Town Council disregards the rules and gives preferential treatment to their friend and supporter during the April 5th Call to Audience.
Last week’s Watchdog Report (Look out! Council to discuss Property Tax at April 5th Town Council Meeting) informed readers that a General Obligation Bond of $17 million for additional sports fields at Naranja Park was on the April 5th town council agenda. This bond would be paid back with a secondary property tax totaling $28 million over 20 years.
Point of Order? This whole court is out-of-order.
With no Public Hearing on this issue, two Oro Valley residents decided to speak on the issue during the first Call to Audience. However, rules for the the Call to Audience state that, “any member of the public is allowed to address the Mayor and Town Council on any issue not listed on today’s agenda.” Perhaps neither citizen was aware of this rule, but it’s what happened next that was quite revealing.
The first resident, (who was OPPOSED to the bond and secondary property tax) was interrupted by Councilmember Steve Solomon, who called a Point of Order to question why she was being allowed to speak on an agenda item. After some discussion, the town attorney ruled that this resident could not discuss this matter at the Call to Audience. This resulted in the resident altering the content of her speech.
The second resident (advocating FOR the bond and associated secondary property tax and who just happens to be a friend of Councilmember Rhonda Pina) was allowed to speak without interruption. Solomon was silent. The town attorney was silent. The Mayor and all other council members remained silent.
Stratman vs. Baker: The Transcript
First Speaker: Karen Stratman:
“I would like to address the town budget. In my opinion, I feel that our town budget is a little bit out of control. Adding more money to the town budget at this time from other revenue sources, I don’t believe will solve the problems we’re having. I think a plug needs to be put into the golf course and restaurant that is draining our funds. Please get the golf out of the budget. I think there’s other people who may be interested in running the golf course so there are solutions out there. We are not golf people obviously as we do not run it very well.
If there is a poll that indicates that more ball fields are wanted, not golf, that should have been a priority and not the golf course, which we all know was not a top priority in any poll ever taken in OV that I know of. I’m sorry that the town has no money for ball fields at this time. Every dollar seems to be going to the golf courses. This is just an idea, but maybe some of the golf course could be used for batting cages, practice pitch, maybe catch. We have plenty of the space for it already there.
I strongly feel that adding a bond or other revenue sources is not a solution at this time. How do I know that any new bonds or taxes will be…” [she was interrupted by Solomon.]
Solomon: Excuse me, Mr. Mayor. Point of order. I want to ask the town attorney, is she allowed, I thought that at the Call to Audience you weren’t allowed to speak on any item on the agenda. (Solomon is correct.)
Attorney Gary Verburg: For the Call to the Public, they can pretty much talk about anything but they’re limited in time and you can’t respond or take any action on it. You can direct staff to study the matter if that’s what you choose to do. (The attorney was wrong in stating that speakers can “talk about anything” but later realizes his mistake.)
Stratman: “I’m just against adding any revenues or bond money to our budget at this time when we can barely keep track of what’s going to the golf courses. How do we know that any of that revenue won’t go to the golf courses? I’ve heard a rumor that there could be a secondary property tax or some bonds…” [she was interrupted by the town attorney]
Attorney: Excuse me. Now I understand the question better. Yes, the bond issue is going to be on an agenda item that’s coming up.
Solomon: She specifically mentioned the bond issue that’s on the agenda.
Attorney: That’s not supposed to be addressed during the Call to Audience…It’s Item #2 related to the ball park. It’s part and parcel of that discussion.
Stratman: “Well, let me just say this. Correct me if it’s not in the ball park, but I believe perhaps 99 out of 100 residents do not golf here in OV. That would leave about 450 that maybe do. So less than 1% of OV is invested in this golf course. I just say please don’t burden the citizens yet again with more revenues coming out of our pockets. Instead, balance the budget please.”
Second Speaker: Ben Baker:
“I was the OV representative to the 1997 bond issue along with Ms. Pina’s husband, Raul. (He pointed towards Councilmember Rhonda Pina as he said this).
If you’re looking at a bond issue, how are you going to go about getting it passed? I was told, you’ll never get Sun City to go along with these bonds. They’ve already educated their kids, they don’t want playgrounds...
So what did we do?...We told them what it would do for them…what’s it going to do for their home value? It’s going to kick it up. For every 25 cents you spend over the next 10 years on a bond might bring you back $4.00 at the end of that period in your home’s value. I can’t be specific with numbers, it’s purely conceptual, but we sold that bond…we were on every TV station, every talk show, everybody that would have us, we talked that bond up…We got it passed and as a result of that we have Riverfront Park….
So tell them what it’s going to do for them in the future, not that somebody else’s kids want to play softball, but it’s the whole big part of the community that’s going to raise their property values.”
Notice that Baker began talking about bond issues right out of the gate and no one stopped him. They didn’t even stop him when he began giving them instructions on how to get the Naranja Park bond passed! Why was there no consistency in enforcing the rules? Was it because he spoke IN FAVOR of it and he’s also a friend of Councilmember Rhonda Pina?
I’m not the only person who noticed the preferential treatment afforded to Mr. Baker. Radio talk show host, Chris DeSimone of Wake Up Tucson, took advantage of the second Call to Audience of the evening to admonish the council and town attorney for their blatant favoritism.
We will publish Part 2. (including the transcript of DeSimone’s speech) tomorrow