Friday, May 26, 2017

Town of Oro Valley selects new town manager

After conducting a nationwide search for a new Town Manager, the Town of Oro Valley has chosen Mary Jacobs, the Assistant City Manager in Sierra Vista, Arizona since 2000. She will assume her new role on September 5, 2017, replacing Interim Town Manager, Danny Sharp who will then recommence his position as Chief of Police.

More information on Jacobs’ background is available in the Town Media Release. CLICK HERE

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Guest View: Diane Peters ~ The abject favoritism of the OV Town Council. Part 2.

Following up on Part 1 of this article, below are some of the false accusations that current Councilmember Steve Solomon made against then-Councilmember Mike Zinkin during a Town Council “Call to Audience” in October 2016.

Solomon’s claim:
Solomon asserted that Zinkin’s annual Travel and Training budget was $3000 and that he had gone over that budget by spending $9000 the previous year. He also claimed that Zinkin spent over $27,000 on travel during his four years on council, with this being more than twice his four-year combined budget of $12,000.

Although each Council Member had a $3000 annual Travel and Training allotment, Mike Zinkin was a Leadership Fellow with the National League of Cities and Towns (NLC). There was a line-item for NLC travel in the amount of $11,500. Zinkin never came anywhere near exceeding that annual budget.

Solomon’s claim:
Solomon stated that Zinkin never requested nor obtained approval from the Town Council to exceed his travel budget and claimed that he was therefore in violation of Town policy. He called this “an unauthorized use of taxpayer funds” and asserted that Zinkin should have to repay this money back to the Town and the taxpayers.

Since Zinkin hadn’t exceeded his travel budget, he was not required to obtain Town Council approval for additional travel. All travel expenses that he submitted were within the scope of his Travel and Training budget and were approved by the Town Manager.

This was just another one of Steve Solomon’s feeble attempts at maligning the character of anyone who doesn’t fall in lock step with his point of view.

Hypocrisy much?
Steve Solomon expected Zinkin to reimburse the town for travel and training expenses that he falsely deemed to be unauthorized and then said nothing when Mayor Hiremath’s one-day ceremonial junket to Washington, DC cost the taxpayers $3,159.00 (detailed in Part 1 of this article).

Councilmember Joe Hornat also chimed in to complain about Zinkin’s travel expenses, stating in an e-mail to Zinkin last year…

“I always thought that your out-of-state trips were little more than a boondoggle for your benefit” and that attending a conference with the NLC was “personally beneficial” to Zinkin, offered “no benefit to the Town,” was a “blatant misuse of public funds” and that Zinkin should “pay for any expenses associated with this.”

…and who then said nothing about Mayor Hiremath’s out-of-state boondoggle which was for his own benefit and involved the misuse of public funds (detailed in Part 1 of this article).

Which of the below trips constitutes a “benefit to the Town?”

Mayor Hiremath and Interim Town Manager travel to Washington, DC for less than 24-hours at a cost of over $3000 so the mayor can receive a “2017 Public Leadership in the Arts Award.”

How did this trip (or the Interim Town Manager accompanying the mayor on this trip) benefit the town or the taxpayer?

Building better communities
In 2016, Councilmember Mike Zinkin participated in two trips with the National League of Cities. The details and expenses are outlined below:

National League of Cities 2016 Congressional City Conference
Washington, DC -- March 5-9, 2016

Registration                              $465.00
Airfare                                      $421.20
Lodging                                    $1848.06
Meals and Incidentals              $431.50
Personal vehicle expenses        $86.44
TOTAL EXPENSES                $3252.20

National League of Cities 2016 University Leadership Summit
Madison, WI -- Sept. 28 – Oct. 1, 2016

Registration                              $495.00
Airfare                                      $419.20
Lodging                                    $614.18
Meals and Incidentals              $196.50
TOTAL EXPENSES                $1725.58

How did these two trips benefit the Town or the taxpayer? The answer is below.

From the NLC Leadership Summit Conference Brochure

Solving today’s complex societal and community problems, from infrastructure to public safety, requires a collaborative, multi-sector effort. [Multiple government entities] must all work together to generate and implement creative and effective solutions. Doing so requires a special type of leader, one who understands the motivations and unique contributions of the various actors and can align common agendas, incentives, and outcomes.

