Well, this certainly isn't what voters ever intended.
Hard to imagine the public ever saying yes to Rio Nuevo in 1999 had they known it would become the shared toy of Jonathan Paton, Jodi Bain and John Munger. The three are handling Rio Nuevo like kids handle Tonka trucks, smashing it into anything and everything they can. I'll take that sentence back if they grow up. Call it an olive branch.
Do Rio Nuevo Chairwoman Bain, Board Member Paton and former GOP chairman Munger have the best interests of Tucson taxpayers at heart? They'll say yes, of course.
But just look at the tangled web they've woven to save Rio Nuevo: a threat of lawsuits against the city, demanding repairs in 30 days to the Tucson Convention Center (or else!), and now the new vision for downtown redevelopment that businessman Fletcher McCusker is peddling.
It's all as murky as the $230 million spent on Rio Nuevo, but at least City Councilman Steve Kozachik sees through it.
"The Rio board membership cannot continue to work deals with the Legislature, sue the taxpayers, fund it all with our money and claim they have the interests of the Tucson area at heart," he wrote me in an email. "That is the epitome of a cognitive disconnect."
There is a two-pronged effort to pull the Rio Nuevo rug out from under the city, and both trace back to Munger, who is neither a member of the Rio Nuevo board nor an elected official. But he is Bain's boss. And this week the Rio Nuevo board held a special impromptu public meeting at Munger's law office.
After more than an hour in executive session, the board voted to file a $47 million lawsuit against the city over title for west-side properties, a step board members said was necessary to mediate issues with the city - even though the city had already agreed to mediate.
"The irony is, I actually feel better about this more than I have in the last several months," Paton told me. "I guess for me, we have leverage now."
The other prong, of course, is McCusker's new vision for Rio Nuevo. This vision would turn the special taxing district into a special incentive district for developers. Funds for the Rio Nuevo district would be used to relieve developers from having to pay impact and development fees, or pay for new building facades or setbacks in the district.
This proposed legislation to yet again change Rio Nuevo is being written by ... Munger.
"We're happy to share with you the legislation as it's being drafted because I do think it's not nearly as controversial as people have chosen to make it," McCusker said at a recent meeting at the Star.
How kind to include the public. If anyone in this waltz really cared about the public, perhaps they would put any more changes to a vote.
On Oct. 1, McCusker sent out an email blast to a number of business bigwigs looking for support for this new vision of Rio Nuevo. He wrote to Jim Click, Don Bourn (whom Rio Nuevo is suing), Bert Lopez, Ron Schwabe, Don Martin and Richard Oseran, among others, looking for $3,000 to be sent to Munger to support the cause for lobbying.
"Everyone OK with that?" he wrote (the email has spread like wildfire).
No, actually, many of those folks were not OK with it. Some were pretty upset about being associated with this new vision for your tax dollars.
Could you imagine a scenario where Rio Nuevo paid Bourn's impact and development fees for the downtown property the city sold him for $100? What about covering the fees associated with a renovation of Lopez's run-down Hotel Arizona?
Only in Tucson.
Paton and McCusker have said the goal is to attract more business to the Rio Nuevo district to grow more revenue. That's a noble goal, and one Rio Nuevo desperately needs. But if they want to dictate city fees or change Development Services, Paton should have run for mayor and McCusker should be shopping his idea to the city and voters.
The original sin of Rio Nuevo was that the city hijacked the will of the voters. It's an unforgivable $230 million stain that can't be washed out.
You would think lessons would be learned from that, but instead we have a different form of hijacking. We have McCusker's new Rio Nuevo vision, drafted by Munger and shopped to the Legislature. We have Bain's olive-branch lawsuits, and Paton's "leverage."
"The only losers in this thing are the taxpayers, and they are saying a pox on your houses," Kozachik said. "Just stop wasting our money. The taxpayers deserve better than this. They absolutely do."
Contact Brodesky at 573-4242 or firstname.lastname@example.org