The Oro Valley Council Chambers was packed with residents last Wednesday, Nov. 7, as new Mayor Joseph Winfield and councilmembers Melanie Barrett, Joyce Jones-Ivey and Josh Nicolson were sworn into office and conducted the first council meeting of their four-year terms.
After a successful campaign ending in August, Winfield said he and the others have been busy soaking up information from the town’s experts, state officials and the previous council members.
“I work full-time, so we’ve been having a variety of meetings, some with town staff, some with people in the community,” Winfield said. “There’s an orientation packet that the town provided, and so we’ve been trying to whittle away at that, and some of the council members have gotten a little further with that than others.”
Winfield moved to Oro Valley in 1996, and has been involved with community government in various capacities. He briefly served on the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and had a hand in developing the Your Voice, Our Future General Plan. Barrett has been a resident for nine years and served as vice chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Nicolson, an air-traffic controller, moved to Oro Valley in 2012. Jones-Ivey, a retired nurse, moved to town two years ago.
Town manager Mary Jacobs describes the new council members as “energetic” and said she has enjoyed educating them on the ins and outs of Oro Valley government. Though, the orientation period isn’t over yet.
“This is going to extend into their term for the next few months because we have a lot to cover, and I don’t want to overwhelm them all at once,” Jacobs said after last Wednesday’s meeting. “So far we’ve covered some of the important things they need to know like open meeting law and records retention. I’ve done an overview of the town and council … I’ve done a very detailed financial overview and they’ve all gotten the water overview at this point.”
During his first year in office, Winfield said he wants to work on reducing tax subsidies to golf courses, developing master plans for the Oro Valley Community Center and Naranja Park, and “improving community dialogue,” among other responsibilities. During the campaign, he was vocal in opposition of former Mayor Satish Hiremath’s policy on expanding developments in the town.
“The town is approaching build-out, we’ve relied heavily on construction taxes and impact fees,” Winfield said. “At some point you can only grow so much, so we need to be looking a little bit beyond the construction tax and [ask] how do we sustain ourselves financially?”
In his opening remarks at the council meeting, Winfield gave credit to the town staff who set aside time to help ensure the transition of power goes smoothly.
“I’d just like to express my appreciation to Mary [Jacobs] and other staff members who have really gone out of their way to help us hit the ground running,” he said. “We’re not quite there yet, admittedly it’s a steep learning curve, but we’re climbing that curve as quickly as we can.”
Each of the new council members shared similar sentiments, stating that it’s still too early to share any definitive plans for action with the public.
Jones-Ivey confirmed that the council has been discussing their ideas, but said “we’re not ready to divulge that right now because it’s not as intact as we’d like for it to be.”
Barrett, who was named vice mayor in a unanimous decision at the council meeting, said she was excited to start serving the residents of Oro Valley.
“I’ve been doing a lot of orientations with the staff and getting up to speed with the things that are going on right now in Oro Valley and how everything operates,” she said. “I’ve been meeting with a lot of different individuals and just in general reading a lot and educating myself as much as I could.”
Last week’s council meeting was brief, and covered presentations for a youth art program and certificates to graduates of the Oro Valley Community Academy. Both Jones-Ivey and Nicolson received their certificates, along with 35 other community members, marking their completion of classes on the town’s finances, operations and development. The next regular session meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 5.
“They’ve had great questions,” Jacobs said of the four newcomers. “I’m told that they’ve learned a lot and that’s always a good thing and we look forward to just providing them whatever information that they need to be successful.”
Kathleen B. Kunz is a Tucson Local Media freelance reporter.
Editor's Note: The print edition of this story inaccurately reported that Josh Nicolson moved to Oro Valley in 2016. He moved to Oro Valley in 2012.