Participants in the 2016 Leadership Summit will learn how to become that type of leader…Attendees will gain valuable perspective on the different sectors and will work in collaboration to address some of today’s complex problems.

Our Leadership Summit is designed for city officials…who want to solve real problems and build better communities.

Understand the differing roles and agendas of the private sector…the non-profit community, city and state government.

Examine successful municipal multi-sector initiatives.

Apply lessons learned to a current or future initiative.

Engage with and learn from peers and leaders from different sectors.

Better working relationships with multi-sector partners.

More efficiency and economic savings on multi-sector projects and initiatives.

Better ability to establish criteria and identify approaches for successful collaborations up front (proactive rather than reactive).

Promote innovation and provide proven strategies and valuable resources that address the challenges that cities face.

Expand the capacity of city officials to serve as ethical, effective, and engaged leaders.

Don’t mess with the kingdom (a.k.a. The Empire Strikes Back)
Whereas Mike Zinkin’s trips involved community problem-solving (broadening the mind), the mayor’s cross-country trip (of which no one complained) involved receiving an award and hanging out with his buddy. Yet, the former receives complaints and the latter does not.

Why the favoritism? Because during the four years that Mike Zinkin was on council (2012-2016) he was a workhorse who spent considerable time attempting to trim the town budget by cutting waste. For his efforts, he was repeatedly maligned by the Majority-4 council members and certain town staff employees, all of whom didn’t like anyone delving too closely into town operations and expenses and trying to change the status quo.

Diane Peters has lived in Oro Valley since 2003, moving here to escape the humidity of the East Coast. She’s been involved in OV politics and development issues since 2006. In 2014, she organized a citizens group, Citizen Advocates of the Oro Valley General Plan, who over a 9-month period, successfully negotiated a controversial 200-acre development project slated for the LaCholla-Naranja-Lambert-Shannon area. In her past life, she worked in medical research at various University Hospitals in New England. Her interests include reading, writing, nature photography, travel, art galleries, museums, and politics.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Guest View: Diane Peters ~ The abject favoritism of the OV Town Council. Part 1.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a pattern of favoritism on the OV Town Council whereby there seems to be one set of rules for residents (and even council members) who are supportive of the mayor’s plans for the town and another set of rules for the residents and council members who are critical of his ideas.

In a recent two-part article, “The Great Bond Caper,” I addressed the difference in how the Town Council waffled on applying Call to Audience rules during the April 5th Town Council meeting; strictly applying the rules to one resident (a critic) while waiving the rules for another resident (a supporter). In that case, the rule in question was: ”any member of the public is allowed to address the Mayor and Town Council on any issue not listed on today’s agenda.”

Today’s article will address the rule that states…”Per Town Council Parliamentary Rules and Procedures, you must address the Council as a whole.”

When partiality supersedes objectivity
The mayor and council waived the above rule during an October 2016 council meeting when Steve Solomon (a friend of theirs who has since become a council member) specifically called out then-Councilmember Mike Zinkin, accusing him of spending more on travel than what his travel budget allowed. Solomon specifically called out “Mr. Zinkin” four times during his speech. No Point of Order was called at any time. (As usual, Solomon was incorrect in his assertions and this will be discussed in Part 2).

This raises the question: Are these rules a mandate or is enforcement at the whim of the mayor? I am in the process of obtaining clarification from the Town on this question. If it turns out that enforcing the rules is at the mayor’s discretion, then the next logical question would be: Why does the mayor enforce Town Council Parliamentary Rules for his critics while waiving them for his supporters?

Solomon’s Hypocrisy
Solomon’s speech that night raises another question as well. Why was Solomon so concerned about Councilmember Zinkin’s travel expenses (all approved by then-Town Manager, Greg Caton) yet he never criticized the Town Manager for approving them?

Even more telling is that after Solomon became a council member in November 2016, he said nothing when, just two months later, Mayor Hiremath and Interim Town Manager, Danny Sharp, spent over $3000 for a one-day trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington, DC just so the mayor could receive a “2017 Public Leadership in the Arts Award.”

They arrived in Washington, DC on January 18th at 7:00 PM and they left DC on January 19th at 1:00 PM. They were in DC for less than 24 hours. What benefit did Oro Valley taxpayers derive from this $3000 trip?

