Saturday, June 26, 2010

SALC: Show us the money

Due to their latest proposal to alter the Tucson City Charter, I have written several articles about the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC) recently (1, 2, 3, 4).

Consequently, I have become a student of SALC's website and related media coverage of SALC.

From a public relations standpoint, SALC's website is gorgeous-- very professional with well-executed corporate photography, a warm-and-fuzzy mission statement, and links to their initiatives. Unfortunately, it is sorely out date and lacks real content, current news, and details regarding where their money comes from and how it is spent.

For a group that has sooooooo much corporate money behind it, one item that is strangely absent from their website is their balance sheet. The only mention of funding is on the FAQ page...

Where does SALC get its money?
SALC is funded solely through membership dues. Additional contributions from members and others help to finance projects undertaken by the group.

The 2008 "annual report" is the most recent one on their website, and it is just a PR piece-- not really an annual report, which would include an audited financial statement. There are no dollar signs in that document. And, besides, where is the 2009 annual report? 2010 is half over!

Um, guys, how do you spell "efficiency and transparency"? SALC has been using the let's-bring-efficiency-to-government-because-business-knows-best mantra to support their push for changes to the TucsonCity Charter. Ironically, until just a few days ago, their website listed 2008 accomplishments under their "Recent Successes" tab, which has now been fixed. The most recent news item on their website is dated November 12, 2009.

I don't often quote Jesus, but "let he who is without sin [read inefficiency] cast the first stone."

I, for one, would like to see how much money SALC brings in, where it comes from, and how their funds are distributed across their different initiatives. For such a high-profile group, their website should provide more real information about their initiatives.

For example, their Tucson Values Teachers initiative sounds highly worthwhile on the surface. One of their goals is "to attract, retain and support the very best teachers for Tucson’s children." I am all for that. I followed the link (with the help of Google, since the link on SALC's page was broken) to the Tucson Values Teachers (TVT) website.

Under the "Business" tab, TVT gives suggestions on how business can get involved in improving education. Cool. Below is the list. (I added the numbers; otherwise the text is verbatim from TVT.)


1. The next time you're at the grocery store, buy an extra notebook, a pack of pencils or a box of crayons for a classroom.

2. Instead of another mug, give a teacher a gift card to an office supply store.

3. Help out on a class field trip.

4. Help elect legislative leaders that support a robust educational system.

5. Join the fight to secure higher pay for K-12 teachers.

6. Read to a child after school.

7. Donate to TVT at

8. Give a teacher a summer job.

9. Offer underpaid teachers a discount on services or products at your business.

10. Invite a TVT representative to speak at your association's next meeting.

11. Stay in the loop - sign up for our e-mail list at

12. Volunteer to be part of the TVT Speaker's Bureau and spread the word on how we can better value our K-12 teachers.

13. Tell a teacher how much you appreciate what they do.

Don't get me wrong, these are all great suggestions, but let's consider the source. SALC membership includes some of the richest people in Southern Arizona, and their suggestions on how businesses can help schools include ideas like buying an extra notebook, a pack of pencils or a box of crayons for a classroom or giving a gift card to a teacher. Give me a break. These guys have the money to build a frickin' school, and they are suggesting that businesses buy a notebook?! Most of these suggestions are the ones that desperate school teachers give to parents and grandparents-- not to corporate giants. (Come on, open up those coin purses.)

Considering that their membership includes starve-the-beast Republicans like Bruce Ash, Jim Click, and John Munger, I was shocked to see #4 Help elect legislative leaders that support a robust educational system and #5 Join the fight to secure higher pay for K-12 teachers on their list of suggestions on how business can improve education.

Where was SALC when the Republican governor and legislature decimated K-12 and university budgets and forced the lay-off of hundreds of teachers? Where were they when adult education was eliminated? Oddly silent, I believe. SALC says they want to improve our region's economic climate. Arizona will continue to slide into the abyss as long as we underfund and undervalue education.

