“Take Back Tucson” last week began gathering signatures for a possible recall election of Tucson’s mayor and two city council members. Rather than “taking back Tucson,” this destructive action moves Tucson further away from solving its myriad issues.

No doubt about it, the city has serious problems that must be resolved. Its archaic land use code has not been helped when well-meaning elected officials have tweaked parts of it here and there instead of dealing with the document as a whole. It will take a neutral consultant with input from businesses to make it user-friendly.

Mayor and Council are blamed for things beyond their control. There are also the current financial difficulties that are being experienced across the state, largely because cities are heavily dependent upon sales tax revenues at a time when Arizonans are not spending money. Revenues coming in to the downtown redevelopment Rio Nuevo tax increment financing district have also slowed because it, too, is dependent on sales taxes.

The loss of Major League Baseball Spring Training and rumors of losses of parts of the annual gem shows are complex issues that go back decades. Although many in the community are basing the idea, a new downtown hotel is urgently needed if we are to keep the gem shows coming each year in February.

This is the third instance that I know of when city elected officials have been threatened with a recall.

The only successful city council recall in Tucson’s history occurred on Jan. 18, 1977, when three members were recalled because they had pushed to significantly raise water rates. A fourth council member escaped that recall by resigning in December and leaving the city. The four newly elected council members learned that the water rates did indeed need to be raised, and the new council did only the minimum to change the water rates. More to the point, all four of the council members elected that January lost their bids for re-election — two later in 1977 and the other two in 1979. 

Difficult economic times in the late 1980s spurred another attempt at a recall after the formation of the Tucson Business Coalition, a group of small business leaders who wanted a better business climate in our community. Two council members were targeted for recall but the effort failed when organizers couldn’t get enough signatures on petitions for it to happen.

This third effort will be affected by the fact that the Legislature passed a bill changing the way that Tucson’s city elections are conducted. The city is currently in court asking for dismissal of the legislation on the grounds that charter cities, not the legislature, should be able to determine how their elections are conducted.

The change, passed by the Legislature last year, requires council members be elected on non-partisan ballots from within their wards. Until now, Tucson’s city charter process involved nominating council members by political party from within their wards, but in the general election council candidates run city-wide. The only change the new law makes in electing a mayor is that now the position is non-partisan.

The irony is that if the city loses in court, a recall election — assuming the effort gets enough signatures on petitions — would be based on ward-only elections for the two council members being targeted this time around. Registered voters city-wide would only vote in the mayor’s race — again, assuming there are enough valid signatures on petitions. All of this is a long shot.

When I was an elected official, the best advice I received was, “Watch your back.”

Here in Tucson, we stab each other in the back and then wonder why we have continual chaos and a lack of leadership!

Because of our self doubts, most of our plans never reach fruition. The fault-finding with Rio Nuevo is a perfect example of this. We must begin to believe in ourselves. A recall will not allow us to do that.

We need civil discourse and solutions to our problems. This is how we can “take back Tucson.”

Contact Carol West at cwwfoster@aol.com. West served on the Tucson City Council from 1999-2007 and before that worked as a council aide from 1987-1995.