Mayor Hiremath’s trip expenses were as follows:

Airfare        1048.46
Hotel           528.85 (for one night)*
Meals          87.50

TOTAL     $1664.81

*NOTE: Mayor Hiremath cancelled his original hotel room (Hilton Alexandria Old Town) when he found another room (Hilton Homewood Suites) closer to the event location. The cancelled room was NON-REFUNDABLE at $209.39. The new hotel room was $319.46, bringing the Grand Total for a one-night hotel stay to $528.85.

Getting closer to the venue would make sense if the mayor was staying there for a week and needed to go to that venue every day, but he only had to go there one day and for this he stiffed the taxpayers an additional $209. The mayor should reimburse the town. After all, that’s what they would have expected Mike Zinkin to do. (This will be explained further in Part 2)

Interim Town Manager, Danny Sharp’s trip expenses were as follows:

Airfare        1048.47
Hotel           313.07 (for one night)
Meals          87.50
Taxi             45.18

TOTAL      $1494.22

Grand total to the taxpayers for Mayor Hiremath to receive an award in Washington, DC was $3,159.03.

Is it lonely at the top?
What was the necessity of having the Interim Town Manager accompany Mayor Hiremath on this trip? It served the town of Oro Valley no purpose to drag the Town Manager along on a purely ceremonial junket. If the mayor hadn’t invited Danny Sharp to accompany him and he hadn’t cancelled his original hotel room, the Grand Total would have been just $1345.35. It’s funny how Steve Solomon never complained about or questioned any of these unnecessary expenses.

Part 2 of this article will be published on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Editorial: When are golf course renovations worthwhile?

Richard Singer, Director of Consulting Services for the National Golf Foundation, is one of the consultants the Town has hired to help them decide what course of action to take with the golf courses and restaurant at the Oro Valley Community Center.

Mr. Singer authors a blog called “Golf Operations Guru” for which he wrote the following article that appeared in March 2014. We quote directly from his posting entitled:

“Municipal Golf Course Renovations – Often Worthwhile, but be Careful”

Singer lists seven conditions that lead to successful municipal golf course renovation:

  • Broadens the appeal of the golf course
  • Is supported by existing regular players
  • Does not lead to drastic fee increases
  • Includes re-branding when there is a major upgrade
  • Includes appropriate clubhouse amenities to match the golf experience
  • Is a strong fit with the surrounding neighborhood
  • Includes expanded and upgraded practice amenities (range, chipping, putting)

Singer lists six conditions that cause municipal golf course renovations to struggle:

  • Leads to a high level of new debt or bond issue tied to the golf course
  • Is opposed by existing regular players
  • Leads to large fee increases
  • Relies on outside, or infrequent golfers for support
  • Changes the basic character of the property so it no longer reflects the neighborhood
  • Goes too far with expanded clubhouse amenities (banquets, lockers, restaurant)

Mr. Singer offers the following conclusion:

“In short, I can say that there are many municipally-owned golf courses out there that would benefit from improvements to facilities; both golf course and clubhouse. Thus, I think my message here is to be careful and have a good plan upfront. Upgrades can benefit the golf course and the municipality, but should not be completed 'at any cost' and there should be an established ceiling to the proposed investment.”

You can read more articles on Mr. Singer’s blog by CLICKING HERE.

The question for Oro Valley
Is our Community Center golf course a municipal golf course or a private golf course? A municipal golf course does not have a free driving range. A municipal golf course does not give discounts to members. If the Community Center golf course is a municipal golf course, then the Oro Valley golf model must change. The current model did not work during the Sheraton-owned years or the Hilton-owned years any more than it’s working now.

As a full-service community, we cannot continue to have this drain on our resources.

Without this financial drain, we would have had the money for the Naranja Park ball fields without the need for a secondary property tax. If this financial drain continues, the money currently spent on pavement preservation, public safety, employee raises and benefits, etc. will have to be modified…or your taxes will have to be raised again.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Editorial: Town Council Motto ~ Staff recommends, therefore I vote affirmatively.

For those of you that have ever read a staff report that accompanies a Town Council agenda item, you will notice that staff rarely gives a report that is not in line with what they perceive the Council desires. Staff also gives recommendations on reports prepared for the various Boards and Commissions, including the Board of Adjustment (BOA). These recommendations are unnecessary given that the BOA makes their decisions based on criteria set forth by the State.

