ORO VALLEY'S ELDER STATESMEN - The Explorer: Import

ORO VALLEY'S ELDER STATESMEN

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Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2001 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:45 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

They are the elder statesmen of Oro Valley's Town Council, winners in their first run for political office in Arizona, and the youngest members of the council in terms of tenure. But that's not all Werner Wolff and Bart Rochman have in common.

They also shared at the same time the pains of lessons often learned the hard way during their recently completed first year in office.

For the 69-year-old Rochman, however, taking a council seat might have been more of a surprise than for Wolff.

Rochman, after all, despite nearly 30 years on the Peoria, Ill. Board of Supervisors, including two years as chairman, had been in Oro Valley just two years when he won his council seat. During the campaign he was derisively referred to by foes as a "newcomer." He also spent just $500 on his campaign and underwent emergency triple bypass surgery 10 days before the election.

Wolff, meanwhile, had established an impressive reputation as Oro Valley's police chief for 17 years until his retirement in December 1999 and in that position retained a somewhat narrower perspective as the Police Department's overseer.

"I talked to Councilman Fran LaSala after the election and he told me I'd be learning a lot as a councilmember," Wolff recalled recently. "Boy, was he right."

As they enter their second year, both share an appreciation for the changes they've seen on the council.

"This council gets along much better than any previous council," said. Wolff, who turns 72 this month. "There's not the animosity there was in the past" under the turbulent leadership of former Mayor Cheryl Skalsky, he said "We have our differences, but we seem to be able to hammer them out well and the people who come before us seem to have the same perception that we're a much more cohesive group and seem to get along better."

Rochman recalls attending council meetings at which members not only treated each other with discourtesy, but staff and constituents as well. His frustration over hearing Oro Valley constantly referred to as the recall capital of Arizona was among the motivating factors in his decision to run for the council, he said.

But being a new council member and a relative newcomer to Oro Valley, Rochman said, meant having to sit back and learn the dynamics of how various issues were being played out, getting some perspective on the people of Oro Valley and what they want to accomplish.

"As a new councilmember you can't just come in and say here's the way we're going to do things," he said.

Both said in their campaigns they wanted to establish a sense of the council working together rather than against one another. Each in his own quiet way has helped accomplish just that.

Rochman envisions a continuing role as a conciliator on the council, not only in terms of the public, but the council as well, getting people to see that taking a certain position is a good move for all concerned.

"People in most cases are not off the wall in terms of their desires," Rochman said. "They have valid reasons for their beliefs. But the final decision has to be made by the council. I will do my best to see that those decisions are made for the overall benefit of Oro Valley."

Rochman likes the idea of people talking about the council and its doings and especially likes discussions without pro-growth or anti-growth labels.

He takes the greatest satisfaction in the fact that Oro Valley residents are so interested in what's going on and are always asking questions.

"It helps you understand their point of view and the reasons why they come before the council and it helps you as a councilman get more ideas on ways to address town problems," he said.

A major challenge for Rochman has been dealing with issues such as growth and water, issues that didn't play as well in Peoria. There, the major issues were the budget and property taxes, he said. "Thank heaven Oro Valley has no property taxes," he added.

Rochman's biggest disappointment, he said, has been the unwillingness of certain segments of the community to sit down and negotiate their differences and make proposals more palatable to the council by removing the most divisive elements.

"When everyone's happy, that's the best situation," Rochman said. "But that doesn't happen very often. You shoot for a win-win situation and hope you can achieve something that's close to that."

Since development is a major issue in Oro Valley, Rochman set as a challenge for himself getting people to sit down and discuss the issues.

He's tried to do that in connection with the Rancho Vistoso Neighborhood 12 issue where the council has signed a controversial preannexation agreement that will be put to a public vote March 12.

He's still working on it.

"Some have the perception that whatever developers are doing ought to be opposed," he said. "But people have to be able to sit down and talk, focus on what their true differences are and how to resolve them.

"What's to be lost by sitting down and talking with your opponent? I'm disappointed that I can't get the parties involved to do this and I can't understand why they are reluctant to do it.

"It's not a matter of your side has got to win, but of how both sides can reach goals that lead to the betterment of the community. You have to reach decisions that are well reasoned and fair. Government is the art of compromise," he said.

"I've got a lot of respect for Bart and in many ways I felt like a first grader in comparison" during those first days on the council, Wolff said.

But Wolff's advantage was that he had grown up with the town as a resident since 1983 when it was "just a speck in the road compared to what it is today" and his name was well known in the community.

Oro Valley's Police Department headquarters building was named in his honor "for his dedicated commitment to law enforcement."

In terms of perspective, Wolff said that as the town's police chief he considered himself merely an employee of the town with department responsibilities a "proprietary thing" and paid little attention to what was happening in other departments.

"Now that I'm on the other side I have to look out for the overall effect my decisions have on the total community," he said.

Wolff said he's much more comfortable now about doing so, but still maintains a relatively laid back posture so as not to take away from the cohesiveness the council has achieved.

He's a firm believer in not putting one's foot in one's mouth and considers himself much better dealing with people in one-on-one situations. "I don't believe in talking just to hear myself talk," he said.

He intends to be more vocal, but still with the goal in mind of "saying what I have to say in a very brief period of time."

Asked if he often found it hard to make a decision, Wolff said "absolutely."

"I keep thinking of what effect it will have on the town," he said.

His decisions are likely to favor residents in the immediate area most afffected.

While someone living further away from a proposed development might not have the same standing in Wolff's eyes, if some brilliant solution to a problem were presented he'd be willing to change his vote, but as a general rule he would not, he said.

His biggest frustration?

"There's a certain number of people who just won't listen to what you have to say and hear only what they want to hear," he said.

Wolff and Rochman have had a year to develop a better sense of what the community wants and doesn't want and to shape their individual political styles toward accomplishing what they perceive is best for the community. Though wiser now it still comes down to what both knew from the start.

On the Oro Valley Town Council, three votes remain the name of the game.

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