Mayor Hiremath receives a $5,000 political campaign donation from Humberto S. Lopez. Lopez is not an Oro Valley resident. Lopez owns and operates Tucson-based, HSL Properties. The amount of the contribution is so large that Mayor Hiremath amends his campaign filing report to split the donation between Mr. Lopez and his wife.
From June through December 2014
Mayor Hiremath leads a negotiation between Town Of Oro Valley and Lopez' HSL Properties to purchase and operate the El Conquistador Country Club. Oro Valley will make this purchase once HSL buys the Hilton El Conquistador Hotel and Resort out of bankruptcy.
Though other council members could have been appointed to lead this effort, Mayor Hiremath takes the lead in these negotiations. He does not recuse himself. That would have alleviated concerns by the public of a conflict of interest.
The deal is rushed to council because, according the Hiremath, HSL must have an answer on whether Oro Valley will buy the property because "...there are 2 other buyers in line." He does not identify the other buyers. None materialize after a 6 month delay in the actual purchase. As a result, people believe that there were no other buyers.
The deal goes before council for final approval. There is a "faux" public hearing.
Many respected Oro Valley residents speak on the matter. They include residents you may not know like Marv Snyder, George Kates, Bill Ayers and Wally Vetty. They include some you should know like Helen and Alan Denkwerth.
The vast majority of the 39 speakers are either against the purchase or urge greater caution before making the purchase decision. They raise issues such as inadequate plans, financial forecasts that are far too optimistic, the negative impact on property taxes because the town, and not a private enterprise, will own the golf course, the downturn in the game of golf, and Oro Valley going into competition with private enterprise.
One Oro Valley resident, Lori Pettijohn, reminds the council that not all people who live in Oro Valley can afford the sales tax increase to pay for this transaction. Her family is a military family. She reminds the Mayor: "Not everyone has a dentist's income."
The Mayor brooks no motion to delay the decision. "I promised HSL that they would have an 'up or down' decision tonight."
A vote ensues. It is 4-3.
Mayor Hiremath and council members Hornat, Snider and Waters approve the purchase of 45 holes of golf, tennis courts, 2 small swimming pools, a snack bar, a full service restaurant, and a clubhouse. They state that the town will convert the clubhouse into a community and recreation center.
Next, the four approve a sales tax increase from 2.0% to 2.5%, a 25% increase in the rate, to cover some of the losses from the golf course and community center.
This deal splits Oro Valley residents apart such that residents become active. Some form a PAC to put the purchase to a vote. This effort fails because of the use of the wrong reference number on the petition form. Others turn to their next avenue: A recall vote on the four incumbents. They spend enormous effort (See Monday's post) to make this happen.
Their assertion is that Mayor Hiremath and council members Hornat, Snider and Waters disregarded substantial resident input against the deal or the caution that further study and public vetting be done. They assert that the four ignored the fact that a 25% increase in the sales tax rate has a significant impact on families who are struggling to make ends meet. They assert that the Town Of Oro Valley should not be in competition with private enterprise. They assert that the purchase commits Oro Valley to multi-million dollar deficit spending on the golf course. They assert that the purchase commits Oro Valley to decades of a contract with Troon Golf to manage and operate the course and the restaurant even if these facilities lose money (Town forecasts show millions is losses).
As LOVE reported Monday, Mayor Hiremath and council members Hornat, Snider and Waters, the four being recalled, have yet to directly address these assertions. Instead, they focus on anything but what they did since last August.
The trail of "quid pro quo" between Mayor Hiremath and Lopez is documented by fact. Lopez donated $5,000 to Hiremath's reelection in May. In December, Oro Valley facilitated Lopez' purchase of the El Conquistador Resort. Oro Valley did so by purchasing and then agreeing to operate, virtually in perpetuity, 45 holes of money losing golf. It is Hiremath who led the negotiations and who pushed the purchase through with the help of council members Hornat, Snider and Waters.
It is possible that these events are non connected. It could be a coincidence.
What do you think?
This is what actually happened. It's documented. However, the story is not complete.
You will write the rest of the story on November 3.