Industrial authority moved to study item - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Industrial authority moved to study item

New rules on employee politicking approved

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Posted: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 12:00 am

A proposal to start an industrial development authority in Oro Valley has been put on hold to give the council time to learn more about how the body would function.

The Oro Valley Town Council last Wednesday voted unanimously to hold a study session on the issue before making a final decision on it.

Councilwoman Salette Latas had requested that the item appear on the Feb. 17 agenda. The Explorer was unable to reach her before publication deadline last week for comment on the matter.

Latas subsequently said she asked to have the proposed industrial development authority on the agenda to weigh whether it would make sense for the town to establish one.

The IDA, which would function similar to other town commissions with members appointed by the council, would act as an intermediary to the bond markets.

Communities across the state have IDAs, which access bond funding for private interests intent on developing. The IDAs come in because often times the private interests don't have access to traditional funding.

With a local government's backing, bond financing often comes tax-free as well. Taxpayers are not financially liable for any of the debt incurred by the private interest in an IDA agreement.

In Oro Valley's case, the IDA issue came up as result of an inquiry from the operators of a charter school.

BASIS Charter School, a well-regarded public charter, has expressed interest in opening a school in Oro Valley. The non-profit that operates BASIS has schools in Scottsdale and Tucson.

School founder Michael Block had asked town economic development staffers if Oro Valley operates an IDA. Numerous charters across Arizona have gotten funding through IDAs. Pima County's IDA has provided more than $500 million in bond funding to charters over the past 10 years.

Because Oro Valley does not have an IDA, BASIS has looked outside to get funding.

"They have gone to the City of Florence for bond financing," according to Amanda Jacobs, Oro Valley economic development coordinator.

Jacobs told the council the school would be able to pay off its debt sooner by going through the Pinal County city, and would save nearly $400,000 in the process.

Block previously told The Explorer that he still intends to open in Oro Valley, possibly by the start of the next school term. The school has looked at an industrial site just off Oracle Road once occupied by Sanofi-aventis as a location for the new charter.

The town council still intends to discuss the possibility of initiating an IDA.

Oro Valley had an IDA from 1985 to 2006 when it was disbanded. In 21 years, the authority had not engaged in any bonding activity.


Political activities defined

The issue of what, if any, political activities town employees can engage in has been debated for the past few months.

The council asked Town Attorney Tobin Rosen at the Jan. 20 meeting to advise on any restrictions against employees engaging in political activity, such as volunteering on campaigns, collecting signatures or donating money.

The council voted to have the issue delayed until last Wednesday. Council members asked for examples of how other Arizona municipalities handle employee politicking.

"Reading the policies, I think it's fair to say it's all over the map," Rosen told the council.

He told the council that Oro Valley's policy appeared to have been taken verbatim from the city of Scottsdale.

Councilman Al Kunisch suggested the town adopt a policy similar to that enforced by state government. That policy forbids state employees from acting as officers in political campaigns or managing elections of recall efforts.

State employees can sign petitions and make and solicit campaign contributions.

"I would have a severe issue with people being solicited at town hall," Councilman Bill Garner said, who also said he would have issues with town employees circulating petitions.

The revised town code mirrors state law, with the exception of forbidding Oro Valley employees from circulating political petitions at work. All the prohibitions apply to Oro Valley municipal elections, including running for local elected office.

The following change to town code was accepted unanimously: "Employees may not be members of political committees, officers of partisan political committees or nominees for paid elective office. Employees may not take part in the management or affairs of political parties, campaigns or recall efforts.  Employees may express opinions, attend meetings, vote, sign nomination or recall petitions and advocate for election or defeat of candidates."

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