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Clash of the Egos

An Oro Valley recall effort ends in failure—but the organizer calls the effort a success

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A push to recall two members of the Oro Valley Town Council was abandoned last month, yet the group behind the effort is still claiming victory.

"As far as I'm concerned, we achieved a major part of our goal," said Connie Culver, whose OroValleyRecall.com group had targeted freshman council members Joe Hornat and Mary Snider. "If they make any further egregious decisions, though, there may be people who want to perhaps pursue a recall again."

Culver, a former council member who served from 2004 to 2006, said the goal of the recall was to draw attention to what she said was the town's fondness for "overspending," especially when it came to the council's use of funds for personal expenses. Her website lists numerous transgressions that she said she found while combing through credit-card receipts—including money spent on meals, rounds of golf and club memberships.

But the spark that led to the recall fire came in May, when the council voted to double Oro Valley's utility sales tax from 2 to 4 percent, a move that would generate an estimated $1.3 million for the town.

Culver called the tax increase unnecessary, and said the council was planning to look into the implementation of a property tax prior to the recall's start.

The utility-tax measure passed by a 5-2 vote, yet only Hornat and Snider were singled out by the recall group.

"I didn't think it would be good for the town to try to remove five people," Culver said. "By removing two, you could change the majority on the council."

There was no point in trying to oust Steve Solomon, because his seat is one of three up for grabs in 2012, Culver said, while she felt Lou Waters and Mayor Satish Hiremath would make better choices in the future "if they were surrounded with people that were a little more levelheaded."

Hiremath said he believes that the recall effort was really directed toward him, but Snider and Hornat were targeted because the group—which Hiremath refers to as anti-growth and anti-development—felt he was "untouchable."

Because of this, Hiremath said, he told Hornat and Snider to pay as little attention to the recall as possible, so as not to distract from their work on the council. Let him deal with it, he told them.

"I was very determined not to let this affect the daily course of business in Oro Valley," said Hiremath, a dentist who has been in office since June 2010. "We haven't missed a beat or skipped a beat. My job as mayor is to remove all of the distractions, not let (others) get defocused.

"The reason I could deal better with them (the recall group) is because I have a 5-year-old at home," Hiremath said.

Hiremath said the utility-tax gripe was unwarranted, because the increase put Oro Valley's rate on par with the rates in other local jurisdictions, and was part of an overall effort to balance the 2011-2012 budget that also included a matching $1.3 million in spending cuts.

The credit-card discoveries, he said, prove that the council is doing a good job, because opponents need to look for ticky-tack things.

"If they have to stoop that low to try to find something, and you're talking about pennies on the dollar ... they really should be trying to pick out glaring issues that are very recognizable," said Hiremath, who added that he donates his $1,000 monthly mayoral salary back to the town. "To sit there and go through credit-card receipts is ridiculous."

Hornat, a retired telecommunications expert, said the recall surprised him, because he didn't feel he'd done anything that warranted such an action.

"A recall is reserved for some egregious sins," said Hornat, who noted that one alleged spending infraction—lunch with Waters at La Encantada's upscale NoRTH restaurant—also involved a developer who was looking to build in Oro Valley. "What they left out was we were trying to woo a developer. The truth is, they should be happy we're meeting with constituents and having (meals) with them. We're selling Oro Valley. We're doing whatever we can to try to make Oro Valley the best it can be."

Aside from being singled out, Snider said the most disheartening part of the recall situation was that she felt those behind the ouster never sought to speak one-on-one with her about their concerns.

"I meet with everybody," said Snider, who calls herself an "unemployed over-volunteer" who is constantly out in public. "I always listen to people. I think I'm known for that ... I'm known for being a great listener."

OroValleyRecall.com had until Sept. 22 to turn in 2,615 signatures in order for the recall election to be set, but no signatures were turned in. Culver said she opted to end the effort because recent changes made by Arizona lawmakers to the language on the back of recall petitions might have put their petitions into question.

"It was just fraught with situations that would have invited litigation," Culver said. "We weighed all the pros and cons and decided to drop it. This could have just turned into something ugly and distracting."

Culver said she's certain she had at least 3,000 valid signatures, though as of Oct. 2, she said she was still counting signatures as volunteers turned in petitions.

Hiremath thinks the group was nowhere near the 2,615-signature threshold, or else they would have proudly declared the number of people that were backing their cause. He also noted that, if the group indeed gathered the signatures they needed, bailing out would be a slap in the face to supporters.

"If I was one of those 3,000 residents who signed that petition, and all of a sudden they dropped it, I'd be a little miffed," he said.

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