TREO under microscope after San Diego junket

A full page ad in the Arizona Daily Star yesterday touted the success of the Tucson Regional Economic Commission. The timing of the advertising blitz could not be better. Just this week, negative publicity about a boondoggle-gone-bad, brought negative attention to the previously little known TREO.

The spotlight was first focused on Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham for allegedly directing inappropriate speech toward city employees while at the TREO conference in San Diego’s posh Torrey Pines Resort last week.

It took about a week for the general public and media outlets to process the fact that their city councilman was 1) drunk, 2) in a posh resort, and 3) tax dollars were probably paying for it.

It only took Pima County Board of Supervisor candidate Ally Miller moments to begin asking the tough questions. “Regarding the most recent junket, I’d like to know why our leadership doesn’t believe in supporting our own community. They could have stayed at one of our local resorts suffering from the lack of business.”

TREO’ s mission is to bring business to Southern Arizona, not send money out of state. Tourism has taken a hard hit in Sotuhern Arizona due to the recession and Congressman Raul Grijalva’s call for a boycott of the state.

In 2005, TREO was created to replace the unsuccessful Greater Tucson Economic Council. The two major funding sources were the City of Tucson and Pima County. In 2009, the budget was $2.4 mil.

Since its inception, TREO has had little success and has cost a great deal of money. TREO received $936,000 in public money in 2012. The head of TREO, Joe Snell receives a salary of $313,000, not including benefits.

“I am also a strong believer in pay for performance. Joe Snell is paid a salary of $313k per year. I don’t see the community getting the return on investment to justify this salary. I would like to see his pay structured with a base salary and bonus plan tied to specific performance metrics. For example: the number of jobs created greater than $50K per year would merit some bonus amount. Another metric might be new business creations under his watch,” said Miller.

Miller says while TREO is supposed to create a “report card” to the community on their performance, “I can find no concrete performance data aligning with this “report card” promised to the community. I see an annual report of bumper sticker slogans with nice pictures and little substance. I want performance metrics and those responsible for them held accountable. If I get elected to the Board of Supervisors, this sort of lack of transparency will have to change.”

Marana Town council member, Roxanne Ziegler, told morning radio host Garrett Lewis of KNST, that Marana had used the services of TREO. Their services were terminated in a 5-2 vote of the Town Council in 2007.

Ziegler said that in 2007 when the bill from TREO arrived it was $50,000, “So I said, what did they do for us, for $50,000? Our staff looked at me and kind of scratched their heads and held up a blank piece of paper. Nothing. At that point Marana had spent close to a half a million dollars.”

Ziegler reported that TREO had brought in one employer over the years, “So in ten or fifteen years they had brought us one company and had about 250 people there, but it has gone out of business.”

David Welsh of TREO, “with some very large title came to our Council and was very arrogant, and very rude,” and told us “why we needed to come back to TREO. For two weeks after that the Arizona Daily Star, Explorer, and Inside Tucson Business “mocked us so to speak.”

Marana hired their own economic development person, and now “have control in our town,” said Ziegler. “We are very pro-business. We have a strategic plan, and we stick to it.”

Ziegler cited Sargent Controls as an example of Marana’s success in retaing companies. She said that if  “you look at TREO’s data, they will tell you that they are the ones, they took the credit for saving Sargent Controls, and that is absolutely wrong.” Miller confirmed that the claim is on TREO’s website.

In a 2010 study found that TREO had only “generally met their contractual obligations.”

When asked if she would discontinue using TREO’s services  if she was elected to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Miller replied, “Yes I would,”

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