Oro Valley residents want recall election for mayor, vice mayor

Oro Valley residents want recall election for mayor, vice mayor
Even after opting to keep the town-owned golf courses open, controversy continues in Oro Valley where the Mayor and Vice Mayor could be pushed out of their positions. (Source: KOLD News 13)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Even after opting to keep the town-owned golf courses open, controversy continues in Oro Valley where the mayor and vice mayor could be pushed out.

Community members started collecting signatures this week to petition for a recall election for Mayor Joe Winfield and Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett.

Jen LeFevre is the founder of Oro Valley Thrives, a group that was launched during the the conversation over the future of the courses at the El Conquistador Golf Club earlier this year. She has been collecting signatures from the dirt lot near the community center all week.

“This is being set up and run by members of the community that really want to use their voice to express how vitally important the golf courses and community center are for all of us,” LeFevre said Thursday.

While the town council voted to keep the golf course operational last month, there is now concern in the community on how leaders will decide to pay for the much-needed improvements.

At a recent council meeting, both Winfield and Barrett shared support in a pay-as-you-go option to fund projects. PAYG is the practice of funding new projects with cash saved from current or prior appropriations, with the expectation to utilize those savings to pay for the capital project.

According to the finance department’s presentation, the PAYG financing would take $2.1 million from the town’s Community Center Fund to fund irrigation and other improvements for the second 18-hole course, the Cañada course.

Construction would occur from May to October 2021, which will minimize escalation of construction costs, maximize water savings and eliminate the need to issue bonds for the golf course, according to the report.

LeFevre said she and other community members worry the PAYG option will take about 10 years to complete. If the golf courses aren’t fixed, she said new members wouldn’t want to join.

An increase in membership was one of the several financial conditions set by the mayor and council to keep the courses operational.

“If we cannot meet our goals, if we cannot reach the financial parameters set for us, unfortunately our golf course and community center will close," LeFevre said. "It’s setting up both our entities to fail.”

LeFevre said some residents have concerns with the way the town is handling the hiring of a new police chief, with both internal and external candidates. Chief Daniel Sharp will retire in February.

The group needs 3,952 signatures to prompt a recall election for the mayor’s position and 3,668 valid signatures for the vice mayor.

KOLD News 13 reached out to both Mayor Winfield and Vice Mayor Barrett for a comment on the effort.

Mayor Winfield sent this statement in an email:

“On October 2, 2019, the Town Council voted in a six to one vote to keep all 36 holes of golf. The Council is deliberating about capital improvement priorities and how and when to pay for them. The Town has dedicated a ½ cent sales tax for golf which generates around $2.5 Million per year and I believe this is adequate funding to repair the courses if we realize the promised increased revenue. By opening both courses to outside play, doing a membership drive, and accepting HOA contributions to increase revenue, the Town has projected a reduction in the tax subsidy for golf which would facilitate phased capital improvements beginning in 2021.”

As of Thursday afternoon, we had not heard back from Vice Mayor Barrett.

It’s no surprise the golf club is one of the driving forces behind a recall in Oro Valley.

Less than two months after town council voted to buy the golf club in 2014, an effort was launched to recall Mayor Satish Hiremath and council members Joe Hornat, Mary Snider and Lou Waters.

Hiremath, Hornat, Snider and Waters survived the recall, but they were voted out of office together in 2018.

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