Open Letter: Is There A Cover-Up Of The World View Explosion Report?

Pima County taxpayers picked up the tab for World View furnishings

On December 19, 2017, a hydrogen balloon exploded at the World View Spaceport built by Pima County taxpayers at a cost of $20 million.  The explosion was made public by the Arizona Daily Independent on December 20 with an online video.

On December 22 Star columnist Tim Steller reported that World View officials told him that “final results, recommendations and corrective actions, if necessary” would be available “in about 45 days.”  That would have been mid-February.

On February 8 County Administrator Charles Huckelberry sent the BOS a memo describing the damage as “superficial” even though windows and ceiling tiles a mile away were broken.  He announced that World View had commissioned an “independent investigation” led by NASA retiree Wayne Hale, stating that the County would be a participant “to verify the independence of the investigation.”  His assistant, John Voorhees, would represent the County.

Attached to that memo were damage reports from Pima County Facilities Management, Swaim Associates  and Schneider Structural Engineers  with photographs taken on December 22 and January 3 respectively.  Knowledgeable observers reviewed those and said the damage was more than superficial.

On June 13, working on a news story for the six-month anniversary of the explosion I attempted to contact Wayne Hale, World View and John Voorhees for updates.  Hale’s assistant, Yvith Murphy, refusing to comment as to whether the report was done, said, “I have no clue where it’s at.”  World View did not respond to three emails.

Voorhees, reached by phone on June 15, told us “the investigation has been concluded,” that a “Draft Report” had been completed; that the county was “reviewing the draft.”  He called it a “slow-moving ballgame,” that the county, “as landlords, we have to be deliberate and careful.”  He said the report would be given to elected officials “in another month or so,” “after review” and then it would become a public document.

That is a substantially different process than set out in the County Administrator’s February 8 memo, in which he said the report would be “made available to Pima County for our information and comment.”

The process, as it is unfolding, looks like a draft was sent to the County as long as four months ago, revisions were proposed, and there is a continuing back and forth, “a slow-moving ball game” to secretly revise the document, a negotiations of the content to make everyone look good.  That smacks of cover-up, not independent investigation, of the public being kept in the dark, of this Board of Supervisors being deliberately sidelined.

It’s worth remembering that it was not the break-in at Watergate that forced a president out of office and his minions into prison, it was the cover-up.  That the BOS has been kept out of the loop is indefensible.

The County Administrator needs to immediately provide you the original “draft” report along with the report as it stands now and any revisions made in-between.  A public comparison should be made.  If there are significant differences beyond “information and comment” then this Board must act.

If there are no differences, and the delay and secrecy are somehow bureaucratic inertia, I will appear before you again to apologize.  But we’ll need to see the documents first.

The late John Hunnicutt, founder of the Arizona Daily Independent, had as his credo,

“The truth is neither liberal nor conservative – it is the truth.”

Truth is all we ask for today.

About Albert Vetere Lannon 107 Articles
Albert grew up in the slums of New York, and moved to San Francisco when he was 21. He became a union official and labor educator after obtaining his high school GED in 1989 and earning three degrees at San Francisco State University – BA, Labor Studies; BA, Interdisciplinary Creative Arts; MA, History. He has published two books of history, Second String Red, a scholarly biography of my communist father (Lexington, 1999), and Fight or Be Slaves, a history of the Oakland-East Bay labor movement (University Press of America, 2000). Albert has published stories, poetry, essays and reviews in a variety of “little” magazines over the years. Albert retired to Tucson in 2001. He has won awards from the Arizona State Poetry Society and Society of Southwestern Authors.