Mayoral Race: A day before early ballots were mailed out to residents on July 31, the Oro Valley Town Council and Mayoral candidates participated in a debate with topics ranging from budget, policy, collaboration, businesses and the future of the town in front of a little more than 100 people.

After opening statements, Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath and mayoral challenger Pat Straney took the stage to field questions from Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Dave Perry, and Tucson Local Media Editor Thelma Grimes.

They were first asked if they wanted to see Oro Valley grow and, if so, where they wanted that growth to be.

While Hiremath said growth within the town insinevitable because it is the type of location people want to live in, he said it is just a matter of finding the balance between all of the residents’ wants and needs, such as open space, infrastructure, or public safety.

“It’s really finding that trick with respecting people who are already are here, and trying to provide what residents want,” Hiremath said.  “In addition to, trying to provide what future residents of our town are going to be looking for.”

Straney said he would like to see both residential and business growth in line with the town’s General Plan and supports the views of what will continue to offer a community of excellence.

“Certainly following the General Plan not just as a suggestion, but as a definite guide,” Straney said. “When we get a request for, let’s say, a deviation from the plans, we ought to think long and hard about how that ties into our community view and what our community thinks about that.”

The two had slightly separate views when it came to the topic of the police department’s budget and it being audited.

When Straney was asked if he felt the police department’s budget was too little, too much, or fine how it is, he gave a similar answer to what he said throughout the forum. He felt nothing should be off the table and all information needed to be collected before he could give an honest answer whether or not something should be done.

“The police department is like any other functional area of the town. They all need to stand up and be counted their value against their expenditure for budget purposes.”

When asked what he thinks it would take to put the police budget issue to bed, Straney said it would take the entire community to be given the same information he desires to see if the budget was adequate, too much, or too little.

“Reduced costs does not necessarily relate to less services,” he said.

“You can value your decisions to make sure not only the money that comes in equals the money going out, but that you get the best bang for your buck in the middle. It doesn’t relate to just the police department. It relates to every function of the town.”

Hiremath said he doesn’t feel the issue will ever be put to bed.

“We live in a democratic society. There are just individuals who are just going to think that we have too much public safety. There are individuals that are going think that we don’t have enough open space. There are individuals that are going to think that we should support businesses.”

He said the police department operates in accordance to the quality of living that is desired by the residents. The department has created one of the safest communities in the country and has a Student Resource Officer program that is emulated by other departments.

When the topic came to the town being known as a retirement community and transitioning throughout the years to being more family-friendly, Hiremath and Straney were asked how they felt the town should handle the transition and be respectful of retirees.

Straney said he felt there isn’t a transition taking place any more. He said the demographics have changed to allow for a younger population, but in recent years, people 65 years of age and over have moved to the community.

“I love having a nice, well-balanced community with kids making noise and life,” Staney said. “And there are also expertise for people who are not of that same mind.”

Hiremath felt there currently is a transition taking place, citing the town, from 1974 to the mid 2000s, had the mindset of being the largest retirement community in the country. He said that changed with the housing boom in California with people buying houses in Arizona and Nevada.

“There are things that we have done in order to help balance that growth,” Hiremath said. “But first and foremost on my mind is, I do think that there is a perceived transition and that the seniors are being disrespected and forgotten, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

He said the council has created the Veterans Support Initiative and the aquatic center, archery range, bike paths and walking paths are for people of all ages.

Hiremath was later asked why he, as mayor, has involved himself with endorsing the effort to recall Councilman Mike Zinkin and requesting an investigation by the county attorney into Councilman Brendan Burns, both candidates who are in the minority when it comes to certain issues within the town.

Hiremath said he was given the choice to ignore “very serious infractions” that were taking place or he could “diplomatically take the best action that I can.”

“My job is to, as best that I can, try to enforce a code of conduct and I firmly believe because we are elected officials that represent the people of the Town of Oro Valley, our ethics and our code of conduct should be held to a higher standard than someone who is not representing you.”

Straney was asked his opinion on the matter, as he has been critical of how Hiremath has handled the issues within the current council.

He said that he would do what he has done a lot in his past, which is build a relationship with each individual he works with.

“I assure you, if you get to know them, and you are open, fair and honest, you will find a common value in everybody that you are working with,” Straney said. “Once you find that common value, you now how the ability to start building consensus around [town issues].”

Council Race

Councilmembers Mary Snider, Joe Hornat and Vice Mayor Lou Waters stuck together on their views just as they are together on their campaign signs during their forum with council seat challenger Don Bristow last week.

The forum, which took place July 30, had the panel respond to questions from Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Dave Perry, and Tucson Local Media Editor Thelma Grimes.

The first point of contention between the incumbents and the challenger came when Bristow was asked to respond to his history of accusing the town for its lack of taking action on it’s A-frame sign code and outside merchandise placement. Perry said the business community as a whole views his actions as anti-business friendly.

“[My actions] are not anti-business. They are anti-town and anti-chamber,” Bristow said. “Because the town and the chamber has refused to work with their members and businesses to abide by the rules and regulations of the town, just like we, as citizens, are expected to abide by.”

He said the town doesn’t enforce the code by fining code violators $25. Instead, inspectors tell realtors they are in violation of the town’s code and should move their open house signs. He said inspectors pick up a resident’s garage sale signs and put them in their trucks and drive off with them without pursing the violator with a charge.  

Hornat said he felt the town and the chamber do a good job of informing businesses of the town’s sign code. He said the town does move businesses’ signs and it does charge them the fee.

“But it gets people to have a bad sense of who we are,” Hornat said. “I don’t like that, they don’t like it, but we do enforce it, but it just isn’t the most critical thing in Oro Valley, believe me.”

Snider said she felt the town takes a more respectful approach to dealing with the sign issues with informing business about the codes before handing them a fine. Waters agreed and said being extremely picky about the sign code is business-unfriendly.

The candidates were asked a handful of other questions about attracting businesses and residents, tax increases, and growth. All four candidates responded with similar answers.

In closing remarks, Waters said he was proud of what the current council has been able to do within the last four years through the recession.

Snider brought up the relationships she and the other incumbents have formed during their time on council, as well as taking care of a $3 million deficit and turning it into a surplus.

Hornat agreed with Waters and Snider, citing the accomplishments the current council has achieved as a whole.

Bristow felt the current council has a lot of issues such as dissention and disrespect. He also felt the town shouldn’t be spending money out of its contingency fund while in a recession.

“My opponents are not spending your money wisely or in a timely manner,” Bristow said. “Are they trying to win your votes? Yes they are. Don’t be fooled.”

The primary election on Aug. 26 will decide the mayoral race and could decide the council race.

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