On the TVT page, I also was surprised to see this group of weathly corporatists (who keep their organization's financing and expenditures secret) ask for donations (#7).

Donations for what?

Where does the money go?

October 2010 Update: If you want to see one way the big business members of SALC spend their money, check out the SALC-backed Prop 401 campaign finance reports.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Man-up, Rodney!

US Senate Democratic hopefuls, John Dougherty, Randy Parraz, and Cathy Eden, have agreed to a series of debates in Phoenix, Yuma, and Tucson, but the fourth contender, Rodney Glassman, has not confirmed that he will participate, according to the Tucson Sentinel.

Let me preface the following comments by saying that I personally like Glassman. He is an intelligent, personable guy, but it's time for him to man-up and debate the other Democrats.

As a Tucson City Council member, the affable Glassman often tried to play both sides of many issues, in my opinion. Some of this issue-dodging was apparent at a recent Drinking Liberally appearance, according to this detailed account in the Tucson Citizen.

As a candidate for US Senate, this strategy won't work. To be taken seriously, Glassman has to clearly delineate his positions on the many serious issues facing our state.

Initially, as an elder statesman, John McCain was avoiding debating his challenger JD Hayworth, but on Friday McCain announced that he will participate in Republican debates before the primary election.

On the Democratic side, the four candidates are on a par with each other in terms of name recognition; no one can claim the elder-statesman-above-the-rabble position. Debating will help them distinguish themselves from each other. Let the games begin.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is the Tucson City Council about to be 'swift-boated'?

Will the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC) be successful in changing our city, our City Council, and life as we know it in the bluest part of Arizona? It could happen...

Absurd, you say? How could this small group of right-wing corporatists accomplish such a feat? By proposing City Charter changes that will weaken elected government in Tucson and further distance it from the voters.

SALC is a special interest group comprised of regional-to-multi-national corporatists who operate in Southern Arizona (eg, Tucson Electric Power, Diamond Enterprises, Jim Click, Raytheon, you get the picture). They are trying to control and restructure local government by changing the City Charter. In 2009, this same tactic was used by proponents of the failed Prop 200 initiative, which was resoundingly defeated by voters, despite overwhelming financial support by donors, including at least one SALC member.

Currently, SALC is lobbying the Tucson City Council to put a package of four changes to the City Charter on the November 2010 ballot. Their rationale is that these charter changes will bring "efficiency" to city government. (In reality, the changes will make it easier for special interest groups like SALC to influence governmental decision-making. Under the proposed new system the only person they would have to schmooze is the City Manager because the City Council members and the neighborhoods they represent would become weaker.)

What is most dangerous about these proposed changes is not the esoteric strong City Manager or strong Mayor debate, but the WIIFMs SALC has added to the package to entice the City Council's support.

City Council members are paid a measly $24,000 per year for what is supposed to be a part-time job. Included in the SALC package is a proposal to make the Mayor and Council positions full-time and to increase their renumeration significantly and bring it in line with that of the Pima County Supervisors. Two cost-neutral proposals have been floated to pay for this very attractive WIIFM: 1) each City Council member should eliminate a staff person to pay for the raise or 2) the city should eliminate off-year elections for part of the City Council. (In other words, voters would elect the entire council in the same election year.)

Let me say that I totally agree the Mayor and Council positions should be full-time, and the poor souls who volunteer to do these high-stress, thankless jobs should be paid better. BUT this is the wrong way to go about this pay increase and, more importantly, the wrong time for the City Council to be enabling a raises for themselves.

In the past year, severe budget shortfalls have forced the City Council to dramatically reduce funding for most city programs, people have been laid-off, and many workers have been forced to take unpaid furlough days.

I can hear the 2012 commercials now... [voice over] When the City of Tucson was in the depths of historic budget deficits and city workers were being laid-off, what did the Democratically-controlled City Council do? They increased their positions to full-time and gave themselves a raise! (You're right. This fantasy commercial text is not exactly true, but two years from now only the true political wonks will remember how this all came down.)

