Take the Power Back

Barrio Hollywood Neighborhood Association kicks business owners out of association voting rights

After a 60-plus-people protest and a handful of screaming matches in the middle of El Rio Neighborhood Center, Barrio Hollywood residents decided last week that voting rights in its neighborhood association are now exclusive to people who live in the barrio. Meaning, if you're a Barrio Hollywood business or property owner whose home is rooted elsewhere: you're out of luck.

A group of business owners also supported changing voting rights to residents only (among them are El Rio Bakery and Mariscos Chihuahua). The vote ended up being 69 for changing voting rights to 13 no's.

"Of course, we are going to keep businesses involved. We welcome business participation, what we don't welcome is them coming in and changing the outcome of our elections," says Scott Egan, proponent of the bylaw changes and a resident of Barrio Hollywood for 35 years. "You wanna vote in our elections, move into Barrio Hollywood!"

Still, business owners can attend meetings and voice their opinion.

Barrio Hollywood Neighborhood Association president Kacey Carleton, who supported for bylaws to include businesses' voting rights, called the balloting that night "problematic."

"Despite the effort which went into it, the voting process was again full of discrepancies," she says in an email. "The count was overwhelmingly in favor of a Resident Only membership making any formal complaint of the process fruitless."

During the neighborhood meeting, Carleton said excluding businesses in the process is a mistake Barrio Hollywood will regret in the long-run. A suggestion that was made is to have businesses create their own association like other neighborhoods, such as the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association.

Residents and businesses had previously voted on the issue on July 2, but those results were nullified.

Reportedly Carleton sent out an email last minute saying the session had been moved from 6 to 5:30 p.m., so a lot of stakeholders showed up late, and some were told they couldn't vote anymore because it was past the time, according to meeting attendees. "Kacey invited businesses to come and vote before the meeting started, and then they just left," Egan says. Carleton says that wasn't the case.

Those who did make it to the July 2 meeting on time say they were told the vote was limited to one per household, no matter how many people lived there. Also, the city of Tucson's Office of Integrated Planning had threatened to de-register Barrio's neighborhood association if they decided to exclude businesses, which scared off a lot of residents from the process. However, before last week's meeting, the city clarified that as long as businesses are able to weigh in on what happens in the neighborhood, even without voting rights, it means Barrio Hollywood's bylaws are still inclusive and not up for penalties.

Talks to amend the west side neighborhood's bylaws began more than a year ago. Back then, former president of the neighborhood association, Margaret McKenna, had just been voted out of that position after 25 years, and replaced by Carleton, someone many residents saw as a complete barrio outsider.

Up until last Thursday, this is how the Barrio Hollywood bylaws worked: one business gets one vote; each resident gets one vote. In the neighborhood election last year, many people claim that certain businesses (residents mentioned Pat's Chili Dogs and Unique Trends hair salon) brought their employees to the meeting to help elect Carleton.

Diane Hernandez, wife of Pat's Chili Dogs owner Charlie Hernandez—who grew up in Barrio Hollywood but later moved out—says they felt their voices weren't being heard. Ever since the restaurant recently decided to take a back-seat in Barrio Hollywood's Fiesta Grande—an annual celebration with food, art and music—their relationship went downhill.

"(Margaret) also complained because we wanted transparency," Hernandez says. "If you are doing something good for the barrio, be transparent, say where the money is going. She didn't want that. We voiced our opinion and that is where the animosity started."

As owners of a business and another property in Barrio Hollywood, the Hernandez family got two votes and helped vote out McKenna.

"They exploited and stole the election from us," says Patrick McKenna, Margaret's nephew, and a fifth-generation Barrio Hollywood resident who worked with Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll for more than one decade. "Jim Click owns businesses all over town, does he get to vote in every neighborhood association?"

McKenna envisions Carleton as a pawn of City Councilwoman Regina Romero—whose ward includes Barrio Hollywood and other west side neighborhoods—to green light gentrification, and to retaliate against the people for putting their foot down when Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Romero hoped a few years ago to sell El Rio Golf Course—a place of great historical and cultural value in the barrio—to Grand Canyon University, a private, Christian institution.

"When (Carleton) won, Ward 1 sends an employee to say 'Congratulations Barrio, you elected a new president and we are here for you.' I was shocked. I said 'Shame on you guys,'" McKenna says. "Our City Council representative, she is supporting these people. I knew these local politicos since I was a little kid, I'm not surprised."

Romero told the Tucson Weekly that she has never chosen one side or the other. "I haven't fermented anything," she says. "I said 'look, make your decisions, these are the facts, these are the resources available for you, it is up to you to hopefully find a consensus.'"

A few days ago, McKenna got a visit from a Department of Public Safety officer, who McKenna says claimed he was doing Pat's Chili Dogs a favor, and told McKenna to stop harassing the Hernandez family. McKenna and Charlie Hernandez grew up together, and their parents and grandparents, up until now, have been friends.

Although no boycott has officially been announced, some residents say they will never eat there again.

"Is this what the residents of Hollywood are going to have to face now because we voted the businesses out?" McKenna says. "People come to this barrio or stay in the barrio because of the sense of community, we have a sense of togetherness, investing in our families, our future. We want the ability to determine what happens in our own neighborhood."