Mayor Winfield interview
MAYOR JOE WINFIELD
A Look Inside at What Makes Him Tick
by Kevin Boerup
I was able to sit down with Mayor Joe Winfield in his office on September 29, for a friendly, yet in-depth, interview.
The meeting room we met in looked out over the beautiful Pusch Ridge area and was located right next to a golf course.
Mr. Joe Winfield was born in San Bernadino, California, but soon after moved to Tempe in 1958 when his mother remarried and wanted to live near her daughter, Joe’s older sister. That marriage didn’t seem to last very long, because Joe remembers his mother always working as the only bread winner. As the youngest of three children, with his sister and brother at least 21 years older, it was almost like being raised as an only child.
Because of being raised by a single mom, money and family finances were always a concern. Joe learned about hard work the traditional way: he had his first job at age eleven when he started delivering newspapers in the afternoon after school. As he got older, he switched to delivering the morning paper, which required him to get up about 4:00 am each morning to prepare for and delivery his route before going to school.
He loved being outdoors and became involved in scouting. He calls scouting his “ticket to the outdoors.” He loved camping and learning about different skills and interests as he worked hard on earning the required rank advancements and merit badges on the road to Eagle Scout. He must have been a very motivated boy because he earned his Eagle rank and the young age of 13.
Joe is also an active member in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and as a young man served a full-time mission to England (1976-1978).
Upon returning from his mission he wanted to pursue a career in Landscape Architecture, which required a college degree. Because his older siblings had attended ASU, he enrolled there (it was also close to home). He soon learned that the ASU Landscape Architecture program was not accredited. He didn’t want to spend all that time and money if the program was not going to take him where he needed to go.
He discovered that the same program offered at the University of Arizona was an accredited program and decided to move to Tucson to continue his education. During the time in Tempe, he had married and begun a family. So with wife and child in tow, they moved to Tucson in 1981. The family continued to grow to eventually have seven children. That’s a lot of mouths to feed and college tuition funds to contribute to.
But Joe is not afraid of hard work. He learned that lesson very young. So he started a landscape maintenance and office cleaning business. He had worked in that field while at ASU and brought those skills with him to Tucson.
After a few years of going to school at night and working during the day (his wife was a full-time mother and did not work outside the home), he realized that the business was just taking too much time from his schooling. They decided to sell the business so he could devote his full time to finishing his degree.
Shortly after that decision, he was offered an internship with the Coronado National Forest. This experience broadened his scope of landscape architecture. He also found that he really liked it. He did another internship at the National Park Service and was later recruited by them for a position in the Denver area.
This was a major decision for the family. It would take them farther away from both sets of parents and other relatives. Eventually, they decided to take the position in Denver. This led to other assignments in the NPS in Pennsylvania and Northern California.
After a successful career with the NPS, Joe still had the dream of having a landscape design and build company he could call his own. They ended up back in Tucson and he again started up a landscape maintenance and office cleaning business. This became very successful and helped teach his children responsibility and a good work ethic.
Because of his experience with the Park Service, he became involved in some regional and community outdoor space projects, and was exposed to community project councils and groups. He even started the Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program (a part of the NPS) and was later appointed to the Oro Valley General Plan planning committee.
He chaired the Oro Valley Rivers and Trails Task Force and also served on the Parks and Recs advisory board for the town. He was very impressed with the town’s outreach to the community trying to engage the public in the town’s planning process.
Why did you want to get into politics?
During the time that the Town council decided to purchase the El Conquistador golf course (without much discussion with the public or even the Parks and Rec commission board members, on which Mr. Winfield was serving). The council basically came to the commission asking them to endorse the decision they had already made.
This did not sit well with Joe Winfield. He considered it some kind of ‘backroom deal’ that was not in the interests of the Parks and Rec department, the city or the community (due to the purchase price and then the annual maintenance costs).
Joe Winfield thought that this wrong needed righting. This was when he decided to get the signatures he needed to run for Mayor.