Here comes the really scary part. Since the current charter change proposal includes the provision for eliminating off-year elections, the entire City Council will be up for re-election in 2012. The five neighborhood-friendly, arts-friendly, progressive Democrats on the City Council could be swift-boated right out of office by the Republican propaganda machine.

This past Tuesday, the Tucson Mayor and Council voted to postpone the vote on whether or not the SALC-initiated charter changes should be on the November ballot to the last possible day for a decision-- July 7.

In the meantime, there will be Ward-wide public hearings on this proposal. I urge you strongly to attend the meeting in your Ward and/or to call or e-mail your City Council member and tell them to deep-six SALC's charter changes.

In the future, if SALC wants changes to the City Charter (and they probably will), they should collect signatures like everyone else-- instead of asking the City Council to do the heavy lifting (and take the heat later).

City to hold public hearings on charter changes

Tucson's City Council Chambers were filled with businessmen in suits and activists in blue jeans, as business leaders and neighborhood leaders squared off on the topic of changes to Tucson's charter.

For more than a year, corporatists represented by the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC) have been promoting changes to Tucson's Charter as a strategy to manipulate local government and circumvent elected officials. (This is the same group that got the failed Prop 200 charter change initiative on the ballot in the fall of 2009.)

This year, SALC is pushing the Tucson City Council to place a set of four proposed charter changes on the ballot. These changes would:

• Give the city manager greater hire-and-fire authority over some top city department heads and remove the City Council checks-and-balances authority.

• Increase the number of wards by two.

• Give the Mayor (who currently is just a figure head) more voting power.

• Change the Mayor and Council positions from part-time to full-time and increase their pay to put it in line with that of the Pima County Supervisors.

Businessmen representing SALC claim that these changes will make the city more efficient because it will strengthen the City Manager's position (and weaken the City Council, although they are not specifically saying that.)

Changing Tucson's of government to a strong City Manager system will further distance local government from the voters. In addition, consolidating power under the unelected City Manager could lead to cronyism.

This has grass roots activists and neighborhood associations up in arms. Former City Council member Steve Leal, several neighborhood association presidents, and other Tucson residents spoke against the charter changes. Former state legislator Tom Prezelski said that SALC members thought of themselves as "colonial overlords," since this relatively small special interest group is trying to bend policy in their favor, while usurping power of the voters and their elected officials.

Some charter-change opponents went further to call for a strong mayor system. A strong mayor system would give voters the power to hold elected officials accountable. With our current form of distributed governance, the City Manager, the City Council, and, to a lesser extent, the Mayor all hold some power. At the local level, there is no one elected official who is singularly accountable to the voters-- no one who has the authority to say, as former President Harry Truman did, "The buck stops here."

After dozens of mini-speeches during yesterday's study session and during the City Council meeting, the Mayor and Council voted unanimously to hold ward-wide public meetings on the charter changes and to delay the vote on whether or not to put the changes on the ballot until July 7, 2010.

Stay tuned for meeting announcements. As always, if you have an opinion on this, don't hesitate to call or e-mail your City Council member. If you want to watch Mayor and Council proceedings, check out Tucson Channel 12.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

We're #5 but it's nothing to cheer about

All too often we Arizonans hear that our state is competing for the bottom in many nationwide statistics--particularly in public health and education. For example, Arizona was already ranked #50 in per student educational funding before the latest round of budget cuts in 2010.

This week Georgetown University released a report that ranked Arizona #5 in at least one national statistic-- the percentage of jobs available to people without a high school diploma. According to the report, 14 percent of Arizona's future jobs will not require a high school diploma. According to Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018, only 61 percent of Arizona's workforce will require a post-secondary education.

