The Downtown Power Structure Does It Their Way.
By Margaret Regan
DESPITE LAST WEEK'S soaring temps, the board of the new Tucson Downtown Alliance Business Improvement District (BID) was hardly sluggish at a meeting early on the morning of July 15. In quick succession, the members hired Carol Carpenter as executive director in a secret ballot; agreed to lease out offices in a building managed by a company where board member Sheila King is a partner; signed on La Placita as a new dues-paying partner; and ousted from the board still another member, Julia Latané, co-owner of the Grill on Congress.
Their actions not only left Latané out roasting in the sun while the meeting continued without her inside the Temple of Music and Art, they prompted a follow-up resolution declaring that there was no conflict of interest in the hiring of Carpenter, a BID board member and city staffer who was instrumental in shaping the BID.
The lease for office space at 100 N. Stone required still further elaboration, in the form of a letter from King officially disclosing her status as partner with PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services. PICOR has the leasing contract for the building at the corner of Stone and Pennington, where the BID will now occupy a suite of ground-floor offices.
Renting the space benefits her company, but King wrote that she "will receive no direct compensation for this transaction." Board member Larry Paul, a Realtor who helped negotiate the lease, said the 2,177-square-foot office will require a monthly rent of $2,812. Utilities are included and the first three months are free. Several downtown offices were considered, Paul said, but the prime Stone Avenue location will give the BID a desirable "streetfront presence...it's smack dab in the middle of downtown."
Carpenter, the new occupant of these digs, gets a big boost in salary as she heads for a job in the private sector. She said she'll earn about $65,000 a year, up from the $41,390 she's been earning as the downtown development specialist in the city's Office of Economic Development. On August 3, Carpenter will switch to her new job, which will require her to market the downtown, hire and supervise street workers and formulate long-range plans for the district.
Her candidacy was criticized last month by some City Council members, who said it had the appearance of an insider deal, with Carpenter working on city time to craft a lucrative new job for herself. Her new bosses, the BID board members, said they have no problem with her employment history, and unanimously passed a resolution declaring, in part, "the Corporation hereby determines that no conflict of interest exists between Carol Carpenter and the Corporation because of her position as a member of the Board of Directors (or) her work for the City of Tucson in establishing the (BID)."
Board member Sarah Clements, executive director of the Tucson Arts District Partnership, said later that she abstained from voting on Carpenter's appointment "because I had an objection with the process. It had nothing to do with Carol or her skills. It had to do with the fact that the committee shouldn't have accepted her application" because of Carpenter's involvement with the BID. "It's a matter of what's good practice for a nonprofit."
After the meeting, Carpenter spoke to the issue herself.
"I was asked as part of my job to assist the private sector in the formation of the BID," she said. "They (the steering committee) had been working on it for about two years. It just so happened that they were thinking of hiring a consultant for about $90,000. The city asked me to do it--I provided the technical expertise" gleaned from her work with BIDs around Baltimore. "I didn't just say, Let's go out and form a BID.' Helping form the BID was just one part of my job. I worked on other projects for the city."
Carpenter, who said she's been in and out of the private sector during her 13-year career, said she never thought to apply for the position until the ads went out. Board member Thomas Laursen said Carpenter was selected by the nine-member organizing committee out of an initial pool of 27 candidates. He sees her hometown status as an advantage.
"She has experience formulating BIDs, operating BIDs in Baltimore. She's worked for the City of Tucson and should be able to help us establish a good working relationship with the city...She's ready to hit the ground running."
And indeed Carpenter, who accepted the job from the organizing committee a week before the meeting, showed up after the vote with a 90-day action plan. Her chart shows that she wants all staff hired no later than October 12. She hopes to get maintenance workers and uniformed street "ambassadors" on the job well before the busy Christmas season. She pledged that "in the next six months merchants will see things change."
The board voted unanimously to remove fellow member Latané because she was holding a seat reserved for a property owner, Laursen said, and Latané and her husband, James Graham, have not yet acquired the property that houses their business, The Grill on Congress. She couldn't have one of the business-owner seats or at-large seats either, he said, because she had specifically requested a seat on the property-owner council, which wields more budgetary power than the others. He said if the couple acquires the property they should alert the BID board; otherwise he wants the now-empty seat filled by some other small-property owner from the east end of downtown.
Paul later suggested an additional reason for the ouster. Latané and Graham were early critics of the BID, and the board member said the pair's outspokenness caused some hard feelings. "They were not in favor of (the BID). They denounced it and suddenly they wanted to be on it."
Latané thinks the board practiced "selective enforcement" in her case, since several members of the property council are not property owners at all, but employees of property owners. Latané and her husband hope to close on their property in August or September, and she may re-apply to the board then. "I want to know what's going on," she added. "I want to participate."
Laursen claimed that, in general, downtowners have gotten behind the BID. Case in point was newly seated board member Jane McCollum, a vice president for MRO, new owner of La Placita. McCollum told the board the BID was a strong selling point for her company as it considered buying into the downtown. "You don't know how great it is what you're doing, what you've accomplished downtown." MRO will plunk an additional $30,000 into the BID's coffers annually.
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