The Oro Valley Town Council unanimously voted to hire a new town manager at its Wednesday, July 21 meeting.

The council gave interim Town Manager Jerene Watson the job she has held since September on a permanent basis.

"After a lot of deliberation, we have offered the job to acting Town Manager Jerene Watson," said Councilman Steve Solomon.

Solomon added that the strength of Watson's resume and qualifications would be difficult to equal in a nationwide search of candidates. The councilman also extolled Watson's grasp of local and statewide issues as a reason to hire her.

"It would be a good year before" another person "would become an effective town manager," Solomon said.

Watson's annual salary would be $155,648, plus $14,000 in yearly deferred compensation paid into a retirement savings account. Watson also would receive a $1,832 annual vehicle stipend.

She would work on an annual contract basis. The council would review her performance annually and decide whether to offer a contract renewal.

"Thank you Mr. Mayor and council," Watson said after the vote. "I appreciate your vote of confidence."

Watson has worked for the town since January 2007, when she was hired as assistant town manager. She later was hired to fill in as town manager after the resignation of former Town Manager David Andrews.

"She grew up with the town over the past three years," said Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath.

The mayor also said Watson had earned the respect and endorsement of many town employees, many of whom submitted letters of recommendation for Watson.

"I can't think of a department head that didn't write a letter of recommendation for her," Hiremath said.

The previous town council has initially intended to conduct a nationwide search for candidates to fill the job of town manager. The council planned to set aside as much as $30,000 to pay an outside firm to conduct the search.

That plan was dropped with the final budget approval in June, leaving Watson the only candidate named for the position. Watson is the first female town manager the town has had.

Signs of relief

The Oro Valley Town Council also voted to temporarily loosen the town's sign code regulations.

The move is intended to provide relief to local business by allowing greater freedom in the use of temporary signs during the continued economic recession.

Councilman Bill Garner cast the only vote opposing the changes.

"I just don't believe this has been thought through," Garner said.

Amanda Jacobs, town economic development coordinator, told the council the proposal was modeled after the City of Chandler, which has similarly relaxed some of its sigh-code standards in an effort to help local businesses.

Garner said the difference was that Chandler officials wrote and passed an ordinance, effectively a new law, that provided better guidelines than what the Oro Valley Town Council passed.

Businesses that can demonstrate economic hardship that would justify relief would be allowed to complete a waiver form for review by the town's Development and Infrastructure Services Department.

Mayor Hiremath said businesses interested in taking advantage of the program would have options of how they demonstrate hardship.

"It does not mean they have to come in and physically open their books," Hiremath said. Instead, whatever measure a business uses to show a need would have to be the same measure used when the town reviews the effectiveness of the temporary sign code changes.

There would be a $50 fee to process the request. Once approved, businesses must provide an update in 90 days that the waiver is working.

No waivers will be granted for illuminated, noise-producing or flashing signs.

"It's a unique concept and it's going to be a work-in-progress," Hiremath said.

The council plans to review the effort's effectiveness in February 2011.

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