This statistic is disappointing but not surprising. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 70.7 percent of Arizona's high school freshmen will graduate from high school. This year, Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer and the Republican-controlled state Legislature eliminated the state's GED and adult education programs. These budget cuts eliminated educational lifelines for the state's high school dropouts and adult illiterates.

Is our state's Governor and Legislature-- in their infinite wisdom-- funding our educational system to the appropriate level given that we are a state of maids, busboys, wait staff, and construction workers? On some level, it's convenient to have a high dropout rate and a large number of low-skill jobs.Not that there is anything wrong with those jobs except that you can't make a living on such low wages.

Or, has our state's paltry education funding facilitated our de-evolution and the creation of a low-wage, low-literacy, right-to-work state? Low-wage, low-skill jobs and a poor public education system go hand-in-hand with an uneducated workforce (and a gullible electorate who can be manipulated to vote against their own interests).
Continuing to cut public education won't help Arizona solve it's current economic crisis-- not to mention the long-term harm it will cause to future generations of Arizonans.

US Department of Labor statistics show that education pays. Not only do people with college degrees or advanced degrees earn more money, but they also have significantly lower unemployment rates.

Poor decisions by Arizona's Republican leadership have hurt our economy, crippled our educational system, and now (with the passage of SB1070) destroyed the state's image as an engaging place to visit and a quality place to live and do business.

Referring to the Georgetown study and the state Legislature's decisions, an editorial in today's Arizona Daily Star today stated that "Arizona is on a crash course toward poverty and economic stagnation..." I couldn't agree more.

But where do we go from here?

I urge our more moderate elected officials-- regardless of party affiliation-- to look at budget-balancing alternatives that will help our state grow and prosper. The plans detailed on the Stronger Arizona website were repeatedly suggested to the Republican-controlled leadership but never given consideration in 2010.

I urge moderate voters to band together to oust extremist (and dare I add racist?) ideologues from our state government in the November elections. Many districts are not competitive, thanks to gerrymandering, but Legislative Districts 26 and 30 -- both on the outskirts of Tucson-- are.

Let's take back our state. Extremists have been in control too long.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Progressive bloggers fill local news void

As Tucson's traditional daily newspapers slide into oblivion, citizen journalism is flourishing and becoming more influential.

Just 10 short years ago, if you wanted your story in the news, you had to court reporters from the Arizona Daily Star, the Tucson Citizen, and the three local network television affiliates. News directors, editors, and reporters all had some level of control over what stories were distributed to the public, how the stories were told, and which outlets covered what types of stories. In addition, since these traditional journalists generally had some college training in the profession, the public was guaranteed a level of quality and accuracy, which is not always seen today. (Thanks in part to Faux News.)

The Internet and blogging have blown the doors off of the journalism profession.

Yes, the accuracy of Internet "journalism" is often sketchy.

Yes, journalists, who have been traditionally under-paid, are now often unpaid.

And, yes, unfortunately, this projected lack of income is discouraging young writers from seeking journalism degrees.

But, citizen journalists are not beholden to corporate media giants, and independent journalism is as important to our democracy as it has ever been. Blogging combined with social media and the lack of corporate restraint have given us lightening-speed, worldwide distribution of ideas and news that would have languished in obscurity just a few years ago.

As hardcore news disappears from network and cable "news" shows and newspapers die a slow death nationwide, citizen journalists have stepped in to fill the communication void. In some ways, the rise of citizen journalism has taken us back to the days of Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, when pamphleteers distributed political commentary and ideas directly to the people.

In Tucson, we are fortunate to have a strong group of progressive citizen journalists who regularly provide news and ideas that will never be distributed through the corporate media. Here are a few...

Blog for Arizona by Mike Brian, Dave Safier, and the AZ Blue Meanie

Poco Bravo by Luke Knipe

The Tucson Citizen and the Tucson Sentinel-- two blogging collectives that grew out of the demise of the Tucson Citizen print newspaper.

