By Brian Powell
Joanne Keene learned early on, as a legislative intern in the governor’s office and broadcast journalism student, that she was drawn to public policy and its importance and impact on the state.
“I’ve always seen policy roles as opportunities to fix things and make things better,” Keene says. “If things aren’t working, how can we fix it?”
In the two decades since graduating from Northern Arizona University, Keene has worked for Coconino County, the Arizona Governor’s Office, U.S. congressmen, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, and in the private sector. Keene has also been appointed to state boards and commissions and serves on the boards of statewide and regional organizations.
And since May 2015, the Flinn-Brown Fellow is serving her alma mater in Flagstaff as executive vice president and chief of staff, reporting directly to NAU President Rita Cheng. Keene can now add higher education to her long list of arenas in which she has represented Arizona agencies, institutions, and political leaders.
Keene advises Cheng, works on high-level special projects and initiatives, prepares the president for meetings, oversees her local community relations, and represents and speaks on her behalf, among other duties.
At a statewide level, Keene was appointed by the governor in 2014 to the Arizona Exposition and State Fair Board. And from 2014 to 2016, she was a governor’s appointee to the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Keene also serves on the board of Arizona Forward, which promotes environmental stewardship, the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority.
When she was first appointed to the state-fair board three years ago, the fair was looking at marketing and rebranding in different ways to promote the fair and what it’s all about, she says.
“I don’t think we had an active board until we were put in place, and we bring a lot of different perspectives on doing things differently and looking for opportunities for generating revenue and partnerships,” Keene says. “There are a lot of facets to this board I really enjoy.”
Her experience made her a prime candidate for the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy, the flagship program of the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership that was launched in 2010 by the Flinn Foundation to develop state-level civic leaders. The program is currently seeking new Fellows for the 2018 Flinn-Brown Academy. The deadline to apply is November 13.
Keene says being a Flinn-Brown Fellow gave her an opportunity to reconnect with people she already knew in Maricopa and Pima counties, make great new connections, and hear different perspectives from the accomplished speakers. She has stayed involved with the Flinn-Brown Network, which includes nearly 300 Fellows, by recommending people to apply for the program and connecting Fellows to positions and appointments.
“The networking is so important and in the policy world connections continue for a long time,” Keene says.
Before assuming her current role at NAU, Keene worked for Coconino County for seven years as its government-relations director with two of those years as interim assistant county manager, serving as the main legislative liaison for the county at the state and federal levels.
Previously, Keene served as Northern Arizona Director for Gov. Jan Brewer. During her time in that regional director role, she advised the governor on all northern Arizona policy issues, including tribal issues, natural resources, and transportation issues, and would represent the governor in northern Arizona communities.
Keene has also had a private consulting firm, where she worked on land and appropriations issues, and worked in Flagstaff and Washington, D.C. managing congressional districts. At the state level, she served as a public information officer for the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
For all of Keene’s experience in northern Arizona, her earliest years were far from the region. She was born in England and moved to the United States at age 8. Her family moved to the Phoenix area a few years later.
Keene has a bachelor’s degree in English and broadcast journalism, as well as a Master of Public Administration, from NAU.
By Brian Powell