Nov. 10, 2004 - Marana's town clerk began distributing nomination papers Nov. 8 to those interested in running for a seat on the council; but if Marana residents follow the trend set in the last two elections few - if any - will challenge the four incumbents up for re-election.
Council members have run uncontested since 2001, and voter turnout has been low. In March 2001, when Vice Mayor Herb Kai ran for re-election and council members Patti Comerford, Tim Escobedo and Carol McGorray ran for their first terms, less than five percent of Marana's registered voters cast a ballot, according to Pima County's elections Web site. In 2003, when Mayor Bobby Sutton and council members Jim Blake and Ed Honea ran for re-election, voter turnout was even lower - at slightly more than 4 percent.
This is a far cry from the mid-1990s when a neighborhood group called Alliance Marana threatened to recall council members, and several candidates would run for a handful of seats on the dais.
Because of the low voter turnout in Marana residents dont' need to do much to run for council. The nomination papers include a petition, and the amount of signatures required is based on a percentage of the number of Marana residents who voted in the last election. This year's nomination papers will require only 13, and no more than 25, signatures of Marana residents who are registered voters.
Four members of the council will reach the end of their term next year. Comerford, Escobedo, Kai and McGorray each said they would seek another term on the council.
Council members said the reason recent elections have gone uncontested and voter turnout has been low is that Marana residents are generally satisfied with their town government. Also, council members said Marana residents don't hesitate to get involved in an issue that is important to them.
"I think one of the reasons (voter turnout is low) is that the general public is happy with what we're doing," Honea said. He added that the current council is responsive to the town's needs and represents a cross-section of the community. The council includes an array of political ideologies and ethnicities, has both men and women and a variety of ages, he said. Despite these personal differences the council has learned to work together, Honea said.
"One way people become more active is because you have factions on the council," he said.
He added that the council deals with less divisive issues than it did in the late-1980s and mid-1990s, when controversial policies pitted community members against the council. At that time Marana struggled financially, and allowing a Waste Management landfill and a prison in the town seemed like viable options to generate profit. Contentious topics such as those caused Marana residents to challenge the incumbent council members, Honea said.
Vice Mayor Kai agreed with Honea. He said back then, Marana struggled to provide basic services such as police, garbage removal and parks maintenance. It was because of issues such as that, and because the Kai family owns property in Marana, that he decided to run for council.
"We're long-time residents, my parents and myself," Kai said. "And I wanted to be in a position to guide the town for future growth."
The turning point for Marana came when the town annexed the Orange Grove-Thornydale commercial area in the late 1990s, which generated significant revenue for the town. At that point council members no longer had to turn to controversial measures to create finances, Honea said.
Dave Parker, the chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said he considered running for town council during the last election. However, while he had the time to serve on the council he did not have the time to run a campaign. So, when councilmember Honea encouraged him to serve as chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission he accepted the offer.
At the Planning and Zoning Commission, Parker said he noticed that Marana residents would show up to meetings when they felt an issue affected them directly.
"People show up when they have the information and they feel like they can make a difference," he said.
Parker admitted that each time Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson begins accepting nomination forms from those seeking to serve on the council, he considers it. However, he said that would be a decision he would have to make with the support of his family.
Parker said he did not consider previous elections as an indication that people in Marana aren't interested in the direction of their town.
"I wouldn't take low voter turnout as an indication of people not caring in Marana," he said.
Former councilmember Roxanne Ziegler said having a seat on the council requires a major time commitment. She sat on the dais from 1997 to 2001 and decided not to run for a second term because her job with IBM required her to travel across the nation. However, she said her job was not the main reason she decided not to run for a second term. She said she'd grown tired of being the only voice of dissent on the council.
Most of the members of the current Marana council are followers, and they maintain a strong "don't rock-the-boat" attitude, she said. Also, if town staff knew she would disagree with a certain item on the agenda, they would persuade her to consider it from a different point of view, she said
"Before a council meeting they'll take you into a room and say, 'this might be a better way to look at it," she said.
She said she considered running for mayor at one point, but was persuaded by then Town Manager Mike Hein to reconsider. Ziegler, who has been a Marana resident for 15 years, said she had strong opinions about what was best for Marana and at times that put her odds with the interest of the county. Her voting record reflected the difference of interests between her and county officials, she said. At times, she said she was persuaded to take a stance on an issue because it would benefit the county.
Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat countered Ziegler's position by saying maintaining a good relationship with the county is in the best interest of the town. Reuwsaat also served a term on Marana's council. He said there were times when he took a position on issues that countered the position of other candidates.
Still, Ziegler described herself as an "outlaw" of Marana's town council. She said the reason not many people run for a position on the council is because the town doesn't want them to. She added that she would consider running for the council if she could find two other Marana residents to accompany her.
Honea agreed somewhat with Ziegler's statement that council member's have a don't-rock-the-boat attitude.
"That's partially true," he said. "But that doesn't mean that council members will lie down for an issue we don't agree with."
Honea said the reason that the council often approves agenda items unanimously is because council members are able to set aside their personal differences and act in the best interest of the town. He said they spend a lot of time researching the background of certain issues and resolve conflicts before they emerge on the dais.
Kai said Marana has rigorous guidelines developers must work out with town staff before their projects can be approved. Also, he said council members communicate with each other regularly outside of meetings. These factors lead to mainly unanimous votes, he said. Furthermore, council members don't hesitate to voice concerns they have about a project, Kai said.
Escobedo disagreed with Ziegler's statement about the town council.
"By no means do we go with the flow," Escobedo said. "Each council member has their own vision for the community."
Escobedo went on to describe what motivated him to run for town council.
"There was pretty much a communication gap and one of the things we've learned is we pretty much do our homework before we get to the dais," he said.
Escobedo's personal vision for Marana includes a community-within-a-community. He described urban areas with retail space with nearby higher-density housing, such as apartments or town homes, surrounded by lower-density housing.
"Marana is a gold mine," he said, describing the opportunities the town has. He said the town council has the ability to create working and living space, with nearby shopping and recreation. It's important that Marana does not become a "bedroom community," with most of its residents commuting to jobs in Tucson or elsewhere, Escobedo said.
Escobedo said he disagreed with the idea that Marana council members consider the interests of developers over the needs of the town.
"Anybody who says that has not been to one of the town's meetings with SAHBA (Southern Arizona Home Builder's Association)," he said. He continued his point by saying that Marana has higher impact fees than any other community in Pima County.
McGorray, who said the town works hard to balance growth with preserving the community, moved into the area in the late 1970s. She said many people who move to Southern Arizona want to preserve the pristine desert lifestyle, but the council must learn to balance the environmental concerns with the inevitable growth that will happen in Marana.
All of the council members said they enjoyed the time they've spent on the dais and would encourage other Marana residents to get involved in the town.
IF YOU WANT TO RUN
Nominatng packets became available at Town Hall Nov. 8 for those interested in running for a seat on the Marana Town Council. The packets must be completed and returned to Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson by Dec. 8 and include:
€ A statement of organization for a political party.
€ A nomination petition that includes at least 13 and no more than 25 signatures of Marana residents who are registered voters.
€ A non-partisan nomination petition for the state of Arizona.
€ A financial disclosure statement or a $500 threshold exemption statement if the candidate intends to spend less than $500 on his or her campaign.
The primary election for the four open seats will be March 8.
For more information contact Bronson at 682-3401.