Oro Valley Council remains divided - News - Explorer

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Oro Valley Council remains divided

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When there is a group of elected officials coming together to create laws, set budgets and decide some of the important issues citizens face in their everyday lives, nothing says that group of lawmakers has to get along, or even like each other.

Washington is the leading example of dissention. Lawmakers at the top level can’t seem to agree on anything from the debt ceiling limits, to healthcare. However, as Washington captures the top headlines, in local communities, members of councils and boards are also finding it tough to find common ground. Such is the case with the Oro Valley Town Council. The seven-member board is usually split on the bigger issues, with decisions being made through a 4-3 vote.

Voting with the majority is usually Mayor Satish Hiremath, Vice Mayor Lou Waters and council members Joe Hornat and Mary Snider.

On the minority side, councilmembers Brendan Burns, Mike Zinkin and Bill Garner are often a vote short of winning on issues from the budget to spending and management of the Oro Valley Police Department.

The divided council has become more evident as efforts to recall Councilman Zinkin took a new turn last week when Mayor Hiremath called on citizens to sign the petition in an Op-ed printed in The Explorer.

In the Op-ed, Hiremath said, “This matter of concern with Mike Zinkin goes beyond philosophical views and differences regarding public policy. This unfortunate circumstance is a predicament of his own making, by not treating people with respect, and in particular demeaning women. Council members sign a code of conduct when elected. The expectation is that we must adhere to it. I ask that you sign the recall petition and vote to recall Mike Zinkin.”

While it is the citizens who decide who will sit on elected boards such as the town council, it is up to the elected officials to get the job done. In recent months, a public records request from an Oro Valley citizen doesn’t paint a picture of a cooperating board that saves it all for public discussion in Oro Valley. Hiremath and Zinkin have gone back and forth with complaints, some of them being sent to the Attorney General.

The records request was made in September by resident Jane Burge, who is the wife of Mayor Hiremath’s elections treasurer. Subsequently, after the documents were made public, efforts to recall Zinkin officially got under way.

While Zinkin calls it convenient that someone so close to Hiremath requested such specific documents, it is Oro Valley resident Kevin Jones who is leading recall efforts through the group known as The Oro Valley Citizens for Ethical Government.

“The recall efforts are going well,” Jones said. “The quiet majority shares a common view that we need to make this change. We are seeing a decline in the quality of government because of the constant harassment from Mr. Zinkin, and his supporters, of the police department. The way (Zinkin) represents himself is detrimental to the town.”

For the recall efforts to be successful, Jones and his group must collect 2,131 signatures by mid-February. The signatures must be from registered voters living in Oro Valley town limits.

Jones would not say how many signatures they have at this time.

Originally, the deadline was January, but Jones’ group has re-filed paperwork three times since news of the recall efforts broke in September.

Jones has gone as far as comparing Zinkin’s behavior to that of the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto and the former San Diego mayor who was forced to resign after accusations of sexual harassment surfaced.

Zinkin has faced an uphill battle recently with two female employees filing complaints over comments the councilman allegedly made. The female employees deemed the comments inappropriate and went to their supervisors to complain.

The complaints then required Town Manager Greg Caton to not only communicate the concerns with Zinkin, but also report it to the rest of the council.

Zinkin said there is no validity to the comments, noting that no charges have been filed against him. While he meant no offense in making the comments, Zinkin said he has apologized to the employees. 

In a recent news report, Councilwoman Snider said while Zinkin apologizes after each complaint, she doesn’t feel he changes his behavior.

Zinkin has also attended a sexual harassment workshop and participated in a seminar on avoiding a hostile work environment.

The Oro Valley Police Officer’s Association (OVPOA) has also weighed in on the issues, filing a letter of concern against Zinkin in September.

In the Sept. 16 letter to Ron Corbin, the town’s human resource director, OVPOA President Marshall Morris said, “Through his actions, council member Mike Zinkin appears to have some unknown reason to undermine the efficient operations of the Town of Oro Valley Police Department, putting its employees and the residents into unneeded danger. His continuous attempts to harm and/or cut the Town of Oro Valley Department are inexplicable and his intentions and motives require an explanation. As it stands now, the Oro Valley Police Officers Association has serious reservations about whether council member Mike Zinkin has the best interests of the citizens of the Town of Oro Valley at heart.”

At the center of the often-contentious relationship between Hiremath and Zinkin is the management of the Oro Valley Police Department. From who Chief Danny Sharp should report to, to how overtime funds should be distributed to the annual department’s budget – there is clearly disagreement among council members.

Zinkin and Garner agree that since the majority of the council wants Sharp to report to the seven-member council, they have a duty to review every budget item, question all issues and manage the department as they are required to do as per the majority vote.

The majority of the council, along with the Oro Valley Police Officers Association feels the questioning and oversight from council members is going too far, especially when it comes to Zinkin’s management style.

Questioning management of the police department is nothing new, however, as Councilman Garner has raised some of the same questions year after year, only to find his concerns quashed by a 4-3 vote, or a 6-1 vote before Zinkin and Burns were elected to office.

However, while Zinkin faces a recall, and has had numerous complaints from employees to answer to in less than a year on the council, there are no such complaints against Garner.

When asked about the complaints against Zinkin, Garner said a lot of it, including recent recall efforts, is centered around fear.

“(Zinkin) got the fewest number of votes (among the winners) in the last election, so he has become a target,” Garner said. “With all four members that make up the majority facing reelection, they are afraid we could easily win over that fourth vote to allow us to become the majority and really force some changes.”

In 2014, Hiremath, Snider, Waters and Hornat are up for reelection. 

For Zinkin, it’s all nothing more than a witchhunt.

 “I can’t really fight all the rumors and lies being spread,” Zinkin said. “I have a job as a councilman. The police department works for the council and that’s the desire of the council majority. You have a responsibility as a council to oversee spending after the budget is passed by the majority. Just like (Town Manager Greg Caton) would do with the parks and recreation and other departments, it is up to us as a council to oversee the police department. They just don’t get a $12 million check and get to spend and behave as they see fit.”

For now, Garner said he doesn’t believe the back and forth banter between Hiremath and Zinkin, or even the continued disagreements on the council, are hurting the town’s image.

However, with 2014 elections just around the corner and efforts to recall Zinkin increasing, the personal attacks are likely to continue.

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