Alongside incumbent mayor Satish Hiremath, three other members of Oro Valley’s Town Council are seeking re-election this year.
Councilmembers Lou Waters, Mary Snider and Joe Hornat were each elected in 2010, retained their seats four years later and survived a recall attempt in 2015 after the $1 million acquisition of the now Oro Valley Community Center and its related amenities.
All three incumbents, individually, campaign under the same platform: Oro Valley’s successes over the last eight years can be directly attributed to their leadership—and there’s plenty left to accomplish to complete the town’s transition into a “complete community.”
Snider, 67, can trace her path to the dais to the years she spent in Santa Rosa, California, as a parent volunteer at her oldest son’s high school, checking in students during Project Graduation—a safe alternative to grad night festivities.
An FBI family, Snider relocated to the Tucson region in 1999 when her husband was assigned to the region, and Oro Valley soon became the obvious choice for their new home. Their younger son was a sixth-grade student at Wilson K-8, and he had one question for his mother: “Will I have a Project Graduation?”
Snider was soon introduced to Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp, and brought the graduation night idea forward. Snider launched the program at Ironwood Ridge High School in 2004, and it has since expanded to support festivities at Canyon del Oro and Amphi high schools. Snider chaired the board for the better part of a decade. She said her years with Project Grad allowed her to develop strong relationships throughout the community—both with parents and local businesses—and that she eventually saw town council as a means to create more positive change in Oro Valley.
Since joining the council in 2010, Snider said that she’s worked to include the town’s growing young population via the creation of the Youth Advisory Council, and been part of the effort to balance the town’s budget and create surpluses, develop community recreation areas like Naranja Park and foster an environment attractive to new businesses of all sizes.
“I think that I have a very good track record on how I make decisions,” Snider said. “I make data-based decisions. I consider all of the factors.”
As for the community center, Snider said the town is doing well at the site even though it took more than a year to “figure out how the operations worked.”
Three years out, and the town is approaching break-even at the community center, though Snider admitted that several organizational and operational changes have taken place to achieve that goal. The town is right on schedule, she said.
“Golf will work out, but it’s important to understand that it’s never going to be a money-maker, it’ll never be a profit center,” she said. “Golf is now a municipal recreation, and municipal recreation is a quality of life provided by cities and towns across the nation—and they subsidize it.”
There’s plenty going on in Oro Valley outside of the community center, and Snider said the biggest challenge the town faces is maintaining infill development that will provide a fiscally stable future for the town. That challenge is faced head-on through council’s zoning and development decisions, and Snider said she and other incumbents have worked to create an environment in which developers see a return on their investment in the town while still fitting into “acceptable guidelines” established by residents in the general plan.
As for Oro Valley’s future, if re-elected, Snider said she wants to maintain relationships with regional partners while developing stronger ones with residents. That could be accomplished through technology and social media, whatever way Oro Valley can “effectively communicate on a routine basis with the community.”
Snider is originally from Portland, Oregon, and attended Portland State University before working in healthcare industry marketing for 30 years.
Waters, 80, may be recognized today as the man his fellow council member have appointed as vice mayor, but many recall his days as a CNN anchor, a position he held for more than two decades as the culmination of a long career in journalism.
A native Minnesotan, Waters grew up in Minneapolis, and first discovered the media world as a student at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture when he stumbled upon his campus radio station. That newfound passion would take him across the county over the following years, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and eventually, Tucson. Waters’ work in the Old Pueblo would eventually garner interest from larger networks, until he landed with CNN in 1980.
Waters retired from the industry in 2001, and settled in Oro Valley the following year.
From CNN anchor to town council, Waters said his transition into politics came about as a progression of being a public servant. After moving to Oro Valley, Waters was a member of the Citizens Volunteer Assistance Patrol of the Oro Valley Police Department, and volunteered for an organization that eventually grew into the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance.
With eight years behind him as a member of town council, Waters said he feels “great” about how far the town has come in terms of its economic growth and quality of life, which is evident in the recognition and awards Oro Valley has won in recent years.
Though there is much to be proud of, Waters said that not all is well: Efforts by the challenging candidates could derail the progress of growth. What concerns Waters are “the organizing principles of blocking Oro Valley’s growth in order to become a ‘Complete Community,’” something he said the town has approved via the general plan.
