Posts Tagged ‘Nina Trasoff’
Three events surrounding Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment have occurred in the last month: the Tucson City Council rightly ended plans to build a convention center hotel, the state Auditor General released an audit of Rio Nuevo’s funds, and we did our first Rio Nuevo “Reality Tour.” As each event unfolded, there was an outcry from a portion of the downtown community. The common line in each was: “Let’s turn the page and concentrate on the future.”
In some cases, letting go of yesterday is a healthy step in the healing process. In this case, $230 million is missing with little to show for it. There needs to be an explanation to the individual and business taxpayers of the city and the State of Arizona.
Here are some things that need explanations: Print this story
• Are people who were complicit in the massive failure of Rio Nuevo still in positions of authority?
• How could the city make wholesale transfers of millions of dollars of assets with little more than a footnote in a financial statement?
• When will taxpayers get an explanation about every single dime that was spent?
There are “ghosts” of Rio Nuevo past. Most have departed the city bureaucracy. The cast of characters who deserve most of the responsibility for the fiasco that is Rio Nuevo include:
Former City Manager Mike Hein is back at Pima County working at the pleasure of County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. There was Hein’s right-hand man and in charge
of the early hotel projects, Jaret Barr. There was the early quarterback Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson and project manager John Updike. Sprinkle in Greg Shelko — at $100 per hour — and former city managers Luis Gutierrez and Jim Keene, and you have the makings of too many government officials with too little private sector experience controlling a huge checkbook.
The financial audit spelled out the inability of the original four-member city-appointed Rio Nuevo board to manage and control the purse strings. The district was supposed to be autonomous and the board was to act as the gatekeeper of the tax revenues. The original board included former county Supervisor Dan Eckstom, bed-and-breakfast owner Jeff DiGregorio, Anne Marie Russell, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, and former state Sen. Victor Soltero.
The chosen few
These are the myriad of consultants, engineers and planners who reaped huge fees for designs that were never used on projects that were never built, like commissioning an out-of-state company to make an $820,000 movie to be played in a museum that never got built. There were countless insider developers and campaign donors who were beneficiaries of $1 rents, free land and prime redevelopment tracks because they hired the right consultants or attorneys with the relationships. At least this is changing and the light is being shown on these backroom deals thanks to Councilman Steve Kozachik, investigative reporting and talk radio.
Three of Rio Nuevo’s “superstars” are gone from the City Council: Jose Ibarra, Steve Leal and Nina Trasoff. Councilwoman Shirley Scott and Mayor Bob Walkup still bear responsibility because they’ve been there from the beginning. Walkup, the chief cheerleader for the hotel and light rail, has burned all his political capital and now needs to begin planning his second retirement.
Councilwoman Karin Uhlich added to the fiasco when she pushed for low-income housing projects that have taken an inordinate amount of attention at Rio Nuevo. Scott, Uhlich, Walkup and Councilwoman Regina Romero all were responsible for green lighting an $80 million bond sale at the worst possible time to sell bonds, and for spending it on museum designs, orange griffen statutes, and an over-priced parking garage. They can also take credit for $18 million to plan a hotel that never made sense.
After researching and leading a tour for 40 people a few weeks ago, we came to a realization that the taxpayer was not only robbed by this Rio Nuevo debacle, but punched in the mouth by the city.
The lines between what were Rio Nuevo assets and City of Tucson assets have been so blurred they’ll be hard to untangle. We’ve identified over $44 million that have shifted balance sheets and will probably involve lawsuits to sort out. There is a $14 million parking garage and $30 million spent on the west side.
And just before the state installed a new Rio Nuevo oversight board, the city removed $30 million of assets from Rio Nuevo. Coincidence?
People who were compliant in the fiasco now must face the consequences. These are the first steps the city must take to regain the trust of taxpayers and the Legislature.
We’ll be willing to turn the page on Rio Nuevo when the city is open and transparent — two concepts that have been lacking in the project so far.
Copyright © 2010 Inside Tucson Business
Here’s another Player Report. The Player Reports are supporting stories detailing how a select few individuals or groups that know how to ‘play the game’ benefit above and beyond our standard business owners. The Players ultimately ruin the system for the rest of us. The Players thrive in our dysfunctional leaderless community. Read The Player opinion in the Inside Tucson Business.
