High school graduate Jesse Kelly defeated a Harvard educated Air Force pilot, a nice American named Dave Sitton and Frank “Spank me, I’m bad” Antenori. Now that the fat lady has sung and the primary is over it’s time for Act II of “The Barber of Civility”: A contest between the guy who looks like the Jurassic Park professor without the pith helmet and a carpet bagging gun-toting Bible thumping gosh and shucks Gomer Pyle who can channel Sean Hannity.
Jesse will do great among the unwashed, the rural, the illiterate, the scared goobers willing to cheerfully vote against their own interests, whipping up the groundlings and the believers with rhetorical red meat so rotten with the stench of untruths that honorable flies will choose to lay their eggs elsewhere. And he’ll smile like a man surprised he said something resembling a coherent thought. And the crowds who hate elitists and grammar and syntax and critical thinking will slap their knees and hoot. Scan the online comment section for repugnant speech and unfiltered anonymous hatred of all who differ with the strict conservative view and and you have found your archetypal “here come the black helicopters from Kenya” Kelly supporters.
And he will be petted and stroked and groomed and cooed to by right-wing think tanks and he’ll be showered, nay, flooded with bags of cash from big oil and all the right PACs looking for a manly mannequin with a pull string. And he’s a pretty one. He’s tall and he’s handsome and he’s tall and he’s handsome. Elderly church ladies who can’t tell you who the Vice-President is gaze adoringly up at Kelly, yearning to vote for him and to adopt him and to feed him apple pie. Goodbye Mo Udall, hello empty plastic Ken doll.
And he will be angry at those who question his ascendency and his indignant finger will raise up to poke the sky and he’ll thunder incoherent talk radio babble about freedom and liberty and liberty from freedom and FOX news and the right-wing machine will give him their cameras and their spotlights every chance they can.
He won’t represent you. He will represent the Tea Party fanatics, talk radio freaks, the hand-wringing evangelicals, the gun fondlers and the paranoid. The rest of you are just not Americans, you Marxists and Communists and baby killers and you can go to Hell for all he cares. He’ll terrify crowds with his tales of the liberal straw man, the wretched progressive sasquatch, the abominable secularists and he’ll shake the scarecrow and he’ll offer himself up as the great peasant’s torch just waiting to be pressed into battle against the fictitious kindling. Swaddled in the flag and clutching his sacred Constitution he’ll weep for America and prophesy a plague of socialism sweeping across the land that will rival the fire-in-the-sky visions of St. John. Evolution is a head-shaker and abortion is for harlots and those who are not with him are devils. The Word is Limbaugh and he is the word made flesh. Hearken to Jesse all ye Limbaugh Christians, the end times are upon us and the Messiah has a high school diploma. Reject him not, oh ye dittoheads. The Republicans have their man, their folksy Baron of bromides, their King of jingos, raised in the womb of the right-wing echo chamber. And their darling will have an army of fanatical feverish shock jocks who’ll trumpet at the Walls of Jericho for He who is Him everyday until Medicare, Social Security, Big Government, Taxes, the department of Education, our rotting public education system, and those diabolical regulators and the United Nations all come tumbling down.
At the final debate with Giffords in 2010 he was figuratively hoisted on the shoulders of believers with pitchforks and torches who cheered their Messiah with yahoos and slogans in lieu of palm fronds. How can one be civil when you’re debating an opponent who lies and smirks and makes George Bush sound look Stephen Hawking? His adherents cannot be moved by facts, they have found faith.
Sinclair Lewis had his Main Street Babbitt, we have Kelly. This Barber v. Kelly election will truly be an American spectacle rivaling the Scopes Monkey trial because its outcome will define us for years. Are we an easily frightened America aching for the shallow comfort of the primitive and the superstitious or are we the fearless America that questions, that embraces the future, that is modern and smart? Mark Twain and H.L.Mencken savaged their respective times as the gilded ages of carnival hawkers and tent evangelists and smiling shoeshine salesmen and gullible rubes willing to say yes to any smiling carpet-bagger. They are gazing up from Hell longing to see this show unfold. This summer the oldest American story shall repeat itself.
Read more: http://azstarnet.com/news/blogs/fitz-blog/fitz-kelly-wins/article_fe79178c-890e-11e1-baa5-001a4bcf887a.html#ixzz1soimfI63
PHOENIX – Saying the Pima County administrator needs to be restrained, a House panel voted Thursday to create a special committee to oversee county bond elections.
