The election clock in Oro Valley is winding down, and while the two remaining candidates busily troll for votes, the two council members-elect remain in the fray.
In a recent interview posted on the Democratic Web site Blog for Arizona, newly elected council members William Garner and Salette Latas fielded questions on an array of matters, including their thoughts on incumbent councilmen Barry Gillaspie and Terry Parish.
“You’ve got one candidate that is totally backed by special interests and the development community,” Garner said of Parish.
Parish and Gillaspie both are running for the remaining open council seat.
Throughout the campaign, criticisms have swirled around Parish for a perceived loyalty to property developers and because of the sums of cash his campaign has collected from developers.
“There’s a line that has to be drawn in the sand that says are you for the people in the town or the developers?” Garner told The Explorer.
To date, Parish’s campaign has received more than $34,000 in total donations. The majority of that amount came from members of the commercial and residential development community.
Latas raised about $14,000 during her campaign, and Gillaspie took in nearly $4,400, according to April campaign filings.
“Terry (Parish) is the one, in his original election, who took money after (the election) from developers to pay off his campaign debt and immediately became a cheerleader for the development community,” Latas said in the interview with Blog for Arizona.
In a subsequent discussion with The Explorer, Latas said her comment was meant to illustrate Parish’s support of the Oro Valley Marketplace ballot initiative in 2006.
“That part came from his original term in office when he wrote some op-eds and appeared in ads for Vestar,” Latas said.
For critics of the incumbent councilman, the financial backing his campaign received from employees of the Vestar Development Company has been the cause of much scorn.
A simmering resentment permeates some quarters of Oro Valley over the 2006 voter-approved ballot initiative that gave lucrative sales tax rebates to Vestar in return for building Oro Valley Marketplace at Tangerine and Oracle roads.
The measure passed with 57 percent of the vote. Parish was one of many supporters.
Still the issue has permeated political discussions throughout the campaign.
“From my perspective, this is a liberal Democrat attempt to spin the issue to make one council member look like a bad guy,” Parish said.
Through the campaign Parish has been upfront about support the business community has provided. He’s also held a position that a strong retail base helps stave off the need for increased taxes assessed to residents.
“Businesses’ continued success is the key to not having a property tax,” Parish said in an earlier interview.
More recently, Parish said he’s grown concerned with the encroachment of political parties on local elections such as Oro Valley’s in which candidates run without party affiliations.
Latas’ election effort was helped by the Pima County Democratic Party, which culled volunteers from its ranks to make phone calls on the candidate’s behalf.
“It leads to confusion among voters,” Parish said of the party’s involvement. “They had no idea that it was the Democratic Party asking for their vote.”
Latas’ campaign received $2,500 from the Pima County Democratic party in January.
“I don’t think people knew they were electing a Democrat,” Parish said.
The councilman said the Democrats forced his hand in accepting late support from Pima County Republicans.
Parish said the party lent his supporters the use of a phone bank to make calls asking for support. The party recently donated $1,500 to Parish’s campaign.
Latas said she’s less concerned about political party involvement, and added that such participation is the mission of parties.
“I don’t know that it’s going to influence the outcome of the election,” Latas said.
She also noted that Oro Valley is one of the state’s few municipalities where elections remain non-partisan.
At a recent Sun City Vistoso Democrats’ meeting, Latas thanked the group for its support of her candidacy and introduced Barry Gillaspie to the Democratic attendees.
According to meeting minutes, Gillaspie asked party members for their support.
The Democratic Party also gave Gillaspie’s campaign $2,500.
Garner appears to favor Gillaspie, too, telling Blog for Arizona that the council would have “a valuable asset” in Gillaspie when negotiations gear up for the Arroyo Grande state land parcel north of town.
Despite a campaign filled with what he described as “trash talking,” Parish said if re-elected he doesn’t foresee any difficulties in working with the new council members, even if “some pretty wicked things have been said.”
“I’m going to be professional,” Parish said. “I don’t want our town council to start looking like the Congress.”