The staff report covers all the areas of the subject item that need to be considered before an educated vote can be taken on the item. Items that staff reports on include background, compliance with the General Plan, compliance with the Town's codes, neighborhood meeting input, and fiscal impact. The Council receives this report at least seven days prior to the actual meeting. This affords the members of the Council ample time to read, research, and ask questions of staff, and reach out to other elected officials to ascertain how their community dealt with a similar situation in order to make an independent informed vote.

Recommendations are not the Staff’s job
According to our Mayor and Council, we have a staff that are the best and the brightest. They are the experts in their chosen field. Regardless of expertise, it is not the staff's job to make the decision, it is the Council's. The "best and brightest" staff does a superb job in providing the Council with the accumulated data on any given agenda item. That should be the extent of the staff's job. It is the job of the Council to review the information and make a decision. The staff is not accountable for the final decision, and, therefore, should not have a part in the decision. Their job is to provide all the information required for the Council to make the decision.

The path of least resistance
Our Council is lazy. They have never gone against the staff recommendation. It’s probably safe to say that the "Executive Summary" is all they read. Additionally, although they are not elected officials, the staff leads all the decisions for Oro Valley. This is especially important during the discussions regarding the budget.

Between now and when the final budget is adopted on June 7th, watch and see if the Council makes any significant changes to the Town Manager's Recommended Budget. As noted in previous LOVE articles (“Beware of the Town Manager’s Recommended Budget” and “Fiscal Responsibility - It’s not in our nature”) the budget is loaded with elements that could be cut or reallocated to more desired items.

Editor’s Note: The quote, “I think, therefore I am” (Rene Descartes, 1637) was the inspiration for the title of this article. “Staff recommends, therefore I vote affirmatively” has been the motto of the Majority-4 since taking office in 2010 and continues to be the motto of the Majority-7.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Watchdog Report: By Mike Zinkin

The Ides of March weren't good for Oro Valley either
Just like Julius Caesar had a bad month of March, so did the Oro Valley Golf and Community Center. The Community Center Fund (CRF) ended the month $346,907 in the red. At 75% through the fiscal year, the fund remains in the red, and the council still owes a $120,000 payment to the General Fund Contingency and $454,808 in promised capital improvements.

Troon-managed facilities (golf, food, beverage, non aquatic center swimming, and some tennis) lost $77,103 in March. They were forecasted only to lose $25,754. They missed their forecast by 33%. How does Troon manage to keep their job with their 2.5 year record of continually poor forecasting? Troon has lost $1,809,051 so far this fiscal year and we still have 25% of the fiscal year remaining. So far, they have upped their year-end forecasted losses from $1,534,505 to $2,038,334 to $2,092,218.

The Overlook Restaurant was forecasted to make $27,021, but lost $3,204. The food and beverage portion of Troon has lost $93,705 through March.

The dedicated Community and Recreation Center Fund is not covering expenses
The CRF fund was suppose to provide ALL the revenues for capital improvements, yet the FY 17/18 budget shows $75,000 coming from the Bed Tax Fund for tennis court improvements, another $75,000 coming from the Water Utility Fund for a water main replacement at the Community Center, and only $50,000 actually coming from the CRF for cart path improvements. In other words, of the $200,000 being spent on Community Center capital improvements, only $50,000 (or 25%) is actually being provided by the "special Community Center fund.”

Solomon’s Fuzzy Math
During the April 19th council meeting, Councilmember Solomon bragged that “7,000 rounds of golf were played” in March. Of course, he didn’t mention that 2,046 of those were member rounds. This is important to note because members do not pay per round, they pay a monthly fee and that fee does not change whether they play one round or 100 rounds. Solomon also neglected to mention that 602 of the 7,000 rounds were complimentary rounds or that golf memberships had increased by just one, from 238 to 239. This is a far cry from the 318 memberships that Troon desired to have by December 2016.

Solomon Speaks with Forked Tongue
Councilmember Solomon also mistakenly crowed during the April 19th council meeting that:

“…the Golf and Community Center revenues and dedicated half cent sales tax for this year will cover all of its costs. It’s not using any other town funds. It’s not taking money from any other town project or town source.”

Of course, none of that was true. Interestingly, after claiming that the dedicated Community Center fund was covering all of the costs, just one week later, during the April 26th budget study session, it was none other than Councilmember Solomon who suggested taking additional monies from the General Fund Contingency to do some upgrades to the Community Center. Councilmember Rodman agreed.