The party-line vote in the Republican-controlled Committee on Technology and Infrastructure came after a plea from Marana Town Attorney Frank Cassidy, who said the county has created a “culture of intimidation.”
He said part of that is because County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry proposes bond elections with more than 100 individual projects – and sub-projects within them – to a point where advisory committee members are so overwhelmed that they defer to Huckelberry’s recommendations of what gets funded and what does not.
HB 2656, sponsored by Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, would require Pima County – and only Pima County – to establish a bond oversight committee with veto power over what projects get put on the ballot and any changes in how already-approved bond money is spent.
Proud said the special legislation is justified.
“Southern Arizona is really no stranger to corruption,” she said, citing the failed Rio Nuevo revitalization project. And Proud said Pima County has more bond debt than even the far larger Maricopa County.
Proud also made it clear she believes the blame lies with Huckelberry.
“For too long we’ve had one man control everything,” she said. “And I think that needs to stop.”
Proud’s bill would do more than simply create an oversight panel. It would give the county and each of its five cities one vote.
County lobbyist Mike Racy said that would allow representatives of just three communities, with as little as 6.5 percent of total county population, to block anything until they could get what they want.
“Our concern is just how grossly inequitable one vote per jurisdiction would be,” he said.
Proud said she sees nothing wrong with that, contending that’s the way it works at the Legislature.
“I represent a larger district than someone else may represent,” she said.
However, under federal law, all legislative districts are required to have roughly the same population. That is why new district lines are redrawn after every census, to adjust for population changes and keep them the same size.
Cassidy, however, said the weighted voting system is justified – and far better than what exists now.
“This is simply an opportunity to provide more transparency to the process and to give real feedback in the nature of an actual, meaningful vote to those communities affected by it,” he said.
He said each supervisor gets to name three members to the current advisory committee, with three named by the county administrator, each of the two tribes getting one member and each incorporated city naming one member.
That, he said, dilutes the ability of affected communities to make their needs known. By contrast, Cassidy said, each community getting one-sixth of the power on the committee ensures “a meaningful and binding, realistic piece of feedback” on the process.
Cassidy conceded Racy’s point that Proud’s legislation would let any three communities, no matter how small, effectively hold up the process and block public votes on multimillion-dollar bond projects for the entire county, or any change in funding priorities. But he said that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it would produce “the happy result of our taxes finally going down.”
While this new oversight panel would have veto power over new bond projects, the main argument of proponents is that it is designed to prevent shifting of priorities after voters approve the borrowing.
Cassidy told lawmakers a prime example involves $22 million approved as part of a 2004 bond to build a joint city-county courthouse. He said Huckelberry instead shifted some of the money to remodel one floor of the Superior Court Building.
Huckelberry called that “a good story until you tell the other side of it.”
He said the court project ran into unexpected delays and an extra $18 million in costs when it unearthed an old cemetery with 1,500 bodies that had to be relocated.
While the project was on hold, Huckelberry said, the county bond advisory committee agreed to spend $9.8 million to remodel the existing court, on the condition the county repay the money for the new courthouse from regular tax dollars, which has been done.
He said the fund shift went through multiple public hearings “and it was always intended as a stopgap measure for court overcrowding.”
While all the Republicans on the House panel supported Proud’s legislation, Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, said he is less than comfortable with giving the county’s smallest communities an equal vote with not only Tucson but with the Board of Supervisors, which represents the 36 percent of the population living in unincorporated areas. Seel said he may propose a change when the measure goes to the full House.
Read more: http://azstarnet.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/pima-bond-oversight-advances-in-house/article_a345fd97-585a-5fdd-a411-75c33d107151.html#ixzz1lJrZ1xlY
County supervisors of elections tell me they have no way to verify citizenship. Under the 1992 Motor Voter Law, they’re not required to ask for proof.
“We have no policing authority. We don’t have any way of bouncing that information off any other database that would give us that information,”
Anyone know a place like this?
From Boston to Austin, politicians spend money on fancy white elephants..
By STEVEN MALANGA – WSJ
For two decades, America’s convention center business has been declining, resulting in a nationwide surplus of empty meeting facilities, struggling convention halls and vacant hotel rooms. How have governments responded to this glut? By building more convention centers, of course, financed by debt backed by new taxes and fees on already struggling taxpayers.
