A campaign advertisement that showed up in the mailboxes of Oro Valley voters has sparked a controversy.

About 7,000 postcards sent by the campaign of mayoral candidate Mike Zinkin in late April displayed the Oro Valley town seal, which prompted complaints that the advertisement gave the false impression that the town had endorsed the candidate.

Some town residents in turn filed complaints, including Zinkin mayoral rival Satish Hiremath and Joe Hornat, a candidate for town council.

"It was an oversight, I didn't read the candidate binder word-for-word," Zinkin said. "I accept full responsibility for this oversight and apologize to all the citizens of Oro Valley for my error."

Use of the town seal presents at least two issues.

First, the town had the seal trademarked in 2004. Any use of the symbol without the town's consent could amount to copyright infringement.

Second, use of the seal could give the impression the town has endorsed one candidate over another. The town and its representatives are not permitted to use taxpayer resources to influence the outcome of an election.

In response to the complaints, town officials sent a letter to the Zinkin campaign informing the candidate of the breach and requesting that he refrain from further use of the seal. Zinkin said he agreed, and pulled the plug on more than 3,000 additional mailers he intended to send to registered voters.

The Hiremath camp was dissatisfied with what it perceived as an inadequate response to a violation of state statutes. In a letter of complaint sent to the town, the Hiremath campaign requested the town take action against Zinkin for sending deceptive mailings.

"If they're not going to do anything at the local level, that's crazy," Hiremath said.

Town officials responded to Hiremath's complaint, saying the mailer does not rise to level of deceptive mailing.

"It does not purport to be a mailing authorized by the Town of Oro Valley, nor does it falsely simulate a government document," according to the town's response. "The mailing is clearly an advertisement for a political candidate, and it states that it was paid for by a campaign committee."

The timing of the mailing strikes the Hiremath campaign as more than coincidence because it was distributed when voters began receiving early ballots in the mail.

"In my opinion that was 100 percent orchestrated," Hiremath said. "Why would he prudently think now's the time to use the town logo?"

Hiremath also noted that all candidates were told in writing and verbally not to use the town seal on any of their campaign material. All candidates for town council were provided a three-ring binder of campaign information, which included a statement about using the town seal. Town staffers reviewed the information, including that about advertising and using the town seal, with each candidate.

"If he's blatantly playing the rules of the system to get elected, that's a problem," Hiremath said.

While Zinkin acknowledges use of the seal was a mistake, he said the mailing naturally was timed to arrive at voters' mailboxes at the same time the ballots would.

"Everybody knows that on April 22nd about 7,100 houses in Oro Valley received early ballots," Zinkin said. "It's an attempt by the Hiremath camp to make something out of nothing."

Zinkin takes issue with some of his opponent's campaign literature and rhetoric.

Hiremath has said in his own mailings that he's the only mayoral candidate to oppose a local property tax.

"As the one candidate for mayor who has taken a position in opposition to a property tax, Dr. Hiremath knows that a successful business climate is essential to avoid new taxes," reads one of Hiremath's recent mailers. Hiremath maintains the accuracy of the assertion based on his observations of Zinkin's public statements and press.

"He's never unequivocally ruled out a property tax," Hiremath said.

That's just not the case, according to Zinkin.

"It's on the record time and time again that I'm against a property tax," Zinkin said.

At a candidate forum in January at the Oro Valley Public Library, Zinkin had the following response to a question about a property tax.

"Absolutely not," Zinkin said. "I will never come to you with an increase in an existing tax, or a property tax, until I am absolutely certain town government is down to the nubbins. We need to cut back in government."

The election will be held May 18. A pair of council seats and the mayor's position remain up for grabs. New council members will be seated at the June 2 council meeting.

Election schedule

General Election: May 18

• Ballots mailed to registered voters around April 14.

• Early voting begins April 15.

• Early ballot requests must be received by the Recorder's office no later than 5 p.m. Friday, May 7.

Oro Valley normally conducts elections entirely by mail. Because this Oro Valley election will occur on the same date as the state election, the Oro Valley mayor and council election will be conducted as a regular polling place election.

Voters in Oro Valley who are not on the Permanent Early Voting Lists who wish to receive a ballot by mail must request a ballot from the recorder's office.

New council members take office on June 2.

For more information, call the town clerk's office at 229-4700.

For information about voter registration or to request an early ballot contact the Pima County Recorder's Office at 740-4330 or by logging on to the recorder's Website at www.recorder.pima.gov.

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