When Oro Valley resident Don Cox first heard that several members of the community strongly opposed his appointment to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, he said he wasn’t surprised to see who had written letters of concern – even joking about the objections.
“I think it’s just people expressing their great, passionate love for me,” he said. “There are people out there that really don’t have anything better to do than to find something to ‘gritch’ about, and if there is nothing else to ‘gritch’ about – there’s always Don Cox.”
Not sharing in Cox’s levity are several residents, including former members of the town council, all of whom wrote to the town stating their opposition to the appointment, which took place as part of the Dec. 7 session.
“All readers of the opinion page of the Northwest Explorer are aware of Don Cox,” wrote resident Donald Bristow, also a former candidate for council. “He has defined himself as a name caller, fact twister, and mean spirited just to name a few of the descriptors that can be used. … There is no doubt that this council owes Don Cox and you want to reward him by appointing him to the Planning and Zoning Commission.”
Bristow referenced Cox’s work with the Triple E Political Action Committee (PAC), which has been active since the 2015 unsuccessful recall election of Mayor Satish Hiremath, Vice Mayor Lou Water and councilmembers Mary Snider and Joe Hornat.
Since its founding, the PAC has received over $7,000 in funding from several real estate developers and investors from throughout the community, $500 each from the PACs established for the campaigns of Hornat, Waters and Snider and another $500 from a member of the Hiremath family. The single greatest monetary benefactor to the Triple E PAC has been Cox himself, who
loaned $7,000 to the committee earlier in the year.
Primary expenditures of the PAC have focused on mailers, ads and other print materials related to both the 2015 recall election supporting Hiremath, Waters, Hornat and Snider, and the 2016 primary campaign in which Cox’s committee sent materials and put up signs in support of councilmembers Bill Rodman, Rhonda Pina and Steve Solomon.
Also a point of controversy, Cox has come under fire from members of the community for materials from his PAC which have included negative comments and information related to former councilmembers Mike Zinkin, Bill Garner and Brendan Burns – each of whom lost their seats as a result of the primary election – as well as the candidates who ran against the sitting council in the recall.
Cox himself has only donated to Hiremath’s campaign in 2010, paperwork from the associated finance report indicating a $100 donation.
In reference to the financials of Cox’s PAC, some within the community have publicly declared that there are connections between Cox’s political work and his nomination to the planning and zoning commission.
“I know that Mr. Cox worked to see that you all got elected and escaped a recall,” wrote former councilmember Mike Zinkin. “Surely, there must be a better way to pay Mr. Cox back without putting him in a position to influence to future of Oro Valley.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission makes recommendations to town council in regards to the General Plan, zoning code amendments, rezoning and land use requests, and the actions recommended by the commission have found its way into some of the more controversial actions taken by council in relations to zoning changes and housing density.
Despite the objections to his political involvement, Cox said that he believes his work in the political sphere and on a town board are two separate matters and “have nothing in common” and dismissed allegations leveled in Zinkin’s letter concerning misconduct while previously serving on planning and zoning.
“My typical reactions to things that are published or said by that group of people is to just kind of giggle and again think to myself that they have nothing better to do with their lives,” Cox said. “I think it is an indication that, as I have said before, there is a group of people in this community that are against everything – the citizens against virtually everything – and this is just one more thing to which they would like to be opposed.”
Cox said that his work on the commission is his effort to “affect some change in the direction the town is going” and that his concerns for zoning issues, land use issues and peoples’ rights can best be addressed at the local level.
Hiremath weighed in on Cox’s appointment to the commission.
“[Cox] has served on planning and zoning before and nothing has changed from his standpoint,” Hiremath said. “The only thing that has changed is that you have these individuals that their candidates didn’t win – or they themselves were candidates once. … To me, if other members of the community who didn’t have a vested interest in Don Cox wrote to the town, then it would lend more credibility and credence to me. I can only speak personally, but when you’ve got the same group who has the same MO and they try the same tactics – at some point it’s just the boy who cried wolf. You cry wolf too many times and it just kind of falls on deaf ears.”