Monday, August 17, 2015

Guest View-Jack Stinnett: Majority-4 Try To Re-write History... Again

Oro Valley resident Jack Stinnett was Chariman of the Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Board when the town purchased the El Conquistador Country Club. He resigned his position on the Board in response to what he felt as an ill advised, poorly studied purchase. In the following, Jack presents the facts regarding public input into this purchase decision; and the concurrent council decision to raise the sales tax to pay for financial loss from golf course operations.
On his campaign web site, Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath presents a "carefully crafted" lie regarding public participation in the process of purchasing the El Conquistador Country Club.

The Mayor's implies in his statement [insert right] that there was meaningful public input into the town's purchase the facilities and the increase in the sales tax.

The facts, however, do not support his position. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes. There were three meetings in which the public had an opportunity to opine on the purchase. However, at no time did residents have the opportunity to influence the decision to purchase the El Conquistador golf courses and the decision to raise the local sales tax to support the golf course.

Let's take a look at the public hearings to which, I believe, Mayor Hiremath refers in his statement.

Meeting 1: December 3, 2014
The purchase of the El Conquistador Country Club was revealed for the first time to the public at the Oro Valley Town Council's December 3, 2014 regular meeting.

At this meeting, the Town presented its proposal in support of the purchase in 30 minutes. Mayor Hiremath, Councilmembers Hornat, Snider and Waters asked no questions of substance.

Immediately after this presentation, five  attendees submitted "blue card"s and spoke against the purchase. This, I think is what Mayor Hiremath refers to as a "public meeting." If so, then this is the first such meeting.  I attended this meeting.

Meeting 2:  December 9, 2014
The purchase proposal was  presented to the Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Advisory Board ("PRAB") on December 9, 2014. The Town had abruptly cancelled the PRAB regularly scheduled November 17 meeting and rescheduled it December 9 so that PRAB could approve the purchase of the El Conquistador Country Club prior to the December 17 Council vote.

As I listened to the presentation, it appeared to me that Town Manager Greg Caton had expected a PRAB "rubber stamp" of approval. However, after 90 minutes of questions to Mr Caton, and Town staff presenters, PRAB members did not pass the Town's motion to approve the purchase. Instead, PRAB passed a motion 5-1 supporting the acquisition of the EL Conquistador recreational facilities but not the three golf courses. This, I think, is what Mayor Hiremath refers to as a "public meeting." If so, then this is the second such meeting.  I participated in this meeting.

Meeting 3: December 17, 2014
The Town El Conquistador purchase proposal was then presented at the regularly scheduled December 17 meeting. It was approved on a 4-3 vote. Those in favor: Mayor Hiremath, and concilmembers  Hornat, Snider and Waters. The approval came after many residents spoke against the rushed purchase stating their opposition to the deal, inadequate due diligence, lack of public review meetings and the lack of transparency of the process. This, I think, is what Mayor Hiremath refers to as a "public meeting." If so, then this is the third such meeting.

No true public hearings were held on this purchase and tax increase
The "hearings" conducted at these three public meetings were perfunctory. The first meeting doesn't really count. No one knew about the purchase until that very meeting. The PRAB meeting, "meeting 2", was scheduled to approve the purchase. It was not scheduled as a public forum. At the start of this meeting, three residents addressed the board. Two residents expressed concerns about the purchase. One spoke in support. Residents only observed the meeting after that.  At "hearing 3",  residents had only 3 minutes to opine at the December 17 meeting. What they said had no impact on the decision. The Majority-4 had already decided to make the purchase.

The public said "No." The council majority ignored their input
At all of these meetings, the "public input" that was given was overwhelmingly "No." That input was ignored. It seems to me that the purchase of the El Conquistador Country Club was agreed upon by the Majority-4 long before town residents could hear the facts, voice their opinion or suggest alternatives.

Later in 2015 the Town held "outreach" meetings to explain the purchase after the fact and test soft areas of the story. Over the next months the purchase narrative was routinely updated to "fine tune" the story and discredit facts that did not support the Mayor's statements.

Mayor Hiremath: The truth does not support your assertion
There were no public meetings that allowed residents to learn, evaluate and provide input on the purchase and the sales tax increase. The deal to purchase the El Conquistador properties and to raise the Town's sales tax was decided before any public awareness, scrutiny or involvement. It was, in my opinion a "backroom deal."

Mayor Hiremath: Your statement misleads residents
The Mayor attempts to hide what really transpired.

Why does he not stand behind his decision? Why hide behind a "facade" of public participation?
It was his negotiation. It was his decision. It was the decision of fellow councilmembers Hornat, Snider and Waters to support it. They did so without regard to the sentiment of the majority who spoke against this purchase.

Jack Stinnett
Former Chairman
Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Advisory Board 2013 and 2014

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