Back in 2007, before the recession began, a report from Destination Marketing Association International described America’s convention industry as a “buyer’s market” suffering excess capacity. It’s only gotten worse, attracting just 86 million attendees in 2010, compared to 126 million in 2000. Meanwhile, the amount of convention space angling for business has increased to 70 million square feet, up from 53 million in 2000 and 40 million two decades ago.
That’s largely because governments refuse to stop making convention centers bigger and hotels even more dazzling, arguing that whatever business remains will flow to the places with the fanciest amenities. To finance these risky projects—which the private sector won’t build by itself—cities float debt backed by new taxes and fees on already struggling taxpayers. As Charles Chieppo, a former board member of Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, lamented last year, “Logic rarely has a place in the convention business.”
Take Illinois, an industry leader,where officials have invested heavily to keep Chicago’s McCormick Place, long one of the three most-used centers in the nation, on top. They spent $1 billion in the early 1990s to build a 840,000-square foot expansion financed by fees on auto rentals, a hotel tax and a surcharge on restaurant meals in downtown Chicago. In 2007 they opened a new building, McCormick West, at a cost of an additional $900 million. The result? According to the Chicago Tribune, the center operates at 55% capacity.
Then there’s Boston, perhaps the quintessential example of a city that interprets failure in the convention business as a license to spend more on it. Massachusetts officials shelled out $230 million to renovate Hynes Convention Center in the late 1980s. When the makeover produced virtually no economic bounce, officials decided that the city needed a new, $800 million center financed by a hotel occupancy excise tax, a rental-car surcharge, and the sale of taxi medallions. Opened in 2004, that new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was projected (by consultants hired by the state) to have Boston renting some 670,000 additional hotel rooms annually within five years. Instead, Beantown saw just 310,000 additional hotel room rentals in 2009.
Chicago political and labor leaders, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel (arms crossed), appear at the expanded McCormick Place convention center in October.
Now Massachusetts officials want to spend $2 billion to double the size of the Boston Convention Center and add a hotel. Of course, they predict that the expanded facilities would bring an additional $222 million into the local economy each year, including 140,000 hotel room rentals. Even with these bullish projections, officials claim that the hotel would need $200 million in public subsidies.
“The whole thing is a racket,” Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby recently observed. “Once again the politicos will expand their empire. Once again crony capitalism will enrich a handful of wired business operators. And once again Joe and Jane Taxpayer will pay through the nose. How many times must we see this movie before we finally shut it off?”
Many times, if officials in Baltimore have their way. Several years ago they built a $300 million city-owned hotel, (the Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel) to boost the fortunes of the city’s struggling convention center. Having opened in 2008, the hotel lost $11 million last year. Now the city is considering a public-private expansion plan that would add a downtown arena, an additional convention hotel, and 400,000 feet of new convention space at the cost of $400 million in public money.
The list goes on—everywhere from Columbus, Ohio, to Dallas, Austin, Phoenix and places in between. One problem is that optimistic projections about new facilities fail to account for how other cities are expanding, too. Why did Minneapolis struggle to hit projected targets after it enlarged its convention center in 2002? “Other cities expanded right along with us,” Minneapolis’s convention center director, Jeff Johnson, said this year.
The surest sign that taxpayers should be leery of such public investments is that officials have changed their sales pitch. Convention and meeting centers shouldn’t be judged, they now say, by how many hotel rooms, restaurants, and local attractions they help fill. That’s “narrow-minded thinking,” said James Rooney of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority this year. Instead, as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has said, expanding a convention center can “demonstrate to the world that we have unlimited confidence in our city and what it can do, not only as a convention destination but as the center of the most important trends in hospitality, science, health and education.”
This new metric—a city’s amorphous brand value—is little more than a convenient way to ignore the failure of publicly sponsored facilities to live up to exaggerated projections. But as far as city officials are concerned, that failure is nothing that hundreds of millions more in taxpayer dollars can’t fix.
Mr. Malanga is a senior editor at City Journal. A longer version of this article appears in City Journal’s Winter 2012 issue.
Tucson is fairing much worse than it’s western neighboring cities because of the lack of leadership, lack of economic diversification and no growth mentality. What we’ve succeeded to do is fight growth at ever stage yet continue to grow. The transportation infrastructure, the economic infrastructure and the leadership infrastructure has been ignored for a generation. It may be too late for the Old Pueblo. Over the next decade the suburbs will flourish and the city core will continue to decay. It takes leadership folks. Something sorely missing from the political and business rulers in Tucson.