The prolific Hugh A. Holub, who has several blogs, including:
- The View from Baja Arizona
- Tucson Independent Examiner
- Down by the Border.

And, of course, moi. I also write under several blog titles:
- Tucson Progressive Examiner
- Tucson Baby Boomer Examiner
- Tucson Sustainable Living Examiner
- Muse Views.

Granted, finding the news is more complicated than sitting down with a cup of coffee and the print daily, but the possibilities are endless-- and just a click away.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Should the most powerful person in Tucson government be an unelected bureaucrat?

While most Tucsonans are busily bracing themselves for another summer or making plans to escape the heat, local corporatists are making plans to change local government-- in a big way.

The Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC) has been working on a set of Tucson city charter changes that would make the City Manager's position much stronger. SALC's current proposal includes four changes to the city charter:

• Give the city manager greater hire-and-fire authority over some top city department heads and remove the City Council checks-and-balances authority.

• Increase the number of wards by two.

• Give the Mayor (who currently is just a figure head) more voting power.

• Change the Mayor and Council positions from part-time to full-time.

On the surface, these changes may seem innocuous, but they're not. Do we really want the most powerful person in our local government to be an unelected bureaucrat? Tucson has had a City Manager form of government for decades, and it's not working.

Tucson is faced with many challenges -- and opportunities. We need a strong elected visionary Mayor to lead us, not a strong bureaucrat who tosses out random ideas and lets the City Council take the political hits when the ideas prove unpopular.

Tuesday, June 15, the Tucson City Council will hold a study session to discuss these charter changes and other topics. The following Tuesday, June 22, the City Council is scheduled to vote on whether these charter changes should be added to the November ballot.

Call or e-mail your City Council member to voice your opinion on these proposed Charter Changes. The phone number for the Mayor and Council comment line is 791-4700.

Don't let business and development further tighten their control over our local government. If SALC wants to put their ideas on the ballot, they should collect voter signatures-- rather than just slipping it under the Council's door and encouraging their action.

Making the City Manager more powerful is not the answer to Tucson's challenges. Adopting a strong Mayor form of government is. Electing the most powerful person in the city assures that he/she will be accountable to the voters.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tucson lacks "the vision thing" but proposed charter changes won't remedy the problem

In the 29 years I have lived in Tucson, I have seen the city's fortunes ebb and flow like the ocean tides. No where has this cycle of growth and decay been more evident than in downtown Tucson. Over the years, many businesses and revitalization initiatives have come and gone regardless of how successful or popular they were.

A case in point: long before Rio Nuevo and Second Saturdays, there were the Tucson Arts District Partnership (TADPI) and Downtown Saturday Nights.

Both Rio Nuevo and TADPI were charged with breathing new life into downtown. TADPI focused primarily on downtown revitalization by showcasing Tucson artists, hosting downtown arts and music events (like Downtown Saturday Nights), and beautifying downtown with mural projects and pop-up galleries in vacant buildings.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a viable strip of shops and galleries along the east end of Congress Street-- Yikes Toys, Picante, Berta Wright Gallery, Pink Adobe Gallery, and others. Downtown Saturday Night attendees visited these shops and perused the wares exhibited by street vendors. One by one these business folded or moved.

Downtown Saturday nights and the other TADPI projects were wildly popular but were mysteriously discontinued in the 1990s.

Rio Nuevo was created in 1999 when voters approved a special tax increment district and began accumulating sufficient funding to support projects in 2004, according to the city's website. Rio Nuevo has had far more money than TADPI ever did but also has had less focus and much more bad press (thanks to a vendetta by the Arizona Daily Star). Second Saturdays is a downtown business initiative-- and not a Rio Nuevo project-- but projects occurring simultaneously downtown and tend to be lumped together in the minds of citizens.