Waters said that at the forefront of those “organizing principles” is the concept of a moratorium on future growth. Waters said that taking a “pause” on general plan amendments and other rezoning and land-use questions would be just as damaging, regardless of the name given to the action.
“A waiting period set by an authority is, by definition, a moratorium,” Waters said. “It is word-smithing, it is mental gymnastics.”
According to Waters, the policies which have allowed the town to prosper for the better part of a decade all support one another, including re-zoning requests. Waters said those policies and decisions have brought new opportunities such as the University of Arizona’s new vet school, allowed for Innovation Park to develop a foothold and even helped maintain the quality of life standards residents have come to expect.
If the town council were to suddenly take a different approach, Waters said the result may ultimately prove negative for residents. Businesses have already started reacting to talk of “pauses,” Waters said his opponents “apparently don’t realize what a chilling effect” their concept of a pause has on prospective businesses.
Policies aside, Waters said that relationships with outside agencies are just as integral to the town’s success and its future.
“We team up with anybody and everybody that’s in favor of the financial sustainability of growth, and the management of our region,” he said.
Looking toward that future, Waters said that the town must consider how to maintain its success and financial standing as build-out nears, something he said would be accomplished by managing infill development, working with organizations like Visit Tucson and pursuing annexations.
As for the community center, Waters said the town faced an initial “headwind” during its first year of operations, but that the fund is far from the financial drain some in the community have labeled it. Instead, it’s just a part of the ultimate success story that is Oro Valley.
“The people who don’t like the golf courses, God bless them,” Waters said. “Some people don’t like dog parks. Some people don’t like soccer fields or splash pads, an aquatic center. But, it’s about a balance. It’s about making a complete community.”
Hornat, 74, first stepped foot in the Sonoran Desert in the ’60s as a member of the United States Army when he was stationed at Fort Huachuca at the then-United States Army Electronic Proving Grounds in an avionics lab testing prototypes.
After leaving the armed forces, Hornat would go on to a career in telecommunications, though he would often return to Southern Arizona for vacation.
Eventually, Hornat and his wife left their four grown children in the Chicago area and moved to Oro Valley in 2006.
Hornat was soon involved with the community, including two years on the Planning and Zoning Commission, one as a member and a second as vice chair. He was also a member of the Rancho Vistoso homeowners association as part of the finance and compliance committees. Hornat is also a member of the local Oro Valley American Legion Post 132.
It wasn’t long before Hornat won his spot on council. Since 2010, Hornat said that he and the other incumbent candidates have taken the town down “the right path” in terms of the kinds of services provided, as well as the different demographics reached by those services.
Residents are out in the community enjoying their daily lives, Hornat said. He added that the town is “finally starting to reach” younger groups and families as part of Oro Valley’s natural course of evolution from a major retirement community to one appealing to a wide range of prospective residents.
Hornat said the town has reached its current status thanks to the town council’s dedication to quality of life concerns like road maintenance, the police force and water preservation—in addition to the partnerships developed with organizations throughout Pima County and the state.
“I take pride in the fact that we’ve got codes that protect open space—that we delivered,” Hornat said. “I take pride in the fact that Naranja Park, which was a gravel pit, now actually has some use. We have an aquatic center that before that was a leaky pool that I would be ashamed to go to.”
As for development, Hornat said that he and his fellow incumbents worked to put the public first when it comes to new projects or re-zonings by moving public meetings to the beginning of the process. Thanks to this change, Hornat said council is able to make decisions based on input from residents, developers and committees to better plan for the town’s future success.
Regarding the community center, Hornat said the acquisition and operations provided a more difficult task for the town council than initially anticipated, but that they’re still up to the task of running the facilities.
“We didn’t get the kinds of memberships that we thought we were going to get,” Hornat said. “We thought it would increase, but it didn’t. It is coming from different place, though…the outside play has increased because Troon has brought that golf course up to what a good golf course should be.”
While Hornat said he was personally interested in the 27-hole configuration due to the operational cost savings, he believes that the town’s course of action makes sense due to the outside revenue opportunities presented through tournaments and other activities thanks to a 36-hole configuration.
Regardless of single-issue arguments, Hornat said that he hopes Oro Valley’s residents “recognize the contributions” that he and other incumbents have made to create a “solid community” for all.
“I am pleased to say that I believe that this council has integrity—honor and integrity,” he said. “And without that, I wouldn’t be a part of it. That’s the truth.”