While Joe Winfield faces off with Satish Hiremath for the fate of Oro Valley’s top spot, three town residents are on a mission to bring a new vision to the dais. Josh Nicolson, Melanie Barrett and Joyce Jones-Ivey are in the midst of their campaigns to unseat the incumbents and believe they have what it takes to take Oro Valley into the modern era.
Nicolson, 36, was born and raised in Chandler, Arizona, and attended college at the University of North Dakota. He would then begin a career as an air traffic controller, a job which eventually brought him to the Tucson region in 2009.
That’s when he and his wife first drove down the hill on North La Cañada Drive—and they fell in love with Oro Valley. With two young daughters, the couple soon found the town’s appeal too much, and moved to Oro Valley three years later.
Nicolson’s path to public service began as a member of his local homeowner’s association, and it didn’t take long for him to engage in the happenings around his neighborhood, especially when nearby open space began to sell for development. Nicolson was then voted the vice president of his local National Air Traffic Controller Association, and began to interact with local legislative representatives.
At the behest of some neighbors, Nicolson said he’s finally found his next step in life: town council.
Chief among Nicolson’s concerns for the town are development, the community center and the town budget.
As someone who lives on the controversial golf course purchased by Oro Valley in 2014, Nicolson believes that the town should consider the National Golf Foundation study commissioned by the town for more guidance about managing the courses. He also thinks that linear park space and passive recreation trails would provide the same value to homeowners while providing recreation amenities for more residents. Nicolson said he purchased his home for the views and open space, not necessarily the golf course.
“I don’t tell my friends I live on the 18th fairway,” he said. “I show them a picture of the view…I don’t care if I live on a golf course, I like the nice views and stuff.”
Nicolson said his platform is to “get a control on the golf cost expenses,” and mentioned that could be accomplished by replacing Troon Golf for “another nationally recognized” golf management firm, turning some of the land into park space and building interconnected trails.
To pay for any changes at the golf course, Nicolson said he prefers a “pay-as-you-go” approach, including the possibility of dipping into the town’s budget surplus to fund millions of dollars of renovations with cash. Nicolson isn’t prepared to talk about specifics, saying that would be figured out by working with residents and staff.
“When we’re in office, obviously we’ve got to talk to the citizens and we’ll be able to use the town staff as resources,” he said.
As for development, Nicolson said that council is too lenient with developers when it comes to rezoning requests. If elected to council, he said he would push for more transitional zonings and less clustering of development.
Nicolson also said if elected, he would want to cut 5 percent of the town’s budget across the board because the budget has grown faster than the rate of inflation or population growth. He also wants to build more parks and work with schools to develop science competitions.
Jones-Ivey, 67, declined to be interviewed by Tucson Local Media, but did agree to answer questions via email. She moved to town two years ago, but said she is running for council because of what she said is a “lack of transparency, honesty, trust and respect” on the part of the current council. A retired nurse from Altadena, California, Jones-Ivey received a bachelor of nursing from Cal State University and a bachelor of divinity from Suffield University.
When Jones-Ivey moved to town, she said it was everything she and her husband wanted—though she was bothered by what she saw as incessant rezoning.
Now a candidate, Jones-Ivey said she’s seen “a complete breakdown” in residents’ ability to communicate with the mayor and council because “our voices have been replaced with the monies and needs of special interest.”
Jones-Ivey has built her platform on a simple philosophy: Listening to and representing town residents “while guiding the future direction of Oro Valley according to the General Plan.”
If elected, Jones-Ivey said she would improve community input by encouraging more community participation through the restoration of the Conceptual Design Review Board and Public Arts Review Committee; start council sessions earlier in the day; and hold quarterly town hall meetings.
When it comes to the controversial community center, Jones-Ivey said that she does not know enough to formulate a specific plan for improving the financial standing at the facility because she does not have “full knowledge” of the purchase contract.
Jones-Ivey said she is for taking a “pause” on reviews for rezoning and general plan amendments. She said the current system “has been abused” by the council because almost all requests have been unanimously improved.
Jones-Ivey also mentioned cutting the budget because it’s grown faster than the rate of inflation.
“A budget reduction on discretionary expenses is warranted and would not adversely affect core town functions such as public safety,” she said.
Over the next 10 years, Jones-Ivey said she would like to see Oro Valley be a highly-desired town by growing families and retirees which offers employment, quality housing, desert open space while maintaining good schools, public safety and “a family friendly environment.” Jones-Ivey said the emphasis will not be “growth at all cost” but “to grow while retaining the quality of life we all desire.”
Barrett, 36, first moved to Oro Valley nine years ago, and most recently sat on the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission—a position which she resigned to pursue a seat on the council.
According to Barrett, who also requested questions via email, her campaign came about because she’s concerned about the direction the town is headed. Barrett said that her time on planning and zoning allowed her to “witness the reduction in input from Oro Valley residents, while the Mayor and Council listen to developers and special interest contributors.”
As a prospective member of council, Barrett said she aims to restore respect and trust in the government.
To accomplish that goal, Barrett said she wants to better represent town residents by communicating through digital technology, town hall meetings and volunteer opportunities; advocate for “responsible” development; employ “sensible and community driven strategies” to lessen the operational losses at the community center; and employ fiscal discipline to stop the town’s “excess growth.”
At the community center, Barrett said council needs to better understand what the community wants done with the golf holes and possibly cancel or renegotiate the contract with Troon Golf; revisit the National Golf Foundation study; and host meetings with residents. Barrett also mentioned that she would like to separate the Community Center Fund into separate parts to “daylight” the costs of running the golf courses.
Barrett does not have a plan for the golf course and community center, but that she would work to reduce “massive ongoing losses in the way the community finds most acceptable after an open public discourse,” though she did mention halting the $6 million bond intended in part to reduce operational losses on the courses by replacing the irrigation system.
As for development, Barrett said that a “temporary pause” on “large-scale rezonings” is necessary so that the town can “catch our breath and look at the big picture.”
“I think it is important to make sure moving forward that we are doing so in a way that maintains the character of Oro Valley that our residents desire and in accordance with our voter-approved general plan,” Barrett said.
Barrett added that a pause would only be taken on “major rezonings” but not annexations of state land, “minor rezonings” or “projects which should be addressed quickly.”
If elected to council, Barrett said her vision for the town’s future is one of a thriving community where individuals and families are able to enjoy the natural beauty of the desert and strong recreation systems.