As a political newbie, there was some confusion about the reason he was on the ballot which impacted the then current recall process of the previous mayor. He decided to back out in favor of not causing further division among the party. (this was in 2016)
When the next election cycle came around in 2018, Joe was not considering running for Mayor again. But a close friend met with him and convinced him that the town needed his expertise.
Mayor Joe Winfield does not consider himself a politician. He thinks of himself more as an elected official trying to do what’s right and lead through service. He considers himself a fiscal conservative and was once a registered Republican (as recent as 2008), when he changed his party affiliation to Democrat.
He works closely with a City Council of 7 members, all with diverse backgrounds and points of view.
One of the planks in is campaign platform was fiscal responsibility and government transparency. There have been some good successes in this direction and the Town is in a much better financial place now than during the previous administration.
One salient point was fully funding the Oro Valley Police Department pension plan.
After taking office, the newly formed Finance and Budget committee presented to the council the current position of the Town’s finances, which included a large unfunded liability ($27 million) for the Police Department’s pension fund.
Plans were put into place to address this issue, which came to a very positive resolution in 2021. By using some of the Town’s own money and borrowing the rest at current very low rates, the Police Department’s pension fund has now been fully funded.
The Town’s budgets for 2019 and 2020 were ‘flat’ (no large increases). The 2021 budget saw the increase to fund the Police Department’s pension plan, so it is significantly higher. Had it not been for that action, the 2021 budget would also have been ‘flat.’
The golf course purchase was another pressing matter that needed to be dealt with. Using a new $25 million bond and the previously passed ½ cent sales tax increase, along with a change in the golf course operations company, great savings have happened and the Town is approaching their goal of a pay-as-you-go entity.
What does the future hold?
Mayor Winfield recently spoke to that in his State of the Town Speech, sponsored by the Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce, (more about that in an upcoming article).
During our interview, and without stealing any thunder from the State of the Town address, Mayor Winfield is very optimistic about Oro Valley’s future.
Public Safety will continue to be very important. With Oro Valley being the safest community in Arizona, “much of that credit goes to our great public safety officers in the Police Department. People come to Oro Valley because it’s a safe place to live.”
Other great things the Town is know for are it’s schools, both public, private and charter schools; the great outdoor life that surrounds us; the Innovation Park that is bringing great businesses to our area which improves our tax base.
What are the Town’s challenges?
“Number one, of course, is to maintain our public safety as we continue to grow.” We have the backs of our Police Department as evidenced in taking care of their pension fund.
Since we are nearing ‘build out’ in our town limits, “we have plans to expand the town through annexation. We were only a few square miles when Oro Valley incorporated in 1974. Now we comprise 36 square miles of area.” All of that growth was through annexing unincorporated areas in Pima County. A recent wonderful addition was the annexation of the Westward Look Resort and surrounding area. We have confidence that the new development plans will raise the bar even more for Oro Valley.
What about water?
“Water will continue to be a concern for us in the future.” Recent cutbacks in CAP water allotments don’t effect our town right now, but if they continue, they may have a greater impact in 2025. What that may mean are stricter water conservation policies if the current drought trend does not change. This year we had a tremendous amount of rain, but one year doesn’t make up for the last ten years of drought conditions.
“In cooperation with Pima County and Marana, we are moving forward with plans to build a new water treatment facility that will greatly increase our capacity” to deliver clean water.
What about 2022? Will you run for reelection?
The Mayor declined to disclose what his decision will be about running again next year. I, for one, will be anxiously awaiting that announcement.
“I enjoy getting out among the people: meet ‘n greets, ribbon cuttings, business visits with Dave Perry of the Chamber, shaking hands, connecting with people, etc., but I don’t enjoy politics.
“Oro Valley is a great community with a great setting, great weather and great people. When I go to meetings, I usually get to sit next to Tucson Mayor Romero. Even though our politics differ, I can get along with just about anybody.”
Mayor Winfield is very much an honest, ‘down-to-earth’ person. He is very personable and friendly and treats others as equals. He has a strong sense of what is right about Oro Valley and is working hard to make that happen.