By 2008, this same strip of shops on Congress Street (which had been vacant for years) had been reborn and housed four galleries, a coffee shop, a hair salon, and a trendy clothing resale shop, along with a few bars. Creative events (1, 2, 3, 4) drew hundreds of Tucsonans downtown to enjoy the art and check out the music and bar scene. To us supporters, downtown appeared to be experiencing a resurgence. By early 2010, seven of these businesses were closed or relocated by a developer to make way for a trendy sports bar, whose owner was glorified in a Daily Star puff piece this week.

While other cities are able to revitalize their downtowns (1, 2), Tucson's beleaguered city core suffers from the fits and starts. This leads long-time Tucsonans ask themselves: "Why does Tucson keep re-inventing the wheel? Why can't we get it right?"

Why? In my opinion, Tucson suffers from the lack of a visionary leader. Yes, we have had plenty of politicians, plans, proposals, and committees, but if you look behind the glossy PR of these initiatives, you'll usually find that they benefit special interests, and not the city as a whole.

Tucson's City Manager form of government is inherently flawed. Our Mayor is a powerless figurehead who signs proclamations and acts as a tie-breaker when City Council members can't agree.

With a City Manager form of government, there is no one elected official who takes responsibility and says, as Harry Truman did, "The buck stops here." Tucson has a City Manager, a Mayor, and six City Council members who run the government. It's no wonder that decision-making, at times, appears schizophrenic. This distributed governance allows some people to be scapegoated (like Nina Trasoff, who personally paid the political price for Rio Nuevo's perceived lack of progress), while Mayor Bob Walkup became our local Teflon Don and easily won re-election.

A leadership vacuum such as this affords the perfect opportunity for special interests to shape local government decisions. Enter the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC)--a group of local businesses-- and the Tucson Charter Coalition (TC3), a spin-off organization, who want to save the city by making basic structural changes in governance.

Currently, these groups are lobbying the Tucson City Council to put city charter changes on the November 2010 ballot.

Some of these proposed changes I agree with. For example, changing city elections to even years would align them with the larger presidential and Congressional elections, thus increasing voter turnout and saving money. Changing the City Council's and Mayor's positions to full time and aligning their salaries with the Pima County Supervisors' compensation would allow the city to attract more qualified candidates. Since these positions are now all part-time, much power is held by unelected staff members. (Eliminating off-year elections will provide funds for the change from part-time to full-time positions.)

What I vehemently disagree with are SALC's proposals that would give the City Manager, another unelected official, more control.

Bureaucrats already hold too much power and are not directly accountable to the voters. Tucson needs a strong visionary Mayor to lead us into the future-- not a strong bureaucrat who owes his power to local businesses.

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Should the US raise the age of retirement?

When President Franklin Roosevelt created the Social Security Administration as part of the New Deal, his goal was to create a safety net for poor elderly Americans. Retirement age was set at 65, when life expectancy was age 63. In other words, the benevolent federal government was willing to take care of the folks who made it that far-- realizing that most wouldn't.

At the onset of Social Security, there were 40 workers contributing to the Social Security fund for each retiree. Fast forward to 2010, when the US life expectancy is 77.7 years, there are now 3.1 workers for each retiree drawing benefits. As Baby Boomers continue to retire, the ratio of workers to retirees will become more lopsided.

Baby Boomer retirements also will contributed to a future labor shortage. Although the US is currently in a recession and unemployment is at 9.7 percent, by 2018 a US labor shortage has been projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to government figures, there will be 15.3 million new jobs in 2018. With work force participation among Baby Boomers decreasing, only 9.6 million of these jobs will be filled, reports the Wall Street Journal. Depending upon retirement rates and how many people hold multiple jobs, this could leave 3-5 million jobs vacant. Along with creation of new jobs, the US workforce will become much more diverse with a 33.1 percent increase in workers of Hispanic origin vs a 4 percent increase of workers of non-Hispanic origin. Rates of Asian and African American workers also will increase.

