Town and County Officials Say Supervisor Miller is Misleading the Public on Bond Issue

In a letter dated Oct. 11, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry sent an email to Oro Valley town manager Mary Jacobs regarding District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller's alleged statements on the Let Oro Valley Excel blog.

Responding to Miller's statement that he misleads voters on bond propositions, Huckelberry has this to say:

"I can assure you that neither assertion is true. In 1997, voters approved $52.65 million for parks and in 2004, $96.45 million. It is verifiable that Pima County never proposed $1 million for every county or municipal park and it is verifiable that in neither election did all of the parks money approved by voters end up being used for a single park."

Huckelberry goes on to write that he is "at a loss" as to why Milelr would "disseminate such false and misleading information" regarding the bond.

"The only logical reason is that it was done to affect the outcome of the Proposition 454 bond election," Huckelberry wrote.

The county administrator ended his letter by suggesting that Jacobs refer the issue to the town attorney for review as to "whether any state election laws have been violated."

Both Let Oro Valley Excel and Supervisor Miller have not returned requests for communication regarding the issue, though the blog did post an update since this story was originally published.

Original Story:
In the weeks leading up to Oro Valley’s Nov. 7 election to decide the fate of a $17 million bond to improve Naranja Park, elected officials and residents have been weighing in via a variety of media: newspapers, web commercials, blogs and more.

It appears that District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller has had her say in the debate on Proposition 454—in the form of a blog post. Uploaded on Tuesday, Oct. 11, on the Let Oro Valley Excel blog site was an email allegedly sent from Miller detailing some of “her thoughts on the Naranja Park Bond.”

Within the excerpts of the letter uploaded to the blog, Miller—who did not return phone calls to confirm that she actually wrote the note—states that there are “issues” with the recently released publicity pamphlet on the bond and takes aim at one of her favorite targets, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

Miller said in her email that because the sample ballot contains the words “Parks, open space, recreational bonds” within the “purpose” section, that the funding could be used “on any parks, for purchase of open space, and any recreational purpose.”

But in an email sent to an town resident by Oro Valley senior office specialist Tara Barry, that claim is refuted.

“Supervisor Miller’s assertion that proceeds from the bonds may be used for any Town of Oro Valley park is incorrect,” Barry wrote in her email.

Barry elaborated by saying that the “purpose” listed on the sample ballot is “a summary caption” that does not expand, limit or contradict the specific ballot question asked of voters.

On the sample ballot, the following paragraph is listed after the “purpose”:

“Shall the Town of Oro Valley, Arizona, be authorized to issue and sell general obligation bonds to the Town in the principal amount of $17,000,000 to provide funds to design construct, improve, furnish and equip multi-purpose fields, diamond fields, playgrounds and associated infrastructure and amenities for Naranja Park…”

While Barry’s email did contradict one of Miller’s statements, her communication did support another.

“Supervisor Miller’s assertion that the renderings and list of amenities to be constructed at Naranja Park is non-binding is correct; however, the Town was very specific in its description of amenities and intentions, and provided cost estimates for what will be constructed at Naranja Park should the Oro Valley voters approve the bond,” Barry wrote.

According to Arizona Revised Statutes 35-455, a governing body which utilizes bond funding may only use that revenue “for the purposes stated in the ballot and for the necessary costs and expenses of the issuance and sale of the bonds.”

When looking at the per annum interest rate utilized to calculate the fiscal impact for the bond if passed, Miller correctly pointed out that the rate included in the bond could be as high as 7 percent, but town calculations were performed at 5 percent.

“Ask the Town for the calculations at the 7 [percent] interest rate that voters are being asked to approve. [2 percent] will make a huge difference,” Miller wrote.

According to Barry’s email, the interest rate calculations were completed “in accordance with current Arizona statutes and reflect a reasonable expectation of interest rates based on bond market conditions and is common practice.”

Barry listed the November 2015 Pima County Bond Voter Information Pamphlet, in which the county stated that it had a maximum interest rate of 8 percent, but that an interest rate of 2.78 percent was used for first 5 years, 3.20 percent for next five years and 3.45 percent per year thereafter.

“Therefore, the Town of Oro Valley states a maximum interest rate of 7 [percent], but utilized a 5 [percent] calculation as a ‘reasonable expectation,’ and could actually see lower interest rates based on actual market conditions as stated in the historic numbers provided by Pima County stated above,” Barry wrote in her constituent email.

Miller’s third assertion within her presumed letter is that the listed cost for a homeowner if the tax was approved did not account for changes in home value—which Barry also refuted in her email. Barry explained to the resident that her reply was vetted by the town attorney, town clerk and Gust Rosenfeld and Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc., an independent third party bond counsel.

Taking aim at Huckelberry, Miller said that the county administrator garners support for bonds telling voters that hypothetically all parks would be improved, but then uses the funding for one park in particular.

“Voter (sic) are outraged. An audit is ordered but of course it passes with flying colors. Why? Because the audit is focused only on the bond PURPOSE listed in the Publicity Pamphlet,” Miller wrote.

Tucson Local Media spoke with Huckelberry, who said that if the letter was penned by Miller, it is “completely wrong and very misleading.”

Huckelberry said that the county’s bond program in its entirety has been audited by the auditor general, and found to be “exemplary.”

“It’s really misleading the public,” he said. “The public has a hard enough time understanding particularly local government, and they need to be told the facts, and not be misled.”

Tucson Local Media attempted to contact the Let Oro Valley Excel blog for Miller’s entire email, but did not receive a reply.

Editor's Note: This story was written for TW's sister paper, the Explorer.