GVR meeting

Joe Gunton, Green Valley Recreation’s board president, wades into the crowd during a presentation of a $40 million expansion plan in January 2017.

Most GVR members don’t pay attention to the inner workings of the organization. If the dues stay steady and there’s a Pickleball court available, they’re generally happy. What happens at board meetings doesn’t register.

And elections? The last one had less than a 32 percent turnout.

But those who do pay attention have had a front-row seat to contentious meetings, a flurry of accusations and even some tears the past two years. All of that is thanks to a deeply divided 12-member Board of Directors.

Divided over what? The quick answer is CEO Kent Blumenthal. The truth runs a lot deeper — it’s a struggle over what the future of Green Valley should look like. And Green Valley Recreation, which represents about 80 percent of all households, is a key influencer.

Should GVR cater to the needs of those who already call Green Valley home and are happy with the status quo? Or should it focus on drawing future residents and how they want to recreate? Or can it do both?

That depends on who you ask.

Green Valley Recreation

Without a doubt, GVR lends gravitas to Green Valley. It’s a big reason the community often lands on national lists of best places to retire. With 13 recreation centers, low annual dues and more than 13,000 member households, it has a reputation of doing things right.

Even its members agree. According to a 2018 member survey, 44 percent of respondents chose Green Valley because of GVR.

How do you make a winning community even better? There’s the divide. Some say it’s fine as-is. Some say Green Valley will become yesterday’s news if it doesn’t change with the times. Blumenthal, who arrived Jan. 1, 2014, ran into a buzz saw in 2017 when he and the board unveiled a $40 million plan for growth. That’s when the divisions began to run deep, and they’re led by two groups.

GVR4Us

GVR4Us has been around since 1999, when former resident Dick Smith launched it to oppose new fees.

Over the past two decades the group has gone dormant at times, but it revved up in recent years in opposition to many of Blumenthal’s decisions.

But who is GVR4Us? Who do they represent? Who speaks for them?

Tough to answer. John Haggerty, a retired Colorado attorney who bought a home here in 1996, and moved here full time in 2007, readily admits it.

“It’s very loose, to say the least,” he said.

Haggerty says GVR4Us doesn’t have a membership or meetings. What it does have is a 1,700-member email list that’s growing. He claims a 60 percent email open rate, which is phenomenal by all metrics, though it couldn’t be verified.

Haggerty says he has been hitting the button on GVR4Us email blasts the past six months or so and says the core group is “two or three people.” He said questions over content of the blasts put the job in his hands, though he doesn’t expect to be doing it much longer.

Haggerty points to GVR's Mission Statement and Vision Statement as a way of understanding the divide between the groups.

GVR's Mission Statement is "to provide recreational, social and leisure education opportunities that enhance the quality of our members' lives."

The Vision Statement is "to be the preeminent destination of choice for active adults and retirees."

The word “preeminent" has been a non-starter for a lot of people who say they don’t want the community to become elitist and unaffordable.

That was clear in January 2017, when about 800 people crammed into the GVR West Center to hear about Blumenthal’s $40 million expansion plan. Another 100 were turned away.

The bulk of the audience opposed the costs and the plans, saying they were largely satisfied with how things are now. Leaders, clearly caught off guard, promised a second look at the Vision Statement. They also added that growth wasn’t a real issue because GVR’s existing boundaries could only accommodate another 8,400 members at most.

"If people want the Mission Statement, then they're looking at the four candidates that look to be the best to work with the current board," Haggerty said. "If they're looking at the Vision Statement, then they need to elect the Friends of GVR" — the opposition group.

Haggerty sees the current board, which arguably is 7-5 opposed to Blumenthal, as having taken back its responsibility in setting policy for GVR. He suggests that past problems have stemmed from boards that simply haven’t done their job.

“They just abdicated and let Kent go,” he said.

The GVR4Us eblasts have been criticized for being divisive, inaccurate and, often, unsigned. But Haggerty disagrees, seeing them as necessary “because most people don’t go to meetings.”

He said the group has never called for Blumenthal’s ouster in an email and that a sitting board member has never contributed to a GVR4Us email. But they do believe he’s a big part of the problem.

A 2018 eblast, however, had a "To Do List" with "Remove the CEO" at the top.

Haggerty said the group wants smart growth, if it’s necessary at all, and says the board should have closer ties with GVR members to get a better grasp of what they want.

"To me, what's going on right now is there's a, I think it's a larger proportion of membership down here who doesn't want to see a lot of growth and doesn't want to see this balloon into some Quail Creek or something," he said. "They're afraid of the traffic, they're afraid of costs going up, everything. And they would rather keep this smaller hometown feeling. And what pushed a lot of this, and I think what started a lot of it, was the Vision Statement and then the Pickleball issue."