This is a complete turnaround from what they asserted while campaigning – that we didn’t need to worry about Community Center expenses because there was a special fund set aside for those expenses. Additionally, it has always been the Town's philosophy that one time expenses should be paid for with one time revenues. Dipping into the General Fund would certainly be a departure from this philosophy.

A novel idea - Represent your constituents
If Councilmembers Solomon and Rodman desire to spend General Fund Contingency monies, why don't they spend them on Naranja Park? That way their constituents will get something they desire. They NEVER desired a golf course, more swimming pools, or a restaurant. What their constituents desired is spelled out in the June 2014 statistically valid survey.

Councilmember Rodman is a member of the Gallery Golf Club – a club that fired Troon. Oro Valley residents should ponder this question: If Troon was not managing Councilmember Rodman's money responsibly, why does he allow them to mismanage your money?

Et tu Hiremath, et al.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Editorial ~ Notes from the “Gaslight” Workshop: Part 2.

Question and Answer Session With Audience
Although the original plan was to have a 30 minute Q&A session followed by breaking into smaller groups for the “Workshop” portion of the evening, the Q&A session was going so well with so many people wanting to comment that they decided to scrap the workshop portion of the evening and continue with the Q&A.

Resident Feedback on Golf

Audience members would like to see:
More Pickle Ball Courts (which attendees stated was the #1 growing sport and is popular with seniors), and Executive Golf Courses which have shorter holes and faster playing time. Turn the 9-hole course into ball fields, a bridal path, a walking path, and miniature golf for families.

A driving range needs to be added at Pusch Ridge, about 10-12 acres. Also a lighted driving range. These are the money makers.

Make Pusch Ridge course a 9-hole/par 3 course with a practice range. Also need longer hours for this course. Current hours of 9 am to 2 pm does not give people enough time to play.

General Comments:
A resident loves having a “green backyard” that she doesn’t have to water or mow. Another resident worried about developers turning it into more homes. One resident mentioned a course that became a park with very negative results due to trash.

After the consultants present options to the Town, how will the Town pay for these options? With another bond? More taxes?

You’ve had a meeting with golf members and now a meeting with residents living along the golf courses. Will you hold a meeting for the public? These courses and the Community Center belong to all of us.

Resident Feedback on the Restaurant

Audience members would like to see:
Lease the restaurant. It is underutilized and needs more marketing. The menu is too short and too expensive. Food choices could be better, more family friendly, etc.

General Comments:
Public doesn’t seem aware that the restaurant exists. It is difficult to find and not well-marketed.

A former Food and Beverage Director (when the hotel was owned by the Sheraton) said that golfers’ business was always great at lunch time but they don’t want to return to the restaurant for an evening meal. They had enough time there during the day.

Feedback from the Consultants

If golf can’t work, it should be reconfigured. If you have a “repurpose plan” it leads to success.

Nine holes cost as much to maintain as 18 holes. The topography makes a driving range difficult and you would need 10-12 acres. They could build sound abatement walls if they add more pickle ball courts. One course they reconfigured originally had 35 acres of turf, reduced to 13 acres of turf. People living along it were happy and it saved money.

Middle school and high school students are golfing. However, El Con and LaCanada courses are not walkable which eliminates high school student tournaments. It is the millennials who are not golfing, thus these future retirees will not be golfing.

Some of the parcels along LaCanada might work for redevelopment but the fairways on the rest of the courses are too narrow to accommodate homes or businesses plus the necessary infrastructure.

It hasn’t been determined if there will be a public meeting.

After the consultants present options and capital costs to the Town, it will be up to the Town to determine how to pay for these changes.

Our Impressions
The meeting was well-attended with maybe 150 attendees. It appeared that most of the attendees do not play golf but do live along the golf course. Judging from the questions/answers, about 25-30% of the audience members appeared to be residents of the neighborhood bordering the Pusch Ridge Golf Course and it appeared that they knew little about the current financial situation of the golf courses, but were very concerned that the Pusch Ridge course might be closed.

The consultants seemed well-qualified. It will be interesting to see their results and conclusions at the end of this process.

Although this meeting was supposed to be open to the public, no public notification was ever released by the Town.