From today’s Star, Rob O’Dell is reporting that two developers with over $4 million in projects hinging on an upcoming vote by the Tucson City Council held a fundraiser to for Council incumbents, Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich. We expect a recused from the upcoming vote on the developers vote AT THE VERY LEAST.
From Saturday’s Star:
Campbell’s agreement, which calls for the city to finance a public parking garage on his property, comes to the council for a final vote on Tuesday.
Stiteler’s and Martin’s development agreement comes up for final approval June 16, and the two previously met with the council last Tuesday, three days after the fundraiser.
The city and developers have been negotiating since December.
The Stiteler/Martin proposal calls for the city to give the developers $4 million worth of city properties in exchange for guarantees they will promptly complete the commercial development of properties they already own and spend $5 million on affordable housing and Downtown community groups.
Campbell needs the city to build a $3 million parking garage on East Congress Street, across from the former Greyhound site, where he plans 104 units for University of Arizona students and more than 46,000 square feet of shops, bars and a gym.
Trasoff, Uhlich and Martin all said the donations were aboveboard, adding that politicians need to raise money in order to compete in and win elections. The Democratic council members said they would never allow a political donation to influence their decisions.
The Tucson Weekly makes their picks for City of Tucson City Council. Looks like the incumbents didn’t fair to well. The Weekly passes on picking the Republicans because that would would be way too far of a stretch. We commend The Weekly and Nintzel for resisting the temptation to go against his liberal roots and through a couple Democrats under the bus.
Ward 3: Sonoran Hot Dog
Voters will choose between Democrat Karin Uhlich, Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia and Green Party candidate Mary DeCamp.
Uhlich, who is completing her first term, is big on transparency and process, but we fear that too often, those terms have been used to cover an unwillingness to make a decision.
While we agree with Uhlich on some issues, her waffling on budget issues has cost the city. She led an effort to delay a 25-cent increase in bus fares last year, only to agree to an increase this year. Over that 12 months, the city lost out on a million dollars.
Uhlich also voted to cut the costs of the Parks and Recreation Department’s leisure classes when she was first elected. Now she thinks those fees need to be increased, but won’t support doing it until next year. That’s the kind of delay the city can scarcely afford.
Uhlich’s opponent, Ben Buehler-Garcia, is a decent enough fellow who has been active in economic-development issues. But we can’t endorse someone who is supporting something as dreadful as the Public Safety First Initiative, which will screw up the city’s budget for years to come.
We feel that Green candidate Mary DeCamp’s ideas—such as creating a new currency for Tucson residents—are just too far ahead of their time for her to earn a spot on the City Council. She can do more to push those innovations in the private sector.
And so we endorse the Sonoran hot dog found at El Guero Canelo, 2480 N. Oracle Road. This feast combines the four food groups—vegetables, grains, dairy and bacon—and reflects the melting pot of cultures that is Tucson. This dog never disappoints, even if it’s not very good for us.
Ward 5: Democrat Richard Fimbres
Richard Fimbres is new to the world of city politics, but he learned the ropes of managing public budgets while on the Pima Community College governing board. He’s got a solid background in law enforcement and budget review that will serve Tucsonans well if he wins his council race. Fimbres, who hopes to replace the retiring Democrat Steve Leal, has spent more than two decades managing programs with the Pima County Jail; he’s worked in law enforcement in the military; he’s headed up the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety; and he’s even been the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year. It’s an impressive résumé, and it’s enough for us to encourage you to vote for him.
His Republican opponent, Shaun McClusky, is a political rookie who supports the Public Safety First Initiative and shows little grasp of the city budget, which disqualifies him from our endorsement.
Ward 6: Jasper the Marbled Polecat
Councilwoman Nina Trasoff has disappointed us too often for us to support her. Like Uhlich, Trasoff voted to delay an increase in bus fares and supported an irresponsible decrease in park fees that she now regrets, even though she’s not doing anything to increase them—thereby solidifying the city’s economic base—until next year. And to say that she mishandled the fiasco with the Rialto Theatre over the summer is a considerable understatement.
Republican Steve Kozachik has done admirable work developing new athletic facilities at the University of Arizona, but like Buehler-Garcia and McClusky, he’s supporting the Public Safety First Initiative, which makes him far too irresponsible for us to support. Kozachik tells us he can identify all sorts of waste in the city budget, but he doesn’t want to share that info with us. Well, we’re not buying that he has a secret plan to balance the budget.
