The city should publish a step-by-step guide for sweeping problems under the rug. It's just become so good at it.
That was my first thought after reading the city's report on the Paul Cunningham drunken-sex-talk story. As we all know, Cunningham, a Tucson city councilman, made the most of a recent economic-development junket to San Diego. He drank so much, he said he couldn't even remember his sexually offensive comments. He did, though, apologize after the trip.
Anyway, this column isn't about Cunningham because that story is over. It ended when the city released its report on the afternoon of July 3.
You know, right before the holiday.
Convenient timing. The report never outlined what Cunningham said to the three city employees. It didn't even name the three women on the receiving end of Cunningham's comments: Assistant City Manager Kelly Gottschalk; Debra Chandler, the city's new economic development manager; and Maricela Solis, who works out of the mayor's office as a business advocate.
In the end, it concluded, among other things, that "sexual harassment training be conducted for all council offices." As if some of our council members need training in how to do that. :-)
The city has been no stranger to scandal and controversy over the years. Cunningham and Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities just happen to be the latest sideshow. But let's not forget the missing money at ParkWise, the city's parking system; or Gadsden's stalled development on the west side (they want to change their deal again); or the street workers under investigation for using city equipment for personal gain; or the sudden "retirement" of former real estate director Lou Ginsberg amid allegations he was working outside jobs on the city clock.
Or Rio Nuevo, which looms over everything.
With all the practice it's had lately, you'd think the city would have a step-by-step guide for sweeping scandals under the rug. If so, it might read something like this:
Step 1: Act like it never happened.
This was particularly effective with Ginsberg. City officials were more than happy to quietly let Ginsberg "retire" amid allegations he was charging taxpayers for unworked hours while doing outside jobs. The allegation was made in January 2011, and Ginsberg "retired" a few weeks later. But the city only talked about it in March, well after Ginsberg left, when the story broke in the Star.
Likewise, it took two weeks for Cunningham's behavior on the TREO junket to surface. One has to wonder if everyone wishes what happened in San Diego had stayed in San Diego.
Step 2: Feign ignorance.
Amazingly, after news broke about Cunningham's boorish behavior, no one on the trip could describe what he did or said that was so offensive. And yet, the report notes 15 witnesses were interviewed. When in doubt, say you don't know.
Step 3: Express outrage.
If the story has legs, and the public is outraged, then officials should also express their outrage. For example, after months of mismanagement of the city's parking system was reported, then-City Manager Mike Letcher said this: "People have a right to be outraged. I am outraged."
And yet the city didn't bother to send its ParkWise audits to the Arizona Attorney General's Office until after they were provided to the media through a records request.
Step 4: Order an investigation.
To show the public something is being done, an investigation should be ordered. This implies some kind of action, which will hopefully tamp down community outrage. It also buys time and provides a convenient cover because officials can simply cite the investigation as a reason to not comment. For example, here's what Cunningham said when he was under the microscope: "I fully support the city attorney's inquiry into this incident. I will reserve further comment until the conclusion of the investigation."
It's the best of both worlds - accountability without accountability.
Step 5: Wait.
Investigations take time. Sometimes they take a lot of time. Eventually, people lose interest. Just wait it out.
Step 6: Release the findings on a Friday afternoon or, even better, right before a holiday.
Choose a convenient date to release findings. TREO chose to make its public presentation about the San Diego junket on the same day as the special election for Congressional District 8.
By releasing the Cunningham report the afternoon of July 3, the city kept the story squarely between the bratwurst and the mustard.
Step 7: Move on.
Why are we still talking about this?
Contact Brodesky at 573-4242 or firstname.lastname@example.org