Latas third to resign OV seat since November - Tucson Local Media: Pima Pinal

Latas third to resign OV seat since November

She cites financial, family concerns in resignation letter

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Posted: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 11:00 pm

Another Oro Valley Town Council member has resigned.

On April 1, Salette Latas notified fellow council members and town officials that she had resigned her elected position effectively immediately.

"The economic challenges that have affected our Town have also affected me personally," Latas wrote in an e-mail. "My energies need to be focused on my family and on earning a living."

Latas was elected in the primary election in March 2008, after campaigning for more than a year. At that time, she was the first of two candidates (Bill Garner being the other) to be elected on the primary ballot.

Latas' term was due to expire in May 2012.

The town council plans to hold a closed session prior to its Wednesday council meeting to discuss filling the vacancy. According to town code, the council can decide to fill the vacancy however it chooses. It meets at 6 p.m. April 7 at Oro Valley Town Hall, 11000 N. La Cañada.

The Explorer attempted to reach Latas by phone. She responded with an e-mail and the letter of resignation she submitted to the council.

The flight of elected officials from Oro Valley began in the fall, when Paula Abbott resigned on Nov. 9. The councilwoman gave little explanation for her departure other than what she called "family circumstances." Pat Spoerl was appointed by the council to fill out the remainder of Abbott's term.

Abbott's exit, nearly six months before the completion of her second term, followed the contentious ouster of Town Manager David Andrews. At the time, Abbott took a great deal of criticism for casting the fourth vote in favor of accepting Andrews' resignation. His departure was widely viewed as having been forced by a coalition of council members K.C. Carter, Al Kunisch and Mayor Paul Loomis.

Kunisch resigned from the council on Feb. 17 to spend more time with his ailing wife Pamela. She died on March 16 after a long battle with cancer.

Mary Snider, who was elected to an Oro Valley Town Council seat in the March 9 primary, was appointed by the council to fulfill Kunisch's term, then she'll serve a four-year term.

In her letter of resignation, Latas cited numerous town policies she supported during her two years on the council, including adoption of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a gray water harvesting ordinance, raising development impact fees and negotiating to bring BASIS Charter School to Oro Valley.

"I have worked hard to serve Oro Valley, and I have always done what I felt was in the best interests of the town and its residents," Latas wrote in the letter.

For years before the 2008 election, Latas made a name for herself in the community and in Democratic Party politics.

She was outspoken in the fight over Internet filters on Oro Valley Public Library computers in 2006. At the time, the town council was embroiled in a battle over whether to filter pornographic content from library computers. Opponents of the proposed filtering, including Latas, brought up First Amendment concerns. Latas also expressed concerns that the proposed Internet filter technology, similar to one used in the city of Phoenix's libraries at the time, was developed for Christian activist groups and could be used to censor non-Christian material.

"I see this attempt to regulate Internet for adults as an attack on the Constitution," Latas told The Explorer in November 2006.

The former councilwoman also was a vocal opponent of the town's economic development agreement with Vestar, developers of retail center Oro Valley Marketplace. Fueling much of the controversy over the $23 million sales-tax sharing deal was the disclosure that a Walmart would anchor the shopping center.

Latas vocally opposed the project, participating in roadside protests along Oracle Road and holding an anti-Walmart sign that read: "Bait and Switch."

The former councilwoman also was one of the driving forces behind the now defunct group Oro Valley First. The group worked to support local business while railing against Oro Valley's tax-sharing deals with retail developers.

Almost immediately following the 2008 council race, many people in the community began to speculate that Latas had plans to run for higher political office, possibly for Pima County Board of Supervisors, as a Democrat. Her now-former husband, Jeff Latas, was vice-chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party and chairman of the liberal group the Sonora Progressives. The Sonora Progressives Web site and blog have been inactive since 2007.

Jeff also was a candidate in the Democratic primary race for Congressional District 8, the seat now held by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords.

Salette Latas' Democratic connections caused some controversy during the 2008 council race when the party contributed at least $2,500 to her campaign. The move prompted claims that Latas had injected partisan politics into the town's non-partisan election.

Also during the campaign, Latas suffered the loss of her son Jesse, who died in 2007 at the age of 22.

Following the pressured resignation of Town Manager Andrews last September, Latas sent out a mass e-mail railing against the council members who voted to accept the former manager's resignation.

"All four members who voted to terminate Mr. Andrews have terms expiring in May 2010," Latas wrote.

The councilwoman also wrote in the e-mail that Loomis had advocated during the annual state of the town address to have a property tax placed to a public vote. Latas did not attend the Sept. 29 event.

Latas later sent at least two e-mails advocating for candidates in the current town council race. Latas did not offer her support to any of the incumbents up for re-election.

"There are only three candidates on the entire ballot who will not be indebted to special interests," Latas wrote in February, encouraging voters to support mayoral candidate Mike Zinkin and council candidates Matthew Rabb and Don Emmons. Emmons has since dropped out of the race.

Latas' commentary on the race angered at least one incumbent.

"It's very disappointing to me, running for council, to see other council members not on the ballot involving themselves in this election," Carter said when asked for comment on Latas' resignation.

The councilman, who recently lost his bid for a third term, said he would not have advocated against council colleagues seeking re-election.

Carter and others have speculated that during the 2008 campaign, Latas compiled a list the e-mail addresses of more than 2,000 Oro Valley residents.

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