AZ Star - The West is recovering faster than the nation as a whole, but employment across the region remained far below pre-recession levels in the third quarter, and the housing market showed few signs of improvement.
Those are the findings of a report Thursday by Brookings Mountain West researchers at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. It focused on economic growth in 10 metropolitan areas in the states of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Idaho.
Tucson is struggling more than most, ranking in the bottom 20 in overall recovery among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, the researchers said.
Among the reasons for Tucson’s woes: “Its economy is heavily dependent on ‘eds and meds’ (education and health-care sectors) and now-stagnant federal spending in industries like defense – bulwarks in the early years of recession, now insufficient catalysts for recovery,” the report said.
Overall, the Mountain West region saw a modest 0.3 percent growth in employment in the quarter ending in September, compared to the national rate of 0.1 percent, the study found. Utah, Colorado and New Mexico – states that have built broad economic bases – struggled the least, researchers said.
In Arizona and Nevada, the housing collapse continued to limit job growth.
Posted: Friday, December 2, 2011 7:00 am
by Joe Higgins
It’s hard to pick up a newspaper or watch TV news and not see what America is going through right now. People are frustrated and political solutions seem hollow. The uncertainty coming from government has the entire U.S. economy on hold.
Despite what economic experts say, the Great Recession continues. We are in for a long-haul; a new normal.
We see this malaise in shuttered business, home foreclosures and employee layoffs. Like downturns in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we thought “here we go again.” Before long business will come back to normal.
But as we turn the corner into our fourth year of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, it’s settling in that this one is different.
We can break down the causes of the Great Recession from multiple angles but they are topics that will be debated for years and ultimately determined by historians decades after the chips have fallen.
This opinion is about the fallout and the future of Tucson, Arizona and America.
Being an entrepreneur is the most gratifying, hardest thing I’ve ever done. As a serial business start-up person, I’ve rolled the dice more than a dozen times. Each time I start a new business, I research, study, plan and ultimately go all-in on an idea I think is better than anyone else in my market.
As others like me know, sometimes you get it right, others times you miss the mark.
Having mortgaged my home, maxed out credit cards and risked my family’s future on ideas more than once, I’m here to tell you that it has been worth it.
Up until now.
Early on, this Great Recession cleaned out those who who were over-leveraged and bought investments such as houses on interest-only deals that made no sense. Restaurants that went out of business already were teetering on the brink. Businesses that closed in 2008 and 2009 were too leveraged, too concentrated in crowded industries or were run by poor managers. That’s what the capitalist system does.
But now we are seeing a different kind of business failures. Entrepreneurs who played it safe are now watching their lifetime idea slowly slip away.
I’ve lived this journey myself and I’ve talked with my small business friends who are in the same rudderless boat. Many of us have had to close stores. We’ve laid off long-time employees who helped us from the very beginning. These people are more than employees, they’re family.
Most small business owners are wondering two things: How am I going to make payroll next Friday? And will this ever end? Start-ups have notoriously high failure rates but now we are starting to see established businesses buckling under financial pressures. Second-generation businesses handed down from father to son or daughter may not be left to hand down to a third generation.
Last week, I had two high school kids from different schools search me out as part of their career research. They wanted to be entrepreneurs. When I asked why, they responded that they each had a great idea, believed in their abilities, dreamed of potential riches and fame and they loved the variety of skills and duties that come with launching and running a business.
It was difficult for me to be upbeat and positive. It was hard not to tell them what it’s really like. I wanted to explain the dozens of agencies that will be regulating their every move. I wanted to explain how fierce competition can be when you’re up against a Fortune 500 company that has a fleet of lobbyists that can get waivers from federal healthcare mandates or build in a new regulation that is going to wipe out any margin you’ve been able to build.
I didn’t want to tell them the process of going through a local zoning review or the joy of having conflicting opinions come from two different city inspectors and that your only recourse it to say “thank you sir, may I have another.”
I held back on telling these future entrepreneurs about the headaches that come to your life when you hire an employee – from workers compensation claims, to equal employment complaints, to unemployment insurance, to layers of laws to protect employee rights but nothing about who pays the bills.
What I decided to share with the future capitalists was about the days when I didn’t know better and just got up every morning and worked through it.
My formative years came while Ronald Reagan was president, coming in to lead the nation out of the Jimmy Carter mailaise. Reagan won his election in 1980 and reinstated hope in the future with his “It’s Morning Again In America” and tapped into the American ideal of hard work, personal responsibility, patriotism and limited government.
