How do we know that Pima County officials are working on what they are supposed to? And how much time do they spend on certain projects?
The Southern Arizona Business Coalition (SABC), an advocate for Rosemont, wanted to know how much time Pima County officials spent on Rosemont copper mine related business over the last two years. One of SABC’s interests was to find out if Pima County officials were using taxpayer money to aid groups that are opposed to the mine, as Pima County is.
SABC sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the County asking for:
“Any and all documents, timesheets, salaries, projections, calendars, meeting notes, audits, expense reports, budgets, reports, communications, correspondence, emails or other electronic transmissions relating to the amount of time and hours worked on any matters relating to the Rosemont Copper Project by any of your employees, representatives and/or consultants…..”
SABC did receive some information but much was missing. Pima County offered three excuses for its failure to provide the requested information:
1) The “majority of departments do not maintain records indicating time spent on a specific project.”
This excuse suggests that the County should change its operating procedures so that they are more accountable and transparent. Businesses require accountability from their employees. Even I, as a largely free-ranging geologist, had to account for time spent so the company could properly attribute time and expenses to specific budget items. Why doesn’t Pima County require this employee accountability?
SABC estimates that 38 County employees spent at least 10 percent of their time over the last two years on the Rosemont issue. That time cost taxpayers over $400,000 per year. And SABC estimates approximately 3% of staff time was spent over the previous 3+ years. Of course, at least some of that time would be legitimate processing of required permits, but how do we know how much. As I mentioned above, how much time and taxpayer money was spent on, shall we say, extracurricular activity that could aid opponents of the mine? Pima County will not or cannot say. Since the County did not provide adequate time allocation for the staff and legal office, SABC made assumptions based on previous information and experience in this issue and estimated that the County spent approximately $1 million on staff time (including Supervisors and their staff), outside consultants and legal fees fighting Rosemont.
2) The County Attorneys Office claimed attorney-client privilege regarding billing records.
This is a spurious argument since the attorneys are either County attorneys or attorneys hired by the County and the County is also the client. The right hand can’t disclose what the left hand is doing? This is another transparency issue. The County Attorney could have provided time allocation without violating attorney client privilege, but chose not to.
SABC says the County “would not have incurred $97,000 in attorneys’ fees had it not abused its discretion in denying the air quality permit to Rosemont. On November 30, 2011, the attorney working on behalf of Pima County found that the County’s ‘decision to deny Rosemont’s permit application . . . was contrary to law.’ Further, a Superior Court Ruling, dated July 5, 2012, determined that the Pima County Air Quality Hearing Board ‘acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner and that the abused their discretion.’ Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has since taken over this process from the County. An additional $15,500 was spent by Pima County appealing the Arizona Corporation Commission line siting proceeding for the TEP power line to Rosemont. Again, they did not prevail.”
3) The County is “unable to provide documents that no longer exist.”
This is “the dog ate my homework” excuse. Pima County broke the law if it did not maintain official records. Arizona law requires the County to “carefully protect and preserve the records from deterioration, mutilation, loss or destruction and, when advisable, shall cause them to be properly repaired and renovated.” A.R.S. § 41-151.15; and A.R.S. § 39-121.
These excuses show lack of accountability, lack of transparency, and failure to follow the law on record keeping. Since Pima County has stated publicly it is against the Rosemont mine, one wonders how much time was deliberate delay and obfuscation in permit processing. SABC alleges that Pima County also wasted time and money by attempting to duplicate work done by 17 federal agencies.
Taxpayers deserve better County accountability no matter which side of the Rosemont issue we take.