Haggerty said change or expansion of amenities should reflect current member needs and not geared toward those of future retirees. He pointed to GVR's expansion of Pickleball as an example of the organization reaching too far.

GVR began with a few courts and expanded more as the demand for Pickleball grew, and while he wasn't opposed to a complex, he didn't see a need for 24 courts.

"The point is that they were building for the current membership, in other words, the people that were here," Haggerty said.

Original court construction was taking care of the members' needs as demand called for it, but the complex was looking to future retirees who might have different interests by the time they retire, he said.

With much of that in mind, he said GVR4Us reviewed the biographies of the nine board candidates in the March election and picked four — the number of open seats. The key factor: Who would work best with the sitting board, which is dominated by those who support the direction of GVR4Us?

He said they did not recruit anybody to run for the board.

Their picks: Kathi Bachelor, Lenore Bell, Mark Kelley and Dale Sprinkle.

Friends of GVR

Friends of GVR is everything GVR4Us isn’t.

It’s clear who’s running the operation, what they want and that they’re highly organized. They have a slick website, experienced leaders and, apparently, a little bit of money.

They make no excuses: They heavily recruited four candidates in an attempt to wrestle back control of the board. They believe Green Valley Recreation has been stuck in neutral — sometimes reverse — for two years, and they want it to stop.

Friends of GVR doesn’t see the Mission and Vision statements being in conflict.

"The Vision Statement is a goal, a long-term goal that you'll never reach," said Blaine Nisson, former GVR Board president and one of three board members of Friends of GVR. "It's an inspirational tool to inspire people to work hard to be the very best. The Mission Statement is very clear about what we're going to do on a daily basis."

Nina Campfield, also a former GVR board member and Friends of GVR member, said the way to work toward one's vision is to accomplish the work set in the mission.

The group is backing four candidates: Bev Lawless, Beverly Tobiason, Randall "Randy" Howard and current board member Donna Coon.

A ninth candidate, former board member Barbara Mauser, is not backed by either group in the election. Voting opens Feb. 17 and ends March 19.

Nisson pointed to the fabric of the community and acknowledged that looking into the future could be daunting.

"We're all old folks, and we're all stuck in our ways, some more than others," he said. "And change is difficult in this age population."

They defend the decision to expand Pickleball based on research and the experiences of other communities.

Friends of GVR board member Eric Sullwold said Pickleball might have started as a fad 40 years ago but that’s no longer the case. As recent as 10 years ago, GVR was behind many other communities, both retiree and recreational, when it came to Pickleball.

"We chaired the task force in 2012 for the Racquet Sports Taskforce and made a recommendation in 2013 for a 24-court facility," Nisson said. "And it's taken us all this time to finally get it."

Blumenthal, who has demonstrated a laser focus, take-charge approach and ability to connect with the membership, has the full support of the group.

He has been a proponent of expanding or improving GVR's amenities, including championing the 24-court Pickleball Center, since he arrived, and is by nature a big thinker — unlike his most recent predecessors.

Nisson, who was president when Blumenthal arrived, says much of the direction came from the board. They asked him to get better connected with the community, develop partnerships, find new revenue streams and attract new members.

Blumenthal assessed GVR’s aging facilities, surveyed the members and held public gatherings.

Division amplified

However, as the board's composition began to change, friction developed between directors who opposed the direction of Nisson's board. Some went beyond what members wanted, Haggerty says.

Today, Haggerty said part of the board taking back control of policy is placing limitations on how Blumenthal executes his original directions.

"The outshoot of that is, 'OK, here it is Kent, this is your charge, you have this much money to do it and there are certain limitations we're going to put on you to do that,’” Haggerty said. "And then you go do it. We're not going to tell you how to do it, we're just going to tell you this is the results that we want."

The Friends said Blumenthal had been a target for those opposed to expanding GVR, including directors.

"GVR4USers are saying they want to get rid of (Blumenthal)," said Kris Servais, a supporter of Friends of GVR. "We are going to continue saying that he acted under board direction. And I know there's some implications here that Kent should communicate better, what I find is that it's the board's responsibility to communicate their desires, their actions to the membership."

She said the result is that Blumenthal is the fall guy and a target for member ire even though they can't identify a reason for disliking him, she said.

The future

The friction between the board and Blumenthal brings a more significant issue to the surface: What should Green Valley look like going forward?

While there might not be an answer in sight, Haggerty said the members ultimately act as the bellwether for how much change GVR should pursue.

With four members leaving the board, what has been referred to as the pro- and anti-Kent forces could change or end in deadlock, as it did two years ago. And that could make this next election critical in determining what direction the board seeks.

"It goes back to the members," Haggerty said. "Do the members think we should be thinking about the future? If they do, then the board should develop policy accordingly and then have the CEO implement that policy."

Campfield has another concern about the future. After the ousters of two previous GVR executive directors, she wonders, “If Kent left, what professional would come here?”

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

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