Reagan knew the importance of the small business owner and he understood the power of the free market in getting this country back on track.
I can only imagine most people were wondering in 1979 – as they are today – are America’s best days behind us?
As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve come to the point where my local and federal governments don’t appreciate me and couldn’t care less if I practice my skill at all. As an entrepreneur, I don’t want to be stimulated or bailed out. Until my governments’ attitudes change, I’m going to sit on the sidelines and watch.
Joe Higgins, who is a regular contributor, wrote this column to express his personal feelings. His Tucson business start-ups include Talking Trash Waste Removal, Sports Buzz Haircuts and Gotta Go Wireless. Contact Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org. He and Chris DeSimone host “Wake Up Tucson,” 6 to 8 a.m. weekdays on The Voice KVOI 1030-AM.
The problem is multi faceted. Here’s a few culprits:
1. Pima County has been too reliant on growth related industries and hasn’t done a very good job at divesting into different job creating industries.
2. There seems to be no ryme or reason as to what gets built where in Southern Arizona. We fight sprawl at the same time block infill projects.
3. Financing – Here’s a great peice from O’Dell and the AZ Star:
Financing hard to get
Housing prices have crashed to levels not seen in 10 years, and interest rates are at historic lows. But many vacant properties aren’t drawing buyers and aren’t being filled.
Even if they can afford the payments, fewer people can get financing for a home, Strobeck said.
“You need gold-plated financing in order to get yourself a mortgage,” no matter how large, Strobeck said. “There’s so much supply because people can’t qualify.”
Despite a report last week calling Tucson the emptiest city in America because it had the highest home-vacancy rate of large cities for the first two quarters of 2011, Strobeck and University of Arizona economist Marshall Vest said Tucson’s plight isn’t worse than other places.
And some Tucson real estate professionals said vacancies are not a big issue. Greg Hollman, regional vice president of Coldwell Banker, said the market is working through the inventory of vacant homes quickly and some investors are putting multiple cash offers on properties, an idea contradicted by the Star’s analysis.
“It hasn’t been a big problem in my opinion,” Hollman said.
But Elías said the only people benefiting from the current market are cash buyers who can sweep up properties at rock-bottom prices.
He said the only way to clear the number of vacant houses is for financial institutions to loosen up lending standards, which were too loose during the housing boom and became very strict after the bust.
Housing is the key to getting the economy moving, Vest said, and vacant homes need to be filled before the housing market can stop falling.
“We’re going to need to get people in the vacancies to get people building again,” Vest said. “Homebuilding has to come back before we see the kinds of growth rates we’ve grown accustomed to.”
ring of vacant houses
The areas with the most vacant homes run from Sahuarita north and west, skirting the O’odham Reservation and extending to Marana. These boom areas went bust with the housing market.
The housing development west of Casino del Sol was an emblem of the housing boom and now is filled with vacant homes after the bust.
Center city rentals
Many of the areas in central Tucson with the most vacant units feature entire apartment complexes that have been boarded up and vacated.
Green Valley had many more vacant houses in 2000 than in 2010, but that’s because of how the census counted vacancies. More seasonal housing was counted as vacant in 2000 than in 2010.
By the numbers
vacancies in 2000
vacancies in 2010
more vacancies in 2010 versus 2000
Nearly one in eight
units vacant in 2010
How we got the story
The Star analyzed U.S. census tract data from 2000 and 2010.
To determine the increase in vacant rentals, the Star added all census-tract data together for vacant, occupied and total units in Pima County.
To map the data, the Star took the total number of vacant properties for each census tract and stripped out the vacant units that were seasonal rentals, second homes, housing for migrant workers and vacant homes that had just been rented or sold. This left mostly vacant rentals, vacant homes for sale, foreclosures and investor-owned homes.
The Star then projected that data using mapping software and coded the census tracts based on the number of vacant properties.
Report problem vacant properties
If a vacant house is causing problems in your neighborhood, report it. Visit cms3.tucsonaz.gov/hcd/code-enforcement and click on “code enforcement.” Fill out the online form, or print a form to fax, mail or hand-deliver to the city.
Contact reporter Rob O’Dell at 573-4346 or email@example.com
Law governs annexations, not supervisors
Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 4:00 am
By Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, Special to The Explorer | 0 comments
The old adage “Never let facts get in the way of a good story” seems to apply to Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler’s recent opinion in The Explorer (“County official should follow best practices,” Oct. 5, 2011).
