Eighteen PIOs were telephoned by a crack Weekly correspondent and asked two simple questions: How many people work in public information for the agency, and what's the public-information department's annual budget? The real reason for the call, of course, was to determine their responsiveness.
Those who succeeded, and failed, in delivering the information in a timely fashion are:
· Tucson Water took only 35 minutes to report the agency has eight people, including some who deal with conservation, along with a $1.6 million budget, a third of which goes to salaries, with the balance going to conservation programs, public outreach, printing, etc.
· The Pima Association of Governments/Regional Transportation Authority has 2 1/2 people working in communications and spends $239,000 annually. Officials needed a mere 45 minutes to supply that information.
· The UA Health Sciences Public Affairs Office answered the fastest--in 25 minutes--saying it has nine people and a total budget of $780,374, of which $579,407 is for staffing. They had an advantage, though, since they guessed the real purpose of the call.
THE WINNER IS: Everybody. When PIOs do their job, the public can easily find out more about what their government is doing.
· The 10-person UA Communications Office took 22 hours to answer the budget question, which is $616,612.
· One and a half people staff the public information office of City Manager Mike Hein, and it took 25 hours to convey the office's budget of $126,000.
· Two people earning a total of $106,840 work in public information for the Tucson Department of Transportation. The remainder of the budget, $693,170, is spent for public outreach, studies and other things. This information required 48 hours to convey.
· It took 30 hours to learn that the Arizona Department of Transportation's Phoenix office employs three people with an annual budget of $234,000.
THE PHONEY GOES TO: The public. When governmental agencies provide answers in a timely fashion, taxpayers come out on top.
· The Tucson Parks Department initially indicated that answering the budget question could take a while, since the person with that information was out. So the department needed 94 hours to say its two PIOs have a total budget of $298,130.
· It took the Pima County Department of Transportation 76 hours to state it has six employees and a budget of $297,627, 90 percent of which goes to salaries. But a representative also explained that the office helps with flood control, public works and issues regarding parks and recreation issues.
THE PRIZE IS PRESENTED TO: Taxpayers. Government information belongs to the public, and they should get it, even if it takes some time.
· The Tucson Police Department wanted a Freedom of Information request before revealing--71 hours after the original call--that the department has 4 1/2 staff people working in public information with a budget of $325,736.
· An e-mail was requested by the Pima County Sheriff's Department, which said 49 hours after first being contacted that the department has one person working in public information, but there's not a budget per se, since the sole expense is a salary of $26.61 per hour.
THE AWARD GOES TO: Nobody. Throwing up unnecessary roadblocks to obtaining public information discourages people from finding out what their government is doing.
· The Arizona Department of Administration returned the phone call in 31 minutes and reported their lone person, who also works as a legislative liaison, makes $88,263.
· The Arizona Department of Gaming has one communications manager, and the office took seven hours to say that the person has a salary of $69,900.
· Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has five people working in public affairs, and in 55 hours supplied a chart of military salaries covering them.
THIS CATEGORY'S WINNER IS: Inquisitive individuals. Even though not pressed for the salary data, these three agencies provided it willingly. That is a good example of public information officers doing their jobs.
· Gov. Janet Napolitano's office took 33 minutes to reply that she has four people working in public information.
· The Tucson Unified School District has one person working in the field, and that question was answered immediately.
· The Arizona Department of Health Services also took the initial phone call, and replied there were two people.
THE PHONEY IS PRESENTED TO: Nobody. By not completely responding to the questions, these agencies kept the public in the dark.
Thus, the Arizona Department of Education is presented with a failing report card for ignoring the very people it is funded to inform.