the County recruits for a new director,” Urman said. “And I look forward to working with everyone to maintain the positive direction that the department has moved in over the past two years.

    “I also appreciate having the chance to have worked with Arnold during his tenure as director of our department. I have had the opportunity to expand and learn during his time. I wish him a wonderful and long retirement.”
    Nils Urman at Nogales factory tour
    Palacios, a 1969 graduate of Pueblo High School, served for 18 years as a special education teacher and bilingual drama instructor in the Tucson Unified School District. While at Pueblo, Palacios taught drama to Hispanic students and created original, bilingual plays addressing social issues relevant to his student’s education and success.

    He became the executive director of the Pima County Youth Opportunity Movement in 2000, involved in overseeing federal, state and local youth workforce development programs as well as serving as superintendent for two charter high schools.

    He transitioned into a job as CSET community services manager in 2005 before once again directly enhancing the lives of local youth in urban and rural areas of Pima County, this time as executive director of Tucson Youth Development from June 2008 to August 2015.

    He then returned to Pima County as the program manager for Las Artes Arts and Education Center, before crowning a lifetime of service by taking over CSET. We thank him for his kindness and commitment, compassion and competence … and for his comforting warm smile.

    “Thanks to all who collaborated or partnered with me,” Palacios said. “I have had the good fortune and luck to love the work that I do, and take home a paycheck doing that.”

    Top: Arnold Palacios presiding at a 2018 Las Artes graduation ceremony.

    Bottom: Nils Urman (second from right) will serve as CWD's interim director.

    5 questions with Arnold Palacios

    What will you do in your first day of retirement?

    “I think the important thing would be surveying what kind of opportunities I have to support Pima County and the community from a volunteer perspective. I want to stay active physically and mentally.” 

    What other profession would you have liked to attempted?

    “When I started at the University of Arizona, I was in the arts, in drama. My pathway took me to doing community theater, connected to the Chicano/Latino community in Tucson. Back in the day, I was involved in a combination of traditional and street theater. I was also able to teach theater – bilingual and culturally relevant theater – at Pueblo High School. I loved that, and I think the arts have a huge place in the health of the community. I would have pursued that, but my calling was more toward social services and workforce development.” 

    What is your dream vacation, post-COVID-19?

    “I want to go back to Spain. I had gone there pre-COVID the year before and visited Madrid and Barcelona. I’d like to go back to Madrid. But I’m split, because I had also been to Mexico City and I want to go back because there is so much more to explore for me in terms of my own identity and history. It would be a dream if I could hit both.”

    What’s your favorite spot in Pima County?

    “That’s a tough one. Madera Canyon; I like to hike there. Gates Pass. And Sabino Canyon for exercise.”

    What quality do you most admire from County co-workers?

    “I think my respect and admiration for them lies in their commitment to their work. It’s their heart and their giving to the community. I would want my colleagues to know they are doing good for the community.”
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