Lackluster (the councilwoman’s word) does not accurately describe the County’s treatment of Marana’s and everyone else’s sewage. True, treating sewage is not glamorous, but it is absolutely necessary to protect public health and the environment. Our public servants who treat your sewage – around the clock, 365 days a year – have been recognized nationally and internationally for excellence. Many of these hardworking employees who rise to such excellence are Marana residents.
In 1979, Pima County and its residents, and at the request of all area cities and towns, chose a regional wastewater treatment model because it is better and more cost-effective. Today, most, if not all, of the urban regions throughout the country follow a regionalized model. This model is smarter and a documented best practice in public service.
The councilwoman says the vast amount of unincorporated population in Pima County “isn’t normal, nor is the fact that County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry tries his hardest to keep it that way.” She forgets Marana’s own history when she declares that, “Pima County has for years fought annexation and incorporation attempts by its residents.”
The incorporation of cities and towns and annexation are governed by state law. The County plays no role; we neither approve nor disapprove, and state law created the ability of cities and towns to block incorporation. Councilwoman Ziegler forgets that when the community of Tortolita tried to incorporate in 1997, it was Marana, not Pima County, that filed suit to block the incorporation.
The Board of Supervisors certified the incorporation because it was the will of two-thirds of the residents. Marana did not hesitate to join Tucson and others in blocking the will of the people of Tortolita. Marana, not Pima County, fought incorporation of new communities.
Over the last two decades, there have been multiple initiatives to incorporate communities in Pima County. These efforts failed, not because of Pima County, but because voters in those areas either rejected incorporation or other jurisdictions blocked them. Voters in the Catalina Foothills, one of the largest communities in the county, turned down incorporation by 70 percent. This is fundamental democracy at work.
Over the last decade, the population of unincorporated areas has grown statewide at a faster rate than cities and towns. For at least the last decade, more and more people in Arizona have chosen a simpler lifestyle with fewer levels of simpler lifestyle with fewer levels of government and less government regulation.
The councilwoman also declared that, “… Huckelberry recommends raising property taxes to offset revenue losses from the state.” This is untrue. In fact, the total Pima County property taxes collected dropped this year; it is a fact the councilwoman can easily verify by looking at her property tax bill or by visiting http://www.pima.gov/taxes/.
Councilwoman Ziegler did accurately state that I am not a member of the International City/County Management Association. Membership in that group, she naively believes, makes local government more credible by exposing officials to “best practices” and by holding members to a strict code of ethics.
As a serving manager and administrator for decades, I can assure you, using taxpayer money for dues, travel and conferences does not necessarily make one a better manager.
As for ethics, it is remarkable that a public official would believe that concepts of right and wrong can be purchased (using taxpayer money, no less) by joining a fraternal organization.
Finally, these opposing diatribes have actually been only about water – certainly not about who can better treat sewage.
Marana believes controlling their destiny requires them to treat sewage. It does not. Pima County has offered to give Marana free access to their water (treated sewage) without charge – free. Marana wants their residents to pay for something the County is willing to give for free.
Does that make sense? We don’t think so.
The short answer is 10. The long answer is one to write the press release, one to Tweet it, one to post it on Facebook, one to make a brochure, one to update the website, one to take photos, one to make the video and one to post it on the blog. That still leaves two staffers to fill in the cracks and manage the message.
At a time when local media are diminished – a downsized Star and defunct Tucson Citizen are just two examples – and governments are gutting and cutting on all fronts, Pima County has put together its own news team to get the info straight to you.
In-house, we jokingly call it the Star Annex because so many former Star (and Citizen) staffers work there, but that’s gallows humor. As David Cuillier, interim director of the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism, lamented, there is something precarious about news shops cutting back on coverage and government filling that void.
“I understand part of the rationale in that they want accurate information to come out, but really it’s the information they want out,” he said.
More on that later.
Pima County’s PR machine is a staff of 10, six of whom were added in 2011. The positions range from graphic design to multimedia to traditional PR types of duties. Salaries range from about $33,000 for a clerk to $78,000 for Sam Negri, a former Star staffer who heads the team. The budget is about $850,000, which has been paid for through attrition or cuts in other departments. It doesn’t include the county’s other media relations folks who work directly for several departments such as transportation and wastewater.
