Covering all aspects of how the town operates and on topics where debate has sparked in the past, the candidates for the Oro Valley mayor’s seat and the three available council seats participated in the first public forum on July 9.
The Oro Valley Library, which seats up to 90, was standing room only, with residents filling the parameter and hallway of the building for the two-hour event where Mayor Satish Hiremath and challenger Pat Straney were in attendance along with council challenger Don Bristow, who is looking to be elected into one of the available council seats held by incumbents Joe Hornat, Mary Snider and Vice Mayor Lou Waters.
The incumbents and challengers were asked how they felt about the council having a public perception of the town not working together in a collaborative and respectful manner. Hiremath and fellow incumbents felt they are working together. Though the council often votes 7-0, a few issues like the police department and its budget often divide the council 4-3.
Bristow and Straney disagreed and felt there was discord.
“There is discord,” Bristow said. “You can’t have three councilmembers very active in trying to recall another one in the papers, out in the street, and not have discord. You’re breaking the relationship of the people that way, it never will really heal.”
Bristow added that a council should not “attack” each other, rather, they should discuss the issues.
Straney said he would help the council do a better job of listening to each other and understanding the vision of where all seven members of the council believe the direction the town should go, but said they should not shy away from an assertive conversation.
“Aggressive discussion, I love,” Straney said. “Poking in the eye for the sake of making a point, I don’t. That’s a waste of our people’s time, whether they’re our community, or whether it’s the volunteers that serve on the council.”
Waters said the word “discord” meant disagreement, “and there is nothing wrong with that. Democracy is a clash of ideas. It has always been. It still is.”
Waters added that it was untrue that current council members organized the recent recall effort of Councilman Mike Zinkin, who is not currently up for election.
The discussion later turned to the police department’s budget and despite the minority of the sitting council advocating for an audit, the majority has opposed and voted against it.
Straney said he would not be opposed to an audit, saying that from a public perception, more validity is given to an audit if it is done by an outside source. But also said before he would vote to do an audit on the police department, he would look to see if there were any cost-saving measures the department could take to save money.
Hiremath said he is “not a big fan of studies.” He feels policing is very particular to the community it is in and doesn’t translate well from department to department.
“We set the policy,” Hiremath said. “Our policy with the chief of police is to be the safest community in the state of Arizona. It is. So who are we to tell him, ‘you know what, you can’t have one more police beat officer, you have to get rid of one more management staff.’”
Hiremath said the $12 million police budget works out to a little less than $300 per resident per year and decreasing the budget would have a big affect on the department, but a very small affect per resident.
“When the chief of police tells me he wants something, there is a cost benefit analysis that goes through,” Hiremath said. “These guys are not untouched. They have to go through the town manager, we see all of the numbers in the budget, we get to ask the questions.”
Snider said she would not support an audit and corrected the claim that the police department was half of the town’s budget, but rather half of the General Fund.
“The total budget for the town is $107 million. $12 million is not 50 percent of it. We have three funds. We have the water fund. We have the road fund and we have a general fund,” she said.
Bristow said he would suggest talking to people within the police department to find out if there are any cost-saving measures they think they could take.
“I’m not talking about salary decreases or interfering with their safety on the road, or our safety as citizens,” Bristow said. “But it is amazing when you put the people who are out there, in the job, everyday. They see areas where they can contribute to cost savings for the town.”
The candidates were asked how they viewed job growth within the town and how they would attract new business.
Bristow feels the town “should be trying to attract the higher, better paying jobs,” saying that it is easier to get the lower paying jobs such as a retail clerk.
According to Straney, economic development within job creating is directly tied to big companies coming to the town such as Sanofi, Securaplane and Ventana, but cautioned that the town needs to make sure it is taking into account the upper-and middle-management level people that could also work and live in the town.
Hiremath said the town needs to be business friendly to entice prospective business. He said five years ago, “shovel-ready” for a property meant the property was grated and ready to be built upon, whereas now companies want the building already built.
“Oro Valley’s problem is we don’t have the capital to build a building,” Hiremath said.
Waters and Snider felt attracting businesses similar to Sanofi and Ventana brings similar talent to the area and plan to do that by streamlined development processes and in doing so will build a strong partnership with them.
Hornat said that the town needs to also take care of the relationships with the larger businesses that are already in Oro Valley.
“We want to see Sanofi expand. We want to see Securaplane expand. We want to see Ventana expand. It’s not just always new businesses.”
The Primary Election begins with early voting on July 31. Election day is Aug. 26.