Unable to support either candidate, the Weekly instead endorses Jasper the marbled polecat, who arrived this summer at the Reid Park Zoo. Although a new resident of Ward 6, Jasper seems so adorable that we can’t believe he’d make a bad decision at City Hall.
From AZ Star 7/13/08 – Fix the LAND USE CODE -
Mike Hammond of Picor Commercial Real Estate said he had a client who was tripped up by a rule saying that if the flush handle on a toilet is not on the side away from the wall, you have to replace the toilet. Cost: Six toilets times $500, plus labor. Reason: Unclear.
This is absurd and bad for business.It must be fixed. Thankfully, various elected officials, city workers and citizens like Hammond and Warne are working to get that done.
Hammond says Tucson’s land-use code has become so byzantine that “quality developers that we want in our city can spend $15,000 on a project and then discover they can’t do what they want to.”
Because of such hassles, many of them borne of confusion among city workers about what the code means, commercial developers like Warne and Hammond warn that Tucson is losing new businesses, and thus jobs, to competitors like Marana, Mesa and Chandler.
As for revitalizing the central city in the face of such bureaucratic hassles? “That’s just a myth,” Hammond said.
Then from Feb 17th 2009 – after much work, many meetings with planners, development services, neighborhoods and business the vote finally gets to council to once and for all FIX THE TROUBLESOME land use code….but only for 1 year:
The land-use code requires owners to meet standards on parking, loading zones, trash collection and landscaping if they want to increase the size of their buildings, parking areas or property by 25 percent or more, according to a story by the Star’s Adam Curtis.
Trasoff’s plan would suspend those sections of the land-use code for one year. It would allow owners to expand their properties by 40 percent or 50 percent before having to meet the standards. Encouraging property owners to invest in their properties could spur construction jobs, which could have a ripple effect throughout the economy.
While we advocate revamping and updating the entire land-use code, this one-year suspension could be an economic boon.Trasoff told the Star that, depending on the size of the property and project, the move could save small businesses possibly tens of thousands of dollars — an incentive to do work now, rather than later.
The trick will be to balance the reasons for the code, to protect neighborhoods from overflow parking linked to businesses, with the need to make it easier for small businesses to expand.
If the LUC is a known problem why fix it for only 1 year or 18 months? Why not take care of the problem for good? Could it be that our elected council is more concerned about the neighborhood voting block that put them in office than the business community that ultimately pays the bills?
Time to move to Marana folks – then maybe, just maybe the council will start to get the point.
Check out the full post over at Arizona 8th regarding last nights council meeting.
If you remember, last week the council sailed through approving the budget and spent almost 4 hours squabbling over outside agency funding like the Humane Society and the arts community.
Trasoff pushed for artist that ‘feed the soul’ and told the Humane Society to figure out another option.
At this weeks council meeting we had two protesters show up in full dog drag demanding the dogs have a voice too. Genius!
Some of the best signs they brought included:
1st the renters, 2nd the strippers, now us (the dogs of course)
If you want help would you want a cop or a warehouse full of artists?
Nina I’m Hungery, Feeding My Soul Aint Going To Do It!
Photo courtesy of Western Sky Communications – visit them for your all your graphic design and photo needs.
“I have a vision of trying to maintain the essence of Tucson as we grow,” Trasoff says. “I’m going to bring an ability to guide the growth and have it be more intelligent growth, more future-thinking growth.”
The former TV newscaster, who has spent the last two decades doing public-relations work and serving on the boards of various local non-profits, says Ronstadt has sold out the city to special interests and balanced the city’s budget on the backs of the poor, the children and the elderly by enacting tuition fees for KIDCO, an afterschool program, and creating a $14-a-month “garbage tax.” (See “Numbers Racket, Oct. 13.)
“I morally objected to putting on a tax that had such a dramatic impact on working families and the elderly,” Trasoff says.
It gets better…
He also points out that for all her complaints, Trasoff has offered no alternative to balancing the budget without the trash fee. Trasoff says she hasn’t had enough access to the city budget to determine how to eliminate the trash fee, but vows that if she’s elected, she would trim it back until it was eliminated.
The candidates also clash over downtown redevelopment. Ronstadt says there’s a lot going on, even if it doesn’t appear that way.
“I respect and understand people’s perception that nothing’s happened,” Ronstadt says. “The reality is that a lot of stuff is happening and had to happen the way it did.”
