Dr. Satish Hiremath's first State of the Town message was all about respect.
"We need to return to a sense of community that respects our children, our businesses, our public safety, and most importantly, our seniors," the Oro Valley mayor, elected last spring, told a Hilton Tucson El Conquistador gathering of 351 people last Thursday.
In reference to the town council, Hiremath said "my role as mayor is to lead this team with that same respect. Respect for each other; respect for town staff; and respect for the residents of our community. I assure you that I take this role very seriously and that I pledge my leadership on behalf of Oro Valley."
At the conclusion of Thursday's speech, after airing of a new town economic development video that finished with humorous outtake "bloopers" to be edited from the final version, the sounds of Aretha Franklin singing "R-e-s-p-e-c-t" filled the room.
Hiremath said 2010 is beset with record foreclosures, high unemployment, disrespect toward seniors, alienation of businesses, a strained educational system, pressure on children and "very little trust in government."
"Today, I want to reassure the Oro Valley community — and our legislative and regional partners — that this council is all about changing the picture I just described," the mayor said. "We're committed to making life just a little easier wherever we can. How are we planning to do that, you ask? The answer lies in using the talent and resources that we have all around us."
A year ago, several council members chose not to attend the State of the Town. This year, five of the six were present for the speech. Hiremath recognized Joe Hornat, Bill Garner, Barry Gillaspie, Steve Solomon and Lou Waters. Mary Snider was attending the wedding of her eldest son in California.
"This council brings new energy, new ideas and a new approach to the job," Hiremath said.
"Each member offers a unique skill set to improve on current systems in place. We are surrounded by a talented management team and a phenomenal staff."
The mayor has "told your council members that we will not govern in fear," he said. "I have told the town manager and all department heads that they will no longer manage in fear. I have also told them that they are to raise their level of expectations and to meet them, as the residents of Oro Valley deserve no less."
Hiremath wants to bolster systems that attract and retain quality employment; that allow residents to participate in their local government with satisfaction; that communicate; that allow for growth and development; and that allow for change in a changing environment.
"Many of these existing systems I speak about have created barriers that have led to a breakdown in civil discourse, in respectful exchanges, and in community dialogue," he said.
Hiremath said a comprehensive economic development strategy "is a major priority for this council," with particular attention to work force education, strengthened arts and culture, and reduced barriers to business attraction and retention. The town is hosting an economic development summit Oct. 15 at Ventana Medical Systems.
"Our goal is to reach out to our business partners and identify how to solidify economic prosperity," Hiremath said. "This conversation has never taken place before and part of our role as leaders is to encourage communication such as this."
In the long term, Hiremath mentioned continued efforts to annex ground to the north and south of the current town borders. And, he said, "we will create a more business-friendly environment that offers important amenities and attractions that will benefit the residents and businesses in these areas."
He sees a need "to market our region more effectively. We need to come up with solutions to help our local economy and take control of promoting our unique areas in the Northwest and take responsibility for the Northwest region's brand."
The town's $116 million budget "represents sound financial planning that maintains programs and services and allows for staffing levels to remain neutral," Hiremath said. "This puts the town in a position of strength to address new opportunities on the horizon, while still being fiscally responsible and achieving a balanced budget."
Hiremath acknowledged past council members, business and community leaders, and representatives from the Town of Marana and other local governments.
Excerpts from the State of the Town address by Oro Valley Mayor Dr. Satish Hiremath
"I believe that the opportunity to become successful presents itself every single day. Whether we choose to accept it or not is completely up to us and often times determines our success."
"We need to change our mindset so that everything we do has a purpose to it. … Every movement, every action, every thought. We cannot do things just because we have to do things. We must do things because they're the right thing to do on behalf of the community as a whole.
When we do so, we must be able to do so without fear. We live in a society where there is so much mistrust that any change that is made is viewed with cynicism. Any change must mean that government is covering something up, a conspiracy theory, a lack of transparency.
People have a right to question what government does, but they do not have a right to become a distraction or worse yet, an obstacle for achieving success."
"It will take each and every one of you in this room today to be deliberate in all that you do and all of us to be respectful to one another in order to continue our pledge to care for our community, our heritage and our future. As for me, I leave you with my favorite quote: 'I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community.' And as long as I live, it is a privilege to do for it what I can."