by Jim Nintzel
Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik is challenging assertions made by Tucson Metro Chamber President and CEO Mike Varney in a recent commentary regarding Grand Canyon University and the City Council. First up, Varney's piece:
The Tucson City Council has failed its residents again.
Leaders of the private Grand Canyon University (GCU) recently expressed interest in possibly opening a campus in Southern Arizona. Sites in Tucson and in Oro Valley were the locations thought to be under consideration.
Citizens and business executives should applaud GCU's interest in our region and should roll out the welcome mat. This project brings with it an estimated 1,000 well-paying jobs averaging $60,000 per year. New construction of a university campus would enhance the look and feel of the neighborhood in which it is situated. An estimated $500 million economic impact to the community over five years could contribute significantly to the local tax base. And we all know we need a more competitive workforce. What better way to acquire that workforce than to grow it in our back yard?
The GCU site under consideration in Tucson was (up until Tuesday, May 28) the El Rio Golf Course, an under-utilized public recreation facility responsible for more than $4 million in City of Tucson operating debt in the last five years.
Common sense dictates that exchanging a loser for a sure-fire winner is a no-brainer. But common sense and the courage to do the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens in the community are sorely lacking in City Council chambers.
Small groups of single-agenda extremists rose up and succeeded in depriving Tucson of another golden economic development opportunity. Neighborhood residents want a park. Members of the GLBT community take issue with the Baptist-based philosophies of GCU. Instead of having the courage to plow through the noise, the Tucson City Council appears to have caved in. Perfect is again the enemy of good. The citizens of Tucson will pay the price both in money, continuing community decay and lost opportunity.
Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that the El Rio site was even under consideration in the first place. According to some on the Council, negotiations are under way with other parties for the property. If those negotiations haven't yet resulted in a signed deal, then all options should have been on the table, including GCU. If a deal has been struck with other parties, why was El Rio offered as a site?
An even bigger question is, "Why are members of the City Council, supposedly the policy making body of City of Tucson government, even involved with duties normally the purview of the city manager?"
A City Council that sticks its fingers in day-to-day operations is not a true City Council. They are a drag on City operations and an obstacle to growing our local economy.
It's interesting to note that City Council members I frequently visit with all tell me how committed they are to economic development. Those are their words. Their deeds are very different:
• Opposition to Grand Canyon University, its 1,000 jobs and millions in economic impact for Tucson.
• Indifference or opposition to support for the 162nd Air National Guard's acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to preserve its mission and $160 million+ in local economic impact.
• Ambivalence to a $25 million private sector gift to bring CAP water to the southern reaches of our local aquifer through Project Renews.
• Opposition to the Rosemont Copper project, its 2,000+ direct and indirect jobs and its millions in tax revenues even though the Council has no dog in the regulatory fight.
The City Council has earned an "F" on the Grand Canyon University matter.
They have proven yet again that they are not serious about doing what is necessary to welcome business opportunity, put our citizens back to work and increase our tax base through economic expansion.
Could it be that the City Council is too comfortable with the poverty that surrounds them?
Here's Kozachik's response:
Last week, the CEO of the Metro Chamber, Mike Varney, issued an attack on the Tucson Mayor and City Council in which he did his best to drive private sector interest in coming to Tucson out of the valley. “Fair and balanced” it wasn’t.
Varney suggested that the Mayor and Council lacked “common sense and courage” because we did not sell Grand Canyon University the current El Rio Golf Course site. But the City is under contract with the Conquistadors to operate the First Tee program on El Rio. The Conquistadors have millions of dollars invested at the site, and reach over 1,400 kids at their center.
In addition, seven high-profile firms are in the process of offering financial plans to operate our Golf Enterprise. We owe them the courtesy of analyzing their business plans. We owe that to the taxpayers, as well. Surely Mr. Varney would cry foul if any of his business clients had the City violate an existing, performing contract, or stop an RFP process mid-stream after firms had expended time, effort and money to respond. Most would call that that bad faith.
Continue negotiations with GCU, but not for that site.
Varney was also critical of the governing body for ‘indifference’ to the F-35 Fighter. But the Pentagon's top weapons buyer Ashton Carter has said that the F-35’s unit price was “not affordable.” And Michael Sullivan, Director of Acquisition Analysis at the Government Accountability Office, has said the first four procurement contracts were more than $1 billion over budget combined, and the planned purchase of 2,457 aircraft over the next few decades is expected to cost nearly $400 billion. That doesn’t include long-term operating expenses.
I fully support fiscally responsible missions such as the Air Operations Center for which we successfully advocated in competition with Tyndall AFB last year. I also fully support the A-10 mission that exists at Davis Monthan. But the Feds themselves are conflicted on the F-35. Certainly there are affordable missions we can encourage to keep DM viable without overspending at the levels being projected.
Varney was critical of our not overtly supporting a CAP project funded by Augusta Resources. What the Mayor and Council did was discuss a set of objective criteria by which all interested parties can come forward and apply for access to CAP water at the Pima Mine recharge facility. Our job is to preserve this critical commodity, and manage the health of the aquifer. When projects are ready for prime time, bring them forward and let them compete.
And finally, Varney was critical that the Mayor and Council are not overtly supportive of the Rosemont mine. Mr. Varney knows that I am recused from taking public positions on the mine due to its financial relationship with my employer.
With respect to the rest of the Council and Rosemont, Varney states “the Council has no dog in the regulatory fight.” Then why be critical of them for staying out of it?
Former City Councils have mismanaged taxpayer funds; aka, Rio Nuevo. They deserved the criticism they have received. I was public in that criticism, both when Rio was an arm of the City, and while it was an arm of the State. That was then, this is now. Let’s do come cheerleading for what’s going on locally. Step outside the door of the office of the Metro Chamber, Mr. Varney and look at what’s happening within one mile of the building. Right now over $60 million in private sector projects are being built, revitalizing the downtown core. In the past three years, that figure tops $200 million.
Some of us have been working hard, focusing on projects the private sector can afford, and that lending institutions will fund. We’re turning an important development corner. What we don’t need now is for the head of an agency whose mission is to support business development tossing around unhelpful rhetoric. There’s too much positive momentum to continue with a negative focus. It’s by all of us pulling the rope in the same direction that we’ll continue to grow our economy. The glass is half full. Let’s keep filling it, together.