Six Marana Town Council candidates are jostling for four seats in the town's primary election. Ballots were sent out Feb. 14 in the town's first all-mail election, allowing candidates to lock down votes immediately rather than gear campaigns to a single election day.
Adding to the urgency to quickly pile up support, candidates who earn more than 50 percent of the votes in the primary, which ends March 12, will guarantee their seats and won't have to campaign in the general election, which ends May 21.
Incumbents Patti Comerford, Herb Kai, Carol McGorray and Jon Post are trying to hang on to their seats, while challengers Kent Crotts and David Morales want to earn a seat by placing in the top four.
Because there are four seats up for grabs, voters select up to four candidates on their ballots. This is a nonpartisan election, meaning candidates don't declare party affiliations.
Morales, 61, is a retired miner who served on the Town Council from 1987 to 1991. He ran for mayor in 2007. He said he's running for Town Council to try to prevent Marana from making expenditures he deems unnecessary, citing legal fees and debt the town is attempting to take on as it works to take over a wastewater plant.
The town and Pima County agreed to negotiate ownership and operation of the wastewater reclamation plant at 14393 N. Luckett Road.
The town wants to take over the facility by paying the remaining debt of about $14.5 million. Voters must approve two questions on the ballot in the primary to make it possible for the town to take over the plant.
Morales said the town lacks money to take over the plant, noting that it is not part of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"If they can't pay MTCVB dues, how can they afford" to take on the debt? Morales said.
Morales is distributing flyers targeting Comerford and McGorray, saying they and Mayor Ed Honea have "blindly led the charge to waste" money.
"I don't believe in bashing other candidates when you're running for office," Comerford said, declining to discuss Morales. "I believe in running on your own merits."
McGorray, who declined to reveal her age, said expenses in acquiring the wastewater plant are warranted.
"I don't want to get into this mess," she said. "I really do think we're on the right track, trying to attain the Luckett Road plant. That is the future of Marana. It's a business investment at this time, and all facts put out by the other candidate are not true or factual in any way."
McGorray, who has served on the council since 2001, is a retired Marana Unified School District employee. She said she deserves re-election because she's honest, hard-working and experienced.
Comerford, the 53-year-old vice mayor, has served on the Town Council for 12 years. She said the town's wastewater expenditures would be offset over time by income the wastewater facility provides.
"I would never approve something detrimental to the town that costs dollars," Comerford said. "Wastewater is essential for the future of our town."
She touted her connections to her constituents. She said she holds no job and devotes all her work time to the government.
"I'm an extension of the community," she said. "I'm not beholden to anyone but the people I represent. I absolutely love Marana and the people here. They mean the world to me, and I want to do what's best for the community."
Comerford said wastewater is her top priority.
"Wastewater is passionate right now for everybody," she said. "It's so important because it really is about us being in charge of our own destiny, making decisions for future growth of our town."
Morales' fellow challenger, Crotts, is taking a less combative approach. The 44-year-old owner of three NAPA Auto Parts locations said he's running because he thinks his business acumen and experience make him best-suited for the council.
"I think if you can do it better than the people you elected, you should run," he said. "I decided I would run and try to represent people the way I wanted to be represented."
Crotts said he would work toward establishing a better relationship with Pima County. Instead of settling differences with lawsuits, he said, he'd rather sit down with stakeholders to work out problems.
"Marana hasn't been the best neighbor to the county, and maybe vice versa," he said. "I wish things could have been settled before it was taken to court. I'm not about making lawyers rich over an issue that should have been negotiated and finalized in person with the county."
The other incumbents advocated their service and community roots.
Post, the 43-year-old owner of Post Farms, who has served on the board of directors for Trico Electric Cooperative, the Cortaro Water Users Association and the Cortaro Marana Irrigation District, said he's focused on taking care of the wastewater issue.
"Right now, absolutely the most important issue is wastewater," he said. "For two reasons. One is that we don't have any long-term water resources that we need to grow our community. The second reason is that right now it is where we need to be, buying the plant from the county helps us to put to bed the disagreements that we've had in the past."
Post said his ability to negotiate and solve problems are among his top attributes.
"I bring a business sense to the council, and I bring the ability to understand complex issues that we are constantly dealing with," he said.
Kai, a 65-year-old businessman, pecan rancher and cotton farmer, has served on the council since 1993. He's focused on the town economy.
"We need to attract businesses that pay well for our residents. To do that we have to have infrastructure that can draw these higher-tech businesses," he said.
Kai said his experience dealing with water issues and his knowledge of the farming business are his strong points.
"Water is very important to farmers," he said. "Our livelihood depends on our ability to conserve water and make efficient use out of it."
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or email@example.com