Tempers flare again at town council meet - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Tempers flare again at town council meet

Christmas trees, dogs spark heated discussions; Watson named interim town manager

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Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:23 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Discussions got heated again at the Oro Valley Town Council meeting last Wednesday.

During an update on the status of a planned Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Steam Pump Ranch in December, Councilman K.C. Carter scolded town communications administrator Mary Davis.

"What you've done is you've destroyed that lady's parade the following week. It's destroyed lady," Carter admonished Davis. "You never thought about that, did you? You didn't think about that at all."

Mayor Paul Loomis slammed the gavel in an effort to reign in a clearly vexed Carter.

"I'll drop it," Carter said.

The councilman was angered over a plan to hold the tree-lighting event at Steam Pump Ranch the weekend after the annual Christmas parade, which runs from Ironwood Ridge High School along Naranja Drive to town hall. Carter has said the event at Steam Pump Ranch conflicts with the parade and other holiday events planned for town hall.

Councilwoman Salette Latas asked Oro Valley Parade Committee organizer Jackie Devery to speak to the issue, addressing specifically whether the tree-lighting event posed problems for the Christmas parade planned for the preceding weekend.

"I don't think anyone ruined the parade," Devery said. "There's no conflict."

Carter also raised concerns over the organization of a committee several months ago tasked with overseeing the Steam Pump Ranch event.

"I didn't know a damn thing about that committee until I got an e-mail on the 17th (of September)," Carter said.

Other council members said they were aware of the planning for the tree lighting, and recalled previous meetings when Davis provided reports to the council about the event.

The parade and tree lighting event have been held separately for the previous five years.

Giveaways or good policy?

A pair of items on the council discussed last week concerned giving money to animal-rescue groups. Both were met with similar responses: No.

The first, a proposal from Pima County asking the town to give $7,000 to the Animal Welfare Alliance of Southern Arizona for spay and neuter services, was unanimously turned down. The council requested the item be revisited in November, when more information about how the money gets spent can be provided.

"It seems like this would be a candidate for the community funding process," Latas said.

The town gives money to various community groups and non-profit organizations. The distributions coincide with the budget process.

Whether the funds would come directly from the town's general fund, or allow the county to take a portion of the money town residents already pay for animal licensing and give it to AWASA for its spay and neuter efforts, was unclear.

"I can't vote for it because I don't understand it," Councilman Barry Gillaspie said.

Latas appeared to have a better handle on the details, saying she wasn't supportive of the plan.

"They're asking us to take money out of our general fund to support an initiative in the county," Latas said.

Councilwoman Paula Abbott, who supported the plan, said it offered the town "lots of bang for our buck."

"To me it's very simple — it's whether you support spay and neuter," Abbott said.

The second distribution, a plan to take $10,000 earmarked to study animal licensing and give it to an undetermined animal rescue group, failed, with Abbott and Carter voting in favor.

For months, the council has discussed a possible takeover of animal licensing and control from Pima County, which provides the service throughout the county.

The item has been discussed at two previous study sessions. The council allocated $10,000 in this year's budget to have the study conducted by a consulting firm.

Latas has been the driving force behind the possible break with the county. On Sept. 23, Abbott proposed taking that $10,000 and giving it to an animal rescue group. No organization was identified as a possible recipient.

"I did not support it," Abbott said of the decision to study the issue. "Maybe I don't count in some people's minds."

In an Oct. 7 e-mail Latas sent to supporters and again at that night's meeting, Latas suggested Abbott was out of line in bringing the issue up for reconsideration, a possible violation of parliamentary procedure.

"Parliamentary procedure and council policy dictates that only council members on the prevailing side of a vote can bring the item up for reconsideration," Latas wrote. "However, council members Abbott and (Al) Kunisch have circumvented those rules to bring this item up again tonight."

Councilman Bill Garner said an outside group like the non-profit group Abbott suggested funding should request aid during the community funding process.

"We have another 501 (C)(3) that's going to be funded out of cycle," Garner said.

The councilman also suggested that giving away the $10,000 would have been a violation of town policies, which frown upon using reserve funds to pay for recurring expenses.

The $10,000 study would be paid from the town's cash reserves, money that should only be used for one-time expenses, he said.

Garner and Latas said giving the money to a non-profit amounted to a recurring expense.

Interim town manager named

The council approved the appointment of Jerene Watson as interim town manager.

Watson has served as assistant town manager since January 2007.

Her appointment comes after the ouster of Andrews, who resigned after a contentious Sept. 23 council meeting where the council voted 4-3 to accept his resignation.

The council could not agree on the terms of Watson's contract during a closed session before the Wednesday meeting.

The proposed contract would give Watson an additional $30,000 for taking on interim duties. Her total compensation would be $152,967.

The council plans to take up the issue again Oct. 21.

Town Finance Director Stacey Lemos has taken on additional duties as assistant town manager.

School asks for postponement

Directors of the BASIS Charter School have asked the council to postpone a move to lease them a portion of the town's municipal operations center for a new school.

The possible opening of a BASIS branch in Oro Valley has generated some excitement. The school has in recent years been identified as one of the country's best public schools, according to Time and U.S. News and World Report magazines. BASIS students also have consistently had some of the highest marks in the state's AIMS standardized test.

BASIS founders Michael and Olga Block recently told The Explorer that they asked the council to postpone the item to give them time to gauge the interest of the town's larger employers, such as Ventana Medical Systems and Sanofi-Aventis.

The council postponed the issue for an undetermined time.

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