To solve the labor shortage and the Social Security's looming financial problems, some are calling for raising the full retirement age to 70 and tying it to life expectancy. (If this happens, there may be a mass exodus of Baby Boomers moving to Europe where the retirement age is 60! Time to brush up your foreign language skills.)

What's a country to do? Personally, I don't support raising the retirement age to 70. Yes, many people are physically capable of working at age 70, but will they have the skills for these newly created jobs? I see a skills disparity among workers now. As an employer, when I have a task that requires high level computer skills, I give it to my 20-something employee, not my 60-something employee because I know he can get it done more efficiently, and if he doesn't know how to do that particular task, he knows how to seek web-based resources to accomplish it.

Since the US will need young, capable, industrious workers in this decade, why is there such an outcry against the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for undocumented people currently living in the US?

Why is are there calls for checking papers at K-12 schools and denying education to children who live in the US?

Why? Because it is politically expedient.

In this era of partisan-fueled xenophobia, I believe that our country-- and particularly our state-- should take a pragmatic look to the future, discard the racist rhetoric, welcome people to this land of immigrants, and offer them an education. We're going to need them.

This article originally appeared in my Baby Boomer Examiner column. (In the photo above-- my parents.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Who needs swimming pools when it's only 108?

When I was growing up, summer didn't start on June 21; it started the day the city swimming pool opened. My small home town in Northern Ohio built a community swimming pool in the mid 1960s. I remember going to the dedication and seeing all of that cool blue water inviting my brother and I to learn to swim.

The Amherst pool was never free, but it was affordable. The City of Amherst sold (and still sells) individual and family memberships. Each year my Mom purchased season passes. That pool was open regular hours everyday, and my friends and I lived at that pool between Memorial Day and Labor Day. When you live in a tiny Cape Cod house with one box fan and no air conditioning, a swimming pool is an inviting place to be in the summer.

But we live in Tucson, Arizona, where the temperature gets to only 110 degrees, so we don't need community swimming pools... right? Guess again.
Many of Tucson's swimming pools--particularly those in poorer neighborhoods--will be closed this summer due to budget cuts. This is a short-sighted policy for many reasons.

First of all, the number one community strategy for disease prevention is to provide free (or affordable) places for individuals and families to exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Closing pools (on the city level) and parks (on the state level) may seem like a wise budget decision, but the unintended consequences could be great. Not to mention vandalism and people sneaking into pools and parks unsupervised, there are public health consequences. Childhood and adult obesity are on the rise in the US. Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to prevent or control diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. We save some money now with these closures, but we will pay out more in the future with higher chronic disease costs.

How much is the City of Tucson really saving by closing swimming pools? The city still has to maintain the pools, so why not have them open? Can the city sell memberships--like tiny Amherst, Ohio has been doing for 40 years? Can neighborhoods band together to save their local pool?

Barrio Anita resident Alexandra Queen, who lives across the street from the Oury Park pool, said that there are a lot of children in Barrio Anita and the Oury pool was "full of kids" last summer. This summer the inner city pool will be closed.
"I watched them clean the pool yesterday. It's beautiful. I'd take a life-saving class and volunteer as a life guard if they would keep that pool open," she added.
If there are few pools and parks to play in, what will the children do this summer? The rich ones have parents who can afford summer camp, health club memberships, and backyard pools. The docile ones will sit around the house, play video games, snack-- and gain weight. But there are others with no money for backyard pools, health club memberships, or video games who will act out with spray paint or drugs or petty crime. This will cost the city money in the long run.

Yes, I know the City of Tucson has budget problems. I am not suggesting that we keep the old system of cheap day passes and patchy hours, but has the city thought of alternative strategies to closing the pools-- like season passes, volunteers, or neighborhood-control of pools?

On Monday, it's supposed to be 108 degrees. It's criminal that the children of Barrio Anita have to stand outside the pool fence and look at that cool, blue water. What message is the city sending them?

This article originally appeared in my Progressive Examiner column.