In March, Oro Valley repudiated a town council and elected some new folks who claim to be different. Barry Gillaspie finished the process last month by defeating fellow incumbent Terry Parrish, with the stronger promise to mend his past ways.
How this changing of the guard will actually affect the town is questionable. Past council members elected as alternatives to existing policies often flipped in the parking lot on their way to the swearing-in ceremony, but this batch may be made of sterner stuff. Holdover council members Paula Abbott and K.C. Carter have shown independence, and newly elected Salette Latas and Bill Garner with Gillaspie are bolstered by the wide margins they gathered.
Sour grapes from some in the development community are indications that they may be less pliable than their predecessors. The hoary charge of “no-growth” is returning to the political lexicon. Oh, posh! There hasn’t been a genuine “no-growther” with any influence in Southern Arizona since Geronimo. Putting aside the equally hoary cliches about “planned growth,” the adjective most would settle for probably is “restrained growth.” That translates to no more subsidized Wal-Marts.
Much grousing has been heard about supposedly low voter turnout. OV has had higher turn-out, including the 2006 election where a mayor and the Vestar proposition were on the ballot, but 31 percent in a council only primary and 33 percent in the general is nothing to sneeze at compared to Marana, Tucson and normal primary turn-out in statewide elections.
Marana dumped two incumbents last year with abnormally high turnout for them approximating a whopping 20 percent. The city of Tucson averages 25 percent or less in council primaries and barely cleared 30 percent when re-electing the mayor and with the Prop 400 water initiative on the ballot in the last general election. Partisan primaries for congress and governor rarely get near 50 percent, and few general elections for those offices surpass that.
The margins electing Garner, Gillaspie and Latas were so great that it would’ve required an inordinately high turnout with almost all of the added voters going against them for another outcome, something highly improbable. They won, they won big, and now they must govern.
What will test the new council majority is their desire to actually govern. Proof that changes are more than cosmetic will be evidenced early by three items: their choice of vice mayor, the town’s relationship with the Pima Association of Governments, and who is town attorney.
When most council members are on the same page, vice mayor is rotated to someone from the majority who’s up next. Old council would give you Al Kunisch. New one shouldn’t, making it either Paula Abbott or K.C. Carter. If they go with Kunisch, they start off timid.
Mayor Loomis has been the representative to PAG for years. They have three choices — roll over and leave him there, replace him, or make him run everything he does by the full council which is how Tucson handles Bob Walkup. Loomis, unlike Walkup, has ideas of his own that conflict with the new majority. Replacement would be the strongest evidence of change.
Attorneys to governing boards have been greatly empowered over the years (see Amphi Schools) statutorily and otherwise, and are every bit as relevant as town managers. If you hear “National search,” it’ll tell you some things about this new majority: that they are naive enough to buy that wretched process, and that they don’t recognize the need for someone compatible in that key position nor know any competent lawyers they trust.
Georgie Patton always said “If you’re going to be in charge, be in charge.” I offer this new council his advice.
Listen to Emil Franzi and Tom Danehy Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. on Inside Track, KVOI 690AM.