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).