Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Since 2005, Tucson and Pima County have sunk millions of dollars into the economic development group Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, Inc. (TREO).
Until I read Josh Brodesky’s recent Arizona Daily Star article on TREO, I mistakenly thought it was primarily funded by governmental entities like Tucson, Pima County, and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. Wrong.
Yes, Pima County kicked in $350,000 this year (down from $1.2 million in previous years) and the City of Tucson kicked in $520,000 (down from $1.5 million), but did you know that TREO has a membership structure in which businesses buy-in for $25,000 or $50,000 per year?
From the Star…
The TREO board is a veritable country club filled with the region’s heavy hitters in government and business. Members pay $25,000 to join the board. [I wonder how much the TREO membership overlaps with the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC)?] But that pales in comparison to the exclusive Chairman’s Circle.
“Over the years, what I’ve realized are big players, CEOs of companies, we charge $50,000,” Snell said of the circle. “They can’t make board meetings or are in New York all the time, you know, living the lives that none of us do. But they want to have a say in shaping economic policy.”
Talk about the 1 percent.
This pay-to-play structure troubles Robert L. Davis, a commercial broker with Grubb & Ellis, because TREO operates on private and public funds. It also cuts out people in the business community who don’t have the cash.
“You can spend $50,000, but it doesn’t mean you should have a greater voice than Jim Smith,” he said. “I offered to do a big amount a year if they would just list all of their investors in alphabetical order” and create a separate, independent board of members chosen for their skill, not their wealth. “That went over like a lead balloon.”
One of the big criticisms of Snell and TREO is simply being missing in action.
“I don’t see them,” Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías told me.
“I don’t see him out in the community very often,” Davis said.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” Marana Mayor Ed Honea said back in 2008 when Marana bolted from TREO. “We’re really not apprised of what’s happening on a month-to-month basis. It seems like we just send a check, and that’s it.”
After having read Brodesky’s article, I was left wondering: What are TREO members buying for their $25,000-$50,000 membership? And who are these businesses? The Chairman’s Circle membership– including local heavy-hitters like Jim Click, Carondelet, Raytheon, TMC, and COX Communications– is listed on the TREO website; the Board of Directors is also listed. But what about the other businesses? I agree with Davis (above); there should be more transparency regarding the how TREO operates.
Between Pima County and the City of Tucson, we– the taxpayers– are contributing nearly $1 million per year. I think we have the right to know who the other players are, how this organization really works, and who they are working for.