Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Editorial: Jacobs Exit Is An Opportunity For A Sea Change

Opportunity knocks
The exit of Town Manager Mary Jacobs presents an opportunity for a sea change in the way things get done in Oro Valley. We've identified seven areas where change would make a huge positive difference.

1. Pitting council members against each one another 
According to our sources, Jacobs was the master of pitting one council member against another.  She would do this in private meetings with council members. This practice should never been allowed. Winfield should have banned it.

2. Make sure all spending is authorized
In a September 13 Guest View, Mike Zinkin discussed town spending that was not approved by vote of Council. Jacobs would put things into memos to council discussing what she was going to do but to not  bring it to vote. Her tactic was in violation of what we think it’s still an existing policy number six of the town council. (Panel Left-Below)

Seven Areas Of Change
3. Eliminate using "business processes" to delay (sometimes forever) things that the council voted to get done
Jacobs is a process person. Everything has to fit within her business process and its timetable. The annually developed strategic plan was the cornerstone of her process.  Everything that the Council requested during the year had to fit within that framework. 

For example, this past June, when the council finally got around to discussing the use of reclaimed water, Jacobs was successful in having this important topic tabled for a year. According to Jacobs, the topic was not in the strategic plan for 2022. It would be added as a topic at the next strategy session, the following February. Thus, we are not going to hear anything on this until next June. Perhaps we will still have water by then! 

Yes. Processes are good because they provide order. Processes are bad when they are used to delay implementing decisions that need to be done. 

An elevator, even a temporary one, at the Community Center has been approved and in the budget for the past two years. But it has not been implemented. That’s because Jacobs didn’t want to implement it. Her end goal was to completely rebuild the Community Center and to add an elevator at that time. Perhaps now, with a new town manager, the town will do something to help those who are mobility challenged get reasonable access to the Community Center.

4. Reorganize to protect the essence of Oro Valley ... not to foster unwanted growth
Jacobs has focussed town staff on growth. One way she did this is in the way she organized the to town. For example, the town's Planning and Zoning Department is an arm of the Economic Development Department. We’re not sure when it became part of an effort to influence growth in our community. 

Town Council Policy 6
The goal of the Planning and Zoning Department should be to interpret and to enforce town codes as approved in the General Plan. This is no longer the case. We have seen countless times the enthusiasm of the planning staff to recommend exceptions to Oro Valley code they just didn’t make sense. Seventy foot  tall buildings with minimal setback from Oracle Road and Tangerine Road at the Oro Valley Marketplace don’t cut it in Oro Valley. Yet the town planning staff specifically, thought this was supported by the general plan. It is not.

More recently, town Public Works Director Keesler stated that he is not advocating for the two tiny rental homes Avilla projects in Rancho Vistoso; but that it would be nice to do because it might fix a road design problem. 

5. Get "straight answers"
It's hard to get forthright information from the town.  For example, several weeks ago, we published two articles regarding the mess in the desert that has been perpetuated for several years by Meritage Homes Silverhawke Project contractors.  Since we knew for certain that the town had formally noticed Meritage of this problem, we asked the town if there was a process in which repeated violations result in escalating penalties. We were told by the town that Meritage had never had been noticed for this. Gee! We had the citation letter in our hands. We even got it from the town.

6. Cut back on Executive Sessions
The Winfield years have been marked by a significant number of Executive Sessions. These are allowed when council discusses personnel, legal or contractual issues. Oro Valley seems to have lot of these issues because the Council is always going into Executive Session. 

It seems to us as though the Council goest into Executive Session if there is even a hint of the matter touching on one of these three areas areas. For example, they were scheduled to discuss the fact that the light poles at Naranja Park are too close to the playing field in  public.  They made that an Executive Session discussion, never discussing it in public. We have no idea why they moved it from public to private discussion. They never explained it.

7. Winfield leads
Mayor Joe Winfield relied on the Town Manager. As recently as a year ago, he sent an email to a resident stating his complete trust in her. His trust was not earned by her. It was given by him.

Winfield should retain a town manager whose vision is consistent with his and with the council majority. The Mayor needs to define this vision clearly, communicate it publicly and then find someone who will implement it.

Tonight, the Council will meet to discuss the process for hiring a town manager. We hope that the process is a robust one that searches "far and wide" for the best person. 
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