Mike Zinkin says he wants to remain a member of the Oro Valley Town Council.

Courtesy of the town of Oro Valley

Oro Valley Town Council member Mike Zinkin said he sees himself as something of a lightning rod. It’s an apt description for a politician who was selected to a national fellowship even as he faces a recall effort.

Zinkin, a 68-year-old retired air-traffic controller who was elected in 2012, is the target of Oro Valley Citizens for Ethical Government, which filed a recall petition over allegations he has engaged in “behavior unbecoming of a public official” and “complete lack of understanding with regards to public safety.”

The group said Zinkin has made racially insensitive remarks and inappropriate comments about female town employees and has treated the Oro Valley Police Department unfairly.

To trigger a recall election, the group must collect 2,131 signatures from valid Oro Valley electors by Jan. 28.

It’s not all bad news for Zinkin, though. He and 39 others around the country have been selected to serve as a National League of Cities Fellow. He will represent the organization, helping municipal employees and elected officials learn more about local government operations and leadership. And he’ll encourage colleagues to enroll in NLC University, which provides online classes that teach municipal officials and employees about the finer points of local government.

We spoke to the always-candid Zinkin about the appointment and recall.

Question: What do you want to accomplish with the fellowship?

Answer: I’ll pretty much try to bring it to everybody. I’ll make a challenge to fellow council members to get involved with this thing. My premise is this: You get elected to run for office, and now that you’re elected, now what? Unless you dig into the books and educate yourself, like some of us have, you leave your decisionmaking up to staff. Sure, we hire the best and the brightest and pay them a lot of money, so you have them go do their thing and you condone it with a vote.

That’s putting a lot of trust in them, without verifying and learning stuff on your own, which would make you a much better municipal leader, to know the various forms of budgeting, and know what’s developing in other communities that are dealing with similar issues as yours. So you are not constantly reinventing the wheel. You can assist your communities and those around you.

Q: Are you concerned that, as a political outsider, rivals might be miffed by your efforts to educate them?

A: That’s not the intent. Obviously, because I’m not one of the boys, I need to choose my words carefully and make sure it doesn’t look like “Here’s what I know, and it behooves you to know it.” My intent is certainly to try to spread the word that just because you’re elected, that’s the first step in the process.

Q: How will you deliver your pitch?

A: By saying that it might be of interest to you to help you do your job better as an elected official to know what the laws are, learn how to make an ordinance, how to develop public partnerships and get grant money. I’m trying to say, “Here’s a way that you can help the community by helping yourself become a more informed municipal official.”

Q: What’s going on with the recall effort?

A: I know there are people out there collecting petitions. It depends on who you talk to as to how successful they are. A certain percentage of the electorate isn’t all that educated as to what’s going on, and they’re gonna sign. If they can get the signatures, we’ll figure out what the next step is.

Q: How much does the recall concern you?

A: It concerns me. It certainly bothers me that I’m not satisfying everybody and I’m not doing the kind of job everybody thinks I should be doing. But those that are trying to recall me are wrong in some substantial areas. They’re wrong about my stance on the Police Department, and I have neither been convicted nor accused of sexual harassment. That’s a crime, and I’ve never been accused of that.

Q: Are you more careful about what you say now?

A: I’m more careful about what my audience is when I’m talking. There are certainly audiences that I can be comfortable with without having to watch my back, and there are also audiences where I have to be careful about how I present myself.

Q: You said you suspected Mayor Satish Hiremath and several council members as supporting the recall, and all deny it. Do you still believe they are behind it?

A: I think the mayor is certainly complicit behind this recall effort. I don’t necessarily know it to be a fact that any council members are behind it. My gut feeling is that the mayor is somewhat involved.

Q: Has your professional relationship with the mayor been destroyed?

A: We can work together. What we will not have is a one-on-one conversation without a third person present. I just don’t trust the guy.

Q: If you lose a recall election, how would that affect your fellowship?

A: If removed from the council, I would sever the relationship with the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, as well as the National League of Cities.

Q: What are your hopes moving forward?

A: My first hope is to stay on the council. There are a lot of things I want to see accomplished. Under the existing council, I want to see some sort of hybrid way of doing budgeting — priority-based budgeting — be used. I want to identify priorities and fund them accordingly. Discuss whether this program is more important than that program, given the restricted amount of funds we have.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com