9 On Your Side Investigation
Funding for TREO: How much of your taxpayer dollars have been spent? And how?
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Millions of your hard-earned taxpayer dollars poured into an organization that is tasked with bringing jobs and businesses to the area: The Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO) group.
However, the scandal over Tucson Councilman Paul Cunningham’s questionable behavior at an upscale resort in San Diego while on a TREO trip, has put the spotlight on the group’s spending and accountability.
Yet, when KGUN9 News pressed for its accounting records as part of a public records request, TREO claimed it’s not a “public body” because it also gets private funds -- though it did respond our inquiries.
KGUN9 News decided to take a closer look at TREO’s funding and where its money has gone.
In the last five fiscal years, the city of Tucson has given TREO more than $5 million dollars. Pima County has spent about $2.5 million.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said the dollar signs should give taxpayers pause: “You have to convince the guy who’s busting his ass out in the street, swinging the pick into the asphalt in 105 degree heat. That’s the guy they have to convince he’s has his money’s worth.”
Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll has had questions too, but tells 9 On Your Side his personal calls to TREO have only gone to voicemail. He said Joe Snell, TREO’s president, needs to step forward.
“You need to be stand up. You need to come over here to the funding organizations, the government organizations funding you through taxpayer dollars on what exactly has occurred on five junkets since 2006,” Carroll said.
KGUN9’s called every Pima County Supervisor and every Tucson Councilmember, but only Carroll and Kozachik were willing to go on camera. Councilman Richard Fimbres was out of town.
Laura Shaw, the TREO spokeswoman, responded via email: She said that since 2005, TREO has helped attract or expand 59 companies; supported more than 16,000 new jobs; and had an economic impact of more than $2 billion dollars.
She stated that the current splitting of funding for TREO's roughly 2-million dollar annual funding is split private 60% and public 40%.
9 On Your Side asked how the organization determines what is spent with public funds and where the private funds go.
"In other words, we use public funds just as we do private: develop company leads and market the Tucson region nationally and internationally for business attraction, expansion and retention purposes, thereby increasing wealth in this economy and adding jobs for all," Shaw responded.
Trips like the recent one to San Diego are outside this scope, Shaw wrote, and funded privately.
But Carroll said he wants the head of TREO to answer to the people.
“This type of behavior, I find very disappointing. We should have transparency in any agency that’s being partially funded by taxpayers, but to play hide the cheese or cat and mouse – not a good idea,” Carroll said.
Meanwhile, Kozachik is concerned he may not be able to find tangible goals that TREO’s met.
“One of issues when you write a contract with somebody, you want to write measurable benchmarks into the contract. If you look at their contract, many of them are fairly tangible, such as make contacts or build prospect meetings,” Kozachik said. “I want to see jobs. I want to see income drawn into the community in the form of jobs, tax, those kinds of things.”
Shaw also noted that the May trip to an upscale resort in San Diego was not a junket; she said it was a “fact-finding mission.”