The idea of the PR team is to create a government you deserve. The digital age calls for digital responsiveness.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wants the team to get the message out on social media and its “Pima County News” blog on tucsoncitizen.com
Chuckelberry also wants an interactive and nimble website where taxpayers can take care of business like paying for dog licenses. There are plans to add a county TV station.
“Our view is we want more information out there proactively than reactively,” he said.
This is all fine and good, but it doesn’t pave the county’s lousy roads.
Why such a big staff? After all, the city of Tucson has one guy, Michael Graham, for PR in City Hall. And up north in Maricopa County there is a staff of four – three public-information officers and one videographer – for the administration. (Large local governments generally have some department flacks outside the administration.)
ChuckHuck said his communications staff is actually decreasing – yikes! – as it consolidates PR into one team instead of being spread throughout various departments in the county. He doesn’t want his team doing interviews with the media, and would rather reporters and the public go straight to department heads. He assures us this is not about information control.
“It should never deteriorate to that,” he said.
But there’s a difference between maintaining access for reporters, and having the county fill the news hole. And there is precedent for concern here.
Cuillier, our journalism prof, said a trend in federal government is to use public-information offices to filter questions; a process that sounds streamlined but has simply tightened information control.
“In a way, it’s a form of censorship,” Cuillier said. “It’s a way of getting the information out there because they manage the message so strongly.”
Cuillier said consolidated public-information teams usually lead to flacks sitting in on interviews or asking reporters to submit questions in writing. Controlling the message – or defining an alternative record – becomes more important than being open.
That wouldn’t happen here, right?
I emailed Negri, the county’s news director, about a possible phone interview. Here’s what he wrote back:
Send me your questions.
Ironically, ChuckHuck excels at managing the media all on his own. He is funny, accessible and gracious, which endears him to reporters. Criticism rolls off his back. When we talked about this column, he joked that maybe we could break the 200-comment barrier (Sí, se puede!). Maybe now his new PR machine can manage that.
Read more: http://azstarnet.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_dde49c5a-fc71-54b9-8385-8dc91239f873.html#ixzz1aNXswrbY
The one commentator above hit it on the head: this is about the development of a Ministry of Propaganda for Pima County Government. WhY? Well, they need to “spin” the following issues to make them look more positive than the reality:
1. Our property taxes continue to increase while our property values continue to decrease,
2. Our county wastewater fees continue to skyrocket,
3. Our roads get worse and more RTA sales taxes are taken from our pockets,
4. There is an election next year of the entire Board of Supervisors and the county needs to make itself look good so the incumbents (or at least the majority) look good,
5. There is still questions about the integrity of the county elections system, and the issue of computer tampering will be raised again at next years election, and spin is needed to try to assure us everything is on the level.
6. The county wants hundreds of millions of dollars MORE of bond money and need to convince residents to vote for new and bigger bond debt for new wastewater facilities, more open space, low income housing, and pork projects for the bureaucracy and politicos.
7. They need a good media team to keep the focus on the corruption and incompetance of the City of Tucson in order to divert attention away from county corruption and incompetance.
8. Since the county is rolling in the dough (due to tax increases) they need to spend their money somewhere, so why not hire a huge PR team to make themselves look good?
And all this “spin” is being paid for by our tax dollars.
Doesn’t that make all of you feel “special” for living in Pima County? See, the government controlled media is working already!!!
This is 24/7 Wall St.’s list of Nine American Cities Going Broke.
9. Camden, NJ
> Credit rating: Ba2
> 2009 revenues: $181,257,000
> 2009 debt: $103,284,000
> Median household income: $25,418
Camden suffers from high unemployment, high poverty, and a weak tax base. The city’s median household income is less than half that of the national median income and is the lowest of all the municipalities on this list. Moody’s notes that “more than half of Camden’s real estate is tax-exempt, hampering already weak tax collections.” The city has had a speculative grade credit rating since 1998. Three out of the past five Camden mayors have been sent to prison for corruption, the most recent in 2001. (Buying up open space in Pima County takes that land off the property tax rolls forever.)
