By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
LAST THURSDAY, Governor Fife Symington toured Arizona to tout Project SLIM. Armed with a couple of easels and a few stiff-smiling aides, he spread the gospel of what he called total quality management" at press conferences in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma.
The governor declared state government to be a Grand Canyon of waste and mismanagement" that is failing our taxpayers, failing our state employees, failing to carry out its mission."
Symington's remedy is Project SLIM (State Long-term Improved Management), a vehicle with which to hunt down superfluous state spending, drag it out into daylight and dispatch it with a quick, cheap bullet to the back of the head. One of the top guns of Project SLIM is George Leckie, a longtime associate of the governor's. The SLIM team-which has two bosses, each of whom is paid more than $80,000 a yearÏis analyzing Arizona's 12 largest government agencies in order to recommend cuts and improvements. Symington says he is determined to rein in big government, to lop off the more insidious tentacles of the octopus and to make the bureaucracy run efficiently and graciously."
The goal of gracious" living already has been accomplished-while most Arizonans are tightening their belts. A New Times review of the spending habits of the Governor's Office, the Department of Commerce and the Office of Tourism-three agencies criticized in the past for their expenditures-reveals numerous examples of frivolous or undocumented spending of public funds.
New Times discovered the purchase of thousands of dollars worth of golf caps, memberships for midlevel staffers in a tony midtown club, such perks as chauffeurs and antiques and the showering of golf clubs and kachina dolls on Japanese dignitaries. Dinner at Vincent Guerithault on Camelback was classified only as miscellaneous operating expenses." The state has paid for $28,000 in travel expenses for the Governor's Office despite the fact that the requests to the state accounting office for the money weren't accompanied by basic documentation about who took the trips, where they went and why they went there.
Symington was elected in early 1991 after he promised to operate state government like a well-run business. However, few successful businesses would tolerate their employees submitting expense claims without substantial documentation attached to the requests.
(Among the administration's gallivanters who did document his expenses is Project SLIM's George Leckie, whose two-day trip to Washington, D.C., last October cost the public $1,814.58. The day after his trip, Leckie played a round of business golf at taxpayer expense at exclusive, lily-white Paradise Valley Country Club. See related story.)
These expenses were incurred before, during and since Symington proposed sweeping budget cuts in education and social service programs, despite such facts as this one: A higher percentage of Arizona's children live in poverty now than back in 1980.
More than 21 percent of the total population of Arizona children live in families whose income is below the federal poverty level, which for a family of four is $12,700 per yearÏroughly the same amount of public funds the Symington administration spent on golf-related balls, clubs, shirts, caps and tournament tickets from September 1991 to January 1992. (Officials from the Governor's Office and the Department of Commerce did not return telephone calls seeking their comments.)
The governor's budget proposal earlier this year called for slashing millions from the budgets of universities and junior colleges and eliminating thousands of people from the state's healthcare program for the poor. At the same time, the governor asked that the budget of Project SLIM be increased to $5.75 million. (Symington has scaled back that request to $4.5 million.)
Last week, as he vowed an attack on government waste, Symington said the Governor's Office itself would happily submit to scrutiny by Project SLIM.
Our budget is so tiny," Symington told reporters. At $3.5 million, it would be one of the smallest SLIM analyses the team undertakes-they could do us in the morning. But we want to undergo the process. As perfect as my record has been, I'm sure there are some things in the Governor's Office that could be improved."
As a matter of fact, such a study of the Governor's Office, Office of Tourism and Department of Commerce would-at the least-find questionable expenditures in an era of supposed austerity.
For instance, the state has paid for several memberships in the Plaza Club, which describes itself as a private club created and directed by prominent Valley leaders...a prestigious membership of the highest caliber-Valley leaders, corporate executives, active professionals...an elegant oasis of comfort and camaraderie, 26 floors atop the beautiful landmark Citibank Tower, at Central and Osborn."
The state paid the $43-a-month Plaza Club membership dues for several Department of Commerce employees as well as for erstwhile Symington aide Annette Alvarez. Taxpayers also reimbursed state employees for working lunches and dinners they took at the club, where, according to brochures, they could expect...to be pampered by gracious, personalized service...unobtrusive attention to [their] every need...the finest of foods served in the tradition of excellence... an atmosphere of distinguished club tradition...quality in every aspect!"
The Plaza Club bills, which often came complete with a late charge for past-due amounts, were channeled through the Department of Commerce. On March 13 of this year, however, Dave Guthrie, the deputy director of the department, sent a terse memo to Carl Kohler of the state's General Accounting Office informing Kohler that from that point on, the Governor's Office would be responsible for Alvarez's Plaza Club bills.