Posts Tagged ‘Steve Kozachik’
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
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.
In another apparent attempt to show the Legislature in Phoenix that there is some positive movement in Rio Nuevo, the Tucson City Council has voted to approve the development agreement presented by Garfield Traub. The Counsel has a history of taking precipitous steps which unnecessarily cost taxpayers money. The bond sale last year that took an extra $18 million in interest debt from citizens’ pocketbooks is a prime example. Now they have voted to guarantee a $240 million debt without a final guaranteed maximum price (GMP) or a funding model that will be in effect once that GMP has been determined. Fiscal prudence, especially while wrestling with a significant budget shortfall, would indicate the wisdom in deferring this decision until Garfield Traub was in a position to better identify the true cost of the project, identify a specific funding model and allow the City to assess whether gambling on the proposal with taxpayer guaranteed debt made sense.
In April 2007 the City Council received completed studies and endorsed a redevelopment plan as a new energy for a new place. Greg Shelko (downtown development director) described the committment. “The mayor and council have bought into building these buildings (the arena, hotel and TCC expansion). The issue now is not revisiting the projects, but how to finance them.” (May 2008)
That plan involved a process that included prestigious consultants, local business input and neighborhood involvement. It clearly laid out a concrete vision and method to achieve the “Big Three” – hotel, arena and convention center. Years (and millions of taxpayer dollars) later that plan has been pushed aside in favor of a new idea. No new energy and no new place.
What makes this vote even more curious is that it is taken while there is a “shovel ready” project sitting, ready to go, that would put the taxpayers at no financial risk. That is the remodeling of the Hotel Arizona. It is anticipated that that project would be profitable to the City nearly immediately, would not force the City to guarantee long term debt on behalf of the taxpayers, would provide remodeled rooms under a major hotel name brand at approximately 1/2 the room rate the Garfield Traub project is requiring, and would have those rooms remodeled in time for next spring’s Gem & Mineral show.
The Garfield Traub proposal admits to the need for “additional revenues” in order to make their own projected debt service (the comfort of a 1 1/2x debt service level of support). Those additional revenues will come from a 6% transient tax and a 2% surcharge on guests at the Sheraton. That money would otherwise be available to the City to fund core priorities such as public safety, road maintenance and transit needs. In a time of tight fiscal constraints, giving away general fund money on a real estate deal that is based on uncertain final costs is unsound financial management. This proposal may make sense in the future but with current market conditions it is doomed to failure.
Unlike the plan presented three years ago, the Council is now relying on quick, one-shot successes. To revitalize downtown the leadership of Tucson needs the entire downtown region needs to be viewed in a holistic plan going forward. We sit atop ancient water and sewer lines. We have no plan upon which to base the eventual capacity requirements. We have no plan upon which to determine where and to what extent we will need power, telephone service, fiber optic, water, sewer – where will there exist aesthetic water elements that will call upon more capacity, where will we build the wide, well-lit walkways with drought resistant foliage to provide shade and to support artisans, and families who will visit such a well thought out entertainment district? Will we install the modern street car tracks on top of our present infrastructure and later be required to tear out those tracks in order to upgrade the systems now in place?
If presented with such an holistic plan, the Legislature in Phoenix would see that the City is finally moving forward with a plan, phased appropriately, has taken the mid-stream step of remodeling a moderately sized hotel to anchor further business development in the downtown area, and on that basis provide sales tax revenue to fund the cultural elements of Rio Nuevo going forward.
It is not too late to rebuild downtown Tucson. Now more than ever Tucson needs Leadership. The Council vote to embrace a risky, poorly-financed hotel deal is a step in the wrong direction.
Steve Kozachik, Ward 6 City Council candidate.
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