8. Strafford County, NH
> Credit rating: Ba2
> 2009 revenues: $36,204,000
> 2009 debt: $23,866,000
> Median household income: $58,363
Strafford County’s low rating is largely due to a money-losing nursing home, on which the county spends two-fifths of its budget. Just under 85% of the patients at the Riverside Rest Home are eligible for Medicaid, yet state reimbursements to the county continue to decrease, according to Moody’s. Between 2004 and 2009, the nursing home lost $36 million. The county does not expect to recover much of the money it used to cover these deficits. (Pima County has spent a couple hundred million on Kino Hospital)
7. Riverdale, IL
> Credit rating: Ba2
> 2009 revenues: $8,358,000
> 2009 debt: $9,350,000
> Median household income: $40,659
Riverdale has run operational deficits for a number of consecutive years, driven primarily by a reduction in the amount the village relies on debt financing. “The village funded itself by borrowing money from its sewer and water funds, and now carries an operating fund balance of -52.1% of revenues.” The city, like many others on this list, is extremely small, with a population of just over 14,000. (Pima County and Tucson residents have seen 40% increases in sewer and water bills over the past five years.)
6. Salem, NJ
> Credit rating: Ba3
> 2009 revenues: $7,059,000
> 2009 debt: $10,098,000
> Median household income: $28,397
Salem guaranteed bonds issued to finance an office building downtown. The city planned to pay for the bonds with revenues earned from leasing office space in the building. However, revenue fell short of what was projected when construction delays caused lease payments delays. “The project’s debt service reserve fund has been drawn down numerous times,” Moody’s reports. “Once the reserve fund has been exhausted, the city is obligated to pay debt service for the life of the bonds.” (Rio Nuevo anyone?)
5. Detroit, MI
> Credit rating: Ba3
> 2009 revenues: $1,280,791,000
> 2009 debt: $2,449,480,000
> Median household income: $29,447
Detroit has suffered worse from the recession than almost any other U.S. city. The effects of the city’s economic situation are reflected in its credit rating. Many of Detroit’s biggest companies, such as General Motors and Chrysler, declared bankruptcy, placing “significant pressure” on the city, according to Moody’s. Detroit relies on the auto industry for its tax base, and the industry’s contraction has hurt the city immensely. The city became a “habitual note borrower,” relying on investors to close budget gaps.
4. Harrison, NJ
> Credit rating: Ba3
> 2009 revenues: $32,763,000
> 2009 debt: $92,613,000
> Median household income: $49,596
Harrison “issued a significant amount of debt to foster redevelopment, and continues to collect substantially less revenue from those developments than projected,” Moody’s explains. One of the largest projects is the $200 million Red Bull Arena, which was opened in March 2010 and cost the city $39 million in debt but has yet failed to have the expected returns. To help solve its debt problem, the city, which has a population of 13,620, plans to fire some police officers and firefighters. (Rio Nuevo – what if we had built the $200 million hotel?)
3. Jefferson County, AL
> Credit rating: Caa1
> 2009 revenues: $309,440,000
> 2009 debt: $1,337,233,000
> Median household income: $44,718
Jefferson County’s debt, which is the second largest on this list, comes from a $3.2 billion overhaul of the county’s sewer system as well as a series of risky, controversial bond deals meant to help the county pay for the sewer work. A number of city officials have been sent to jail on corruption charges linked to the project. “The county defaulted on almost $3.5 million in 2008 — the biggest default in municipal history,” according to Moody’s. Worse still, this year, the Alabama Supreme Court invalidated the county’s occupational tax, which accounted for one quarter of the county’s total revenues. (Pima County is staring down a billion plus upgrade to it’s sewer system – an expense they’ve known about for over a decade.)
2. Pontiac, MI
> Credit rating: Caa1
> 2009 revenues: $46,183,000
> 2009 debt: $99,115,000
> Median household income: $32,199
The source of Pontiac’s troubles is similar to that of Detroit’s. General Motors, which went bankrupt during the recession, is the city’s largest employer and taxpayer. The city has been in receivership since 2009. Also in 2009, the city sold its Silverdome stadium, which cost over $55 million to build, for $583,000. Such concessions have not been enough to raise the city’s rating. (Again Rio Nuevo – Train Depot, MLK Apartments, Scott Avenue).
1. Central Falls, RI
> Credit rating: Caa1
> 2009 revenues: $17,601,000
> 2009 debt: $18,753,000
> Median household income: $33,520
In August 2011, Central Falls declared bankruptcy largely because of the city’s pension plan, which promised $80 million in retirement benefits. According to the New York Times, the “pension fund will probably run out of money in October, giving Central Falls the distinction of becoming the second municipality in the United States to exhaust its pension fund, after Prichard, Ala.” This $80 million is approximately five times the city’s general fund budget. (Unions squeezing the golden goose may end up with nothing …..Sun Tran anyone?)
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