Among the projects that Ronstadt cites: The completion of the historic train depot; ongoing work on several condo projects, including one at the site of the long-abandoned Thrifty block along Congress Street; the remodeling of the Rialto Theatre; the ongoing reconstruction of the Fox Theatre, which is scheduled to open on New Year’s Eve; and the proposed Science Center.
Trasoff says progress has been too slow and the city should have funded reconstruction of the Convento, one of the Tucson’s earliest settlements, on the west side of the Santa Cruz River.
Ronstadt says the council hasn’t done that because it didn’t make sense to put in a park before a master plan for the entire area was fleshed out.
Trasoff squashed Democratic primary opponent Steve Farley by a nearly 2-1 margin in the September Ward 6 primary. As of Oct. 3, she had raised $42,452 and received the same amount in matching funds from city taxpayers. She still had $46,603 going into the last month of the campaign, according to reports filed last week with the city.
Ronstadt, who declined to dip into the city’s matching-funds program, had raised $75,330, with $19,402 coming between Aug. 25 and Oct. 3. He had $49,883 entering the final month of the campaign.
Trasoff calls Ronstadt’s decision to not use public funding another example of how he has sold out to special interests.
Ronstadt says he decided to not participate because the money comes from the city’s general fund. He says if the campaign funds came from some other kind of revenue source, he’d probably use the program.
“It’s wrong to take tax dollars to run a personal campaign,” Ronstadt says. “It is absolutely wrong.”
Photo courtesy of Western Sky Communications – visit them for your all your graphic design and photo needs.
It has been confirmed that Sean McCluskey is in the race for the Ward 5 seat being vacated by Steve Leal. McCluskey is a political rookie that’s fed up with the way Tucson is being run. He will challenge Judith Gomez in the ward primary. The winner will face Fimbres in a city wide election.
So here’s the run down so far:
Incumbent – None
Democratic Candidate – Richard Fimbres
Republican Candidates – Judith Gomez and Sean McCluskey (winner of primary moves on to general)
Democrat Incumbent – Karin Uhlich
Republican Candidate – Ben Buehler Garcia
Democrat Incumbent – Nina Trasoff
Republican Candidate – Steve Kozachick
It should be a long, hot summer!
Breaking News – City Manager Mike Hein lost a vote of confidence with the Tucson City Council. The motion was made by Uhlich, seconded by Scott and ratified by Romero and Leal. Trasoff pushed hard to keep the City Manager during the discussion phase but ultimately the votes weren’t there.
What about Rio Nuevo……
Despite the council’s criticism of Hein’s handling of Rio Nuevo, state Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, said the city’s problems with the Legislature will only grow worse if Hein is fired. He said he’s heard from numerous people in Tucson and Phoenix that Hein’s neck is on the chopping block.
Paton, who wants to reform Rio Nuevo rather than kill it, said that job will quickly become impossible if Hein is fired.
While he said he didn’t agree with everything Hein has done, Paton added, “The credibility of Rio was done with his word and his handshake in 2006″ when the Legislature voted to extend Rio Nuevo.
“All bets are off if they get rid of him,” he said.
The city manger is on pins and needles and more worried about self preservation than leading the ship. His cover your A#$s! approach to this years budget has brought the city to a stand still. Hein won’t release a budget until the council gives direction and the council isn’t knowledgeable enough or doesn’t have the guts to propose the needed cuts. It’s an election year for two power hungry incumbents so watch the sparks fly over the next couple weeks.
Do you think there’s a pattern developing in Tucson local government?
From Walter C – AZ Star.
The City budget is full of emotional, nice-to-do things that could be cut to balance the budget quickly without layoffs. But with the leftist, politically correct bunch on council, don’t look for any logical solutions. Mike Hein’s only goals in this are to keep his job, while crippling the City government to prepare it for a takeover by Chuckelberry and the County goons. Nobody in this game is looking for anything more than advancing their personal goals and agendas (including reelection).
