The Making of a Difference Maker: Carmine DeBonis Jr. ’91 BS '06 MBA

Carmine DeBonis Jr. ’91 BS '06 MBA


Carmine DeBonis Jr. ’91 BS ’06 MBA is dedicated to making a difference in Tucson and its surrounding communities—a passion that began when he arrived on the University of Arizona campus, sight unseen, more than 30 years ago.

“I came to Arizona as an outsider, but I fell in love with the natural beauty of Tucson and the community and people who live here,” says DeBonis, who grew up in South Florida. “I found it to be my home—I have a vested interest in seeing good things happen here.”

It’s an interest that extends to his professional life. DeBonis, who earned a bachelor’s degree in regional development from Arizona, has worked for Pima County throughout his entire career—even interning as an undergraduate student.

“Even as an intern I was able to interact around all aspects of county government—the infrastructure side and the more human side,” he says. “I saw a real opportunity to give back by solving problems and putting in place systems that are sustainable.”

By 2005, as director of development services, he was ready to refine his leadership skills to help him better achieve those goals. He looked to the Eller College of Management’s 14-month, cohort-based MBA program. It was the perfect fit.

“I saw it as the intersection of the private and public sectors, and how both approach business,” he says.

Learning alongside professionals from varied backgrounds appealed to him—as did analyzing and problem-solving real-world case studies—the latter of which proved invaluable just a few years later during the housing bubble burst and ensuing economic crisis.

“The crisis really hit home within Pima County, and specifically within the department of development services,” he says. “I was fortunate to be able to draw from my experience in the MBA program and apply that to the situation that was occurring.”

DeBonis had to significantly downsize his team and reduce his budget by more than 60 percent. He also managed to streamline the department’s policies and processes to increase efficiency in its building permitting process. Today, the department has the shortest turnaround times for plan review and permit services in the region. 

“There’s an innovative and outcome-driven culture within the department that extends beyond the tenure of any individual, including myself,” DeBonis says. “That’s really rewarding.”

Now as deputy county administrator over Public Works, DeBonis is in a prime position to effect even more change. He has conquered things large—such as getting $530 million approved to fully fund road repair needs within the county—and small, and considers them all an important part of his contribution.

“I’ve been afforded an opportunity to do what I think I do best, and that’s to make a difference,” DeBonis says. “That is largely attributable to my time at the University. Even beyond the degrees I received, the experience itself really shaped me and has enabled me to do the things I find most fulfilling.”

This year, DeBonis discovered a new way to serve both his alma mater and the Tucson community. When the Eller College asked to partner with Pima County for its annual Eller Make a Difference Day, scheduled for October 23-24, 2020, DeBonis jumped at the opportunity.

“We had to get creative,” DeBonis says, adding it was important to him and the team to offer a safe way for Eller students, faculty and staff to participate in either virtual or in-person volunteer events given the pandemic.

“There is a civic duty and also a sense of pride in returning value to the place where you live,” he says. “The University of Arizona is a true hallmark of the Tucson community, and I think this is a great partnership for us to cultivate in this current year and beyond.”