In the hottest moment of an Oro Valley council candidate forum Jan. 31, incumbent council member Bart Rochman compared recent opposition ads in local newspapers to a "witch hunt" intended to discredit him, fellow incumbent Dick Johnson and four other candidates who placed campaign signs on undeveloped private property.
"Signs of these candidates are on private property with permission of the owner and that permission was available to all candidates just as the town sites were available to all candidates," Rochman read in a prepared statement.
The ads, which appeared in last week's Northwest EXPLORER and the Northwest section of the Arizona Daily Star, featured a big "X" over campaign signs of candidates Rochman and Johnson, with the slogan "Leadership for Whom?" The ads also highlighted campaign signs of candidates Al Kunisch, Don Cox, Lyra Done and Mark Ellis on undeveloped land in Rancho Vistoso, sign zones unauthorized by the town but acceptable with permission of the property owner.
Bill Adler, chairman of the OV Candidates 2004, which placed the ads, said in an interview that the ad campaign was intended to question the leadership claim and voting records of Johnson and Rochman, as well as town Development Review Board member Al Kunisch and Planning and Zoning Commission member Don Cox.
"Far from a witch hunt, this is extremely fair," said Bill Adler, Chairman of OV Candidates 2004. "Their voting record serves the building trades and development interests. The fact that their signs are on private property owned by people whose projects may come before Planning and Zoning, or the DRB, or the Council, whether that's a conflict of interest, that's up to the community to decide."
Rancho Vistoso developer Dick Maes wrote a letter to both newspapers (see Letters to the Editor), lambasting the ads for their portrayal of the campaign signs as "some sort of special interest issue."
Two-year council candidate Conny Culver said she saw the campaign signs on Rancho Vistoso and went to Town Hall to ask if the areas were approved because they weren't on the map she'd been given. "I was told to call Lewis Management, who told me to call Dick Maes," she said. "But when I found out it was undeveloped property subject to future hearings, I didn't think it was appropriate."
Four-year council candidate Terry Parish said he decided to put his signs along Rancho Vistoso because the town's approved sign zones are limited. "I've been actively looking for places to put my signs, as have all the candidates," he said.
Saturday's forum was the second of two candidate forums jointly sponsored by the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest EXPLORER Jan. 24 and Jan. 31 at Canyon del Oro High School, 25 W. Calle Concordia. The forum was geared towards economic development and town attitudes toward the business community.
Dick Johnson and Steve Conrad, two of the two-year candidates slated to appear at the Jan. 31 forum, did not attend because of family and work responsibilities. That left only Rochman, Kenneth "KC" Carter and Culver.
The week before, all nine candidates for four-year terms - Helen Dankwerth, Terry Parish, Barry Gillaspie, Mark Ellis, Richy Feinberg, Jon Robson, Don Cox, Lyra Done and Al Kunisch - attended the Chamber forum. The candidates had previously submitted answers to five questions about: economic development; the town's financial condition and property taxes; council decisions they agreed or disagreed with; small business development and retention; and the town's relationship with the Chamber. At the forum, the candidates responded to follow-up questions by Mark B. Evans, editor of the Northwest EXPLORER.
In written responses, all the candidates identified high-end retail and other amenities as desirable for Oro Valley to generate more sales tax revenue, with Cox, Done and Kunisch supporting economic incentive agreements for developers. All of the candidates nixed property taxes for the time being, with Cox, Dankwerth, Kunisch and Robson calling it a "last resort."
The candidates consistently identified the land purchase for the Naranja town park, the coming reclaimed water system, the new library and the new hospital, now under construction, as council decisions they agreed with.
Most disagreed with the council's handling of the failed General Plan update, lack of action on fire and police controversies, traffic problems and approval of high-density housing developments. Carter, Culver and Parish singled out the council's approval of the Beztak Companies development at Lambert Lane and La Cañada Drive as a decision they disagreed with. Incumbent Johnson said there were few actions he would change, except perhaps simplifying the process to update the General Plan. Rochman found no council decision he disagreed with. Cox, Dankwerth and Rochman supported recent annexations; Gillaspie and Conrad disapproved of the town's pre-annexation agreements with businesses.
All the candidates identified an inefficient and bureaucratic permitting process as a hurdle for small businesses coming to Oro Valley. Instead, they advocated streamlined regulations to promote a "business friendly" climate. Done supported a program to encourage local shopping.
The Oro Valley council primary election will be conducted by mail, and ballots are expected to be mailed this week. There are two two-year seats and three four-year seats. Ballots may be mailed or delivered to the Oro Valley Town Clerk's Office, 11000 N. La Cañada Drive, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday up until 7 p.m. on March 9.
If none of the candidates receive more than 50 percent of the vote, they will go to a run-off election May 18 to be held with the Pima County Bond Election at designated polling places.
The EXPLORER will post the candidates' written answers to the Chamber's questions on its Web site at www.explorernews.com.