Disagreement over the use of a recently restored city trolley devolved into personal attacks at last week’s council meeting.
Mayor Arturo Garino put an item on the meeting agenda to discuss the trolley and took the opportunity to call out Linda Rushton, who organized the restoration of the trolley last year, for an email she sent the previous week that the mayor said was full of “rhetoric” and included offensive statements about the council.
Rushton responded by accusing Garino and the city of gutting plans to run tours with the vehicle and failing to spur economic development in the city.
The argument stems from Rushton’s request for city funding for group tours of downtown Nogales on the trolley, a 1980s vehicle that was renovated last year with new parts, paint, and artwork by local artist Rob White.
After the council passed a tentative budget last month that did not include any funding related to the trolley, Rushton said that she wanted the city to set aside $5,000 to pay for a trolley driver.
She said that paying a driver would be an easy win for the city, noting that a previous tour generated $350 in donations, which Rushton gave to the city.
Rushton told the NI she is prepared to hand over future donations from trolley riders if the city will fund a driver and added that riders on the first tour bought more than 20 meals at local restaurants.
“Y’all talk about tourism,” Rushton said at last Wednesday’s meeting. “I’ve sat on a tourism commission that (Mayor Garino) started his first term. Nothing got done. Economic development, for 10 years you’ve been talking about economic development, every single (councilmember) who’s been here that long. Have you done anything? No.”
She continued: “If somebody says, ‘Hey, I have an idea, here’s a way we can support downtown businesses’… Let’s do something. That’s all I’m asking.”
The mayor and council were visibly frustrated with Rushton.
“I’m very concerned about this, Linda, because you start saying that we’re not interested in economic development… it’s not true,” Garino said.
The mayor said that the situation was complicated by the fact that the city does not have a clear policy in place to allow non-employees to use city vehicles.
Councilman Robert Rojas complained that Rushton was “throwing mud at our faces,” and councilman Nubar Hanessian suggested that Rushton, who also owns the tour company Ambos Nogales Tours, could be using the trolley to further her own business.
Rushton retorted that the council was well aware of her plans for the trolley, which she asserted was “not a profit-making” venture, and should have written a policy to govern the trolley’s use.
At least 10 people carrying signs and wearing custom t-shirts supporting the trolley showed up to the meeting.
In response to Hanessian’s queries, the crowd groaned audibly and someone shouted: “Dodo!”
After a tense half-hour exchange, Garino said that the city would write a policy that would clarify how the trolley can be used.
The mayor did not say whether that policy would allow Rushton to use the trolley for city tours, or whether the council would consider adding funds for a driver.