Little action on proposalsThe council and Hein have done an intricate dance with the budget over the past year.Hein urged changes the council either rejected or took no action on — or, in a few cases, implemented.While rejecting Hein’s proposals, council members offered few alternatives, and haven’t passed any of their own ideas.Last June, council members complained Hein was over-stepping his authority and they needed to be more involved. But at an October budget-strategy session, in the face of an increasing deficit, they demurred and told Hein to figure out where to make cuts.In most cases, the council and Hein have backed away from dramatic action.A timelineJanuary 2008:Hein created a list of outside-agency funding he believed could be cut. Mayor Bob Walkup stressed belt- tightening in his State of the City speech.February 2008:Hein announced a hiring freeze, travel restrictions and deferring maintenance and acquisitions to help bridge what was then a $12 million shortfall for the budget year, which ended June 30.March/April 2008:Hein suspended the city’s sustainability plan of pre-programmed spending increases for road paving, police officers and firefighters, and parks.June 2008:The council approved this year’s budget, but slammed Hein over a proposal to increase bus fares to raise $1 million. The council soon moved to fire Hein, but then he was retained unanimously weeks later.August 2008: The city announced it needed to use $12 million to balance the previous year’s budget, lowering the city’s reserves from $44 million to under $32 million.September 2008:Hein proposed combining Community and Neighborhood services departments to save $380,000. The council agreed.October 2008:Plunging sales-tax receipts prompted the city’s budget deficit to explode to $51 million. The city said for the first time it might cut or suspend services. The council voted to cut funding for outside agencies by 10 percent, but told Hein to come back in December with a plan for more cuts.November 2008: The city began to quietly cut swimming pools and recreation centers, the TICET shuttle, graffiti abatement, and the Community Food Bank. It laid off some part-time and seasonal workers.December 2008: Hein announced another $31 million in cuts were needed. The council signed off on cutting police and fire academies, some Sun Tran bus service, and Parks and Recreation classes.January 2009: The council said it preferred raising fees and taxes or spending down the city’s rainy-day fund to making massive budget cuts.February 2009: Hein unveiled budget cuts and potential tax increases for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.Cuts included taking $4 million from outside agencies, saving $2 million by combining the Planning and Development Services departments, cutting $4 million in transit, and hitting employees with furloughs, higher benefit contributions and no more sick-leave buybacks to save a total of $10 million.He also offered a menu of tax increases, from which he hoped the council would implement $5 million worth.The council agreed it would back most of Hein’s proposed cuts at that time, but, on Tuesday, council members said they need to think about it further.Still scrapping Despite earlier statements they would back many of Hein’s cuts, council members criticized Hein over his budget again last week.Councilwoman Regina Romero demanded more public hearings on the budget, including longer ones to allow more people to speak.Uhlich was much harsher, saying the council needs to vote on many of Hein’s proposals, rather than continuing to let them linger in the public mind until they become de facto cuts with no council input.For example, the merger of the Planning and Development Services departments is already under way, and employees have been given layoff notices. The council has discussed the plan, but it has not taken action.In an interview, Uhlich said she has been “very aggressive to have the budget come in front of us. . . . Decisions have to be made sooner rather than later.”Councilman Rodney Glassman said in an interview that he has been talking for some time about his priorities of police, fire, parks and roads.But he said the council has not been able to come to any consensus, and he can’t make decisions alone.“The longer we wait, the more difficult our financial situation will be,” he said. “It takes four votes to align my priorities with the budget.”Hein said he welcomes policy direction because he doesn’t want to submit a budget to the council that is dead on arrival. But he told the council that submitting his own budget is “a duty under the (city) charter that I’m willing to fulfill.”He is scheduled to submit the budget on April 21.
The Star ran a story today about a series of emails that went back and forth between City Manager Mike Hein, Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, Mayor Walkup’s aid, Andrew Greenhill and former City Manager and current representative of the UofA Joel Valdez and two Rio Nuevo beaurocrats; Shelko and Barr.
The jist of the story is an attempt by all or most of the parties involved to spin the crazy spending going on with Rio Nuevo funding. It’s bad, smells of incompetency at best and cover up on the City’s side at worst.
Walkup denied knowing anything about e-mails his chief of staff wrote, although he received some of the e-mails in the chain.
The mayor said the point is the city has not agreed to foot more of the bill for the science center, adding the e-mails were “preliminary” and “just conversation.”
“I don’t know anything about e-mails,” Walkup said. “E-mails do float back and forth. … An e-mail is an e-mail.”
Anyone want to explain to me why the Star didn’t address the fact that elected officials, representatives of the mayor and our city manger used personal emails to communicate on such a sensitive subject?
If you answerd they were concerned that through the Freedom Of Information Act that all public emails systems are open to the public you would be correct. Hey guys, if your going to avoid the public don’t copy recipients that are using public email addresses.
Real bright folks. I sure hope someone has a tape recorder rolling somewhere.
Read em and weap or read em on the way out of office – HERE.
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