By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
Eight floors below the conference room where Governor Fife Symington delivered his diatribe last week against "out of control" state government, there is a sunless suite of rooms supplied with an institutional paint job, metal furniture and stale, reconditioned air.
This basement warren in the State Capitol building on Washington Street is the General Accounting Office, a graveyard for the processed paperwork of government.
There are shelves that hold boxes of documents, canceled checks and all the various instruments of budgetary drudgery. If you swear you will not use the information you collect for commercial gain, the people who work in these offices will bring you thick manila folders that hold the remnants of governmental activity, purchase orders and receipts and requests for reimbursement. If you are patient, and if you crack the various codes, you might be able to fashion for yourself a Rashomon-esque understanding of the way Arizona government works.
Take, for example, the spending habits of George Leckie, the man Symington has chosen to head up Project SLIM. Actually, Leckie's title is co-director, but on his KTAR radio show last week, Symington described Leckie's role as superior to that of David St. John, the other co-director.
St. John, a high-ranking Department of Public Safety officer, is technically on loan from DPS and is slated to return to the agency when his duty is done. He's being paid $83,000 a year as the hands-on" guy who handles the day-to-day implementation of Project SLIM.
Leckie has long enjoyed a special association with Symington. When it was discovered earlier this year that the Governor's Office, which was being run by Leckie, blew its budget by thousands and that Symington's top aides were granted healthy raises, the raises were rescinded and Leckie was demoted.
Well, not really. He was put in charge of Project SLIM, the governor's cost-cutting panel.
Leckie has experience in handling governmental costs.
For instance, in one seven-month stretch, the peripatetic Leckie billed the state for more than $8,000 in travel expenses, according to records examined by New Times. Leckie typically stayed in four-star hotels, and was scrupulous about paying for such amenities as massages and in-room movies out of his own pocket. He also paid for that portion of his hotel bill that was over the state's allowable rates. Still, it's not always clear how Leckie's travels served the public interest.
In fact, judging from the expense forms submitted by Leckie during his time as Symington's deputy chief of staff and chief operating officer, his role often seemed to be sort of a maitre d'hotel for the administration, charged with entertaining British lords and ladies ($98.85 for dinner on October 21, 1991, at Scottsdale's Pink Pony restaurant with Sir Peter and Belinda Gadsen) and even buying lunch for other members of the governor's staff (Leckie billed the state for a "working lunch" with Symington, Annette Alvarez and lawyer Dick Mallery). Sometimes, it seems, Leckie was simply a handy, reimbursable wallet to have around.
Last October 16, the State of Arizona, through the personage of George Leckie, took three top executives of North Star Steel (a Minnesota firm) golfing at the exclusive Paradise Valley Country Club. The greens fees for the foursome ran $162 and lunch for the group was a mere $60.75.
This golfing excursion came the day after Leckie had returned from a lightning-quick, two-day trip to Washington, D.C. In his voucher, Leckie asked to be reimbursed $1,814.58 for the trip, during which he stayed at the posh Four Seasons hotel, a few blocks from the White House, but charged the state only the allowable $154 per night. (The actual rate was $230 per night for the first night of his stay and $190 for the second.) The purpose of this trip, Leckie claimed, was to represent Governor Symington, honorary chairman of Arizona Up With People Vision 2000 Committee at their Board of Directors presentation...for their new Tucson headquarters drive." Leckie also noted that while in Washington he held meetings with Dr. Toyoda, Senator George Mitchell and Senator Robert Dole" and-in another section of the claim form-that he met with the Arizona congressional delegation: "Kolbe, Pastor, McCain."
In his expense report, Leckie offers no supporting documentation to explain when or why he met with any of the congressional folk or Dr. Toyoda," but one presumes it was strictly state business and had nothing to do with Symington's troubles with the Resolution Trust Corporation. If Leckie were, for instance, attempting to drum up support for his embattled boss, who is facing legal problems revolving around his former jobs of real estate developer and savings and loan director, it would have been an inappropriate use of state funds.
Likewise, there is no reason to believe that the one-day excursion to meet with the congressional delegation" that brought Leckie back to the Four Seasons a month later was for any reason other than that listed on the face of the claim form; it says it was made to discuss foreign-trade issues, a sensitive and complex topic for which the telephone is apparently inadequate. This trip cost the taxpayers only $1,058, and Leckie billed the state for only $154 of his hotel bill. (Leckie did not return telephone calls from New Times.)
Leckie's duties include being the contact between Project SLIM and the governor. According to Symington's "Project SLIM Role Definitions," Leckie is to "insure governor's active involvement in SLIM process by providing timely updates and reports."
Symington, in his Project SLIM press conference last week in Phoenix, said that one of the most serious problems facing state government is that it "hasn't paid the right kind of salaries to keep good people. The time is overdue to correct this problem."
An old friend of Symington's, Leckie served as finance chairman for the developer's campaign, ensuring that the Internal Revenue Service was cut a check to repair gubernatorial confidante Annette Alvarez's tax difficulties, and that a $1,100 campaign contribution from Mr. and Mrs. J. Anthony Vincent (the phony name used by AzScam undercover agent Joseph Stedino) was refunded a few weeks before the AzScam scandal broke.
After the election, Leckie was brought onto the governor's staff, first serving as deputy chief of staff, with almost unlimited authority over internal personnel and budgeting.
In October, after chief of staff Bunny Badertscher was banished to Symington's Tucson office following a labyrinthine debacle that involved the suspension and subsequent reinstatement of the director of the Department of Public Safety, Leckie was promoted to the position of chief operating officer. Here he consolidated his control over the business, financial and administrative matters" of the Governor's Office. According to press reports at the time, Leckie refused to let Chris Herstam, who succeeded Badertscher as chief of staff, review the way money was being spent in the office.
In January, Symington announced that ten top staff members were receiving raises of up to $10,000 annually. When the raises were met with a firestorm of controversy, the governor revoked the raises and again shook up his staff this time giving Herstam control of the office budget.
Less than two weeks later, the governor announced that Leckie had overspent the office's budget by $270,000 in less than a year. Three staffers were laid off, five were transferred to other departments within the government and the rest were forced to take 11.2 percent pay cuts. Leckie's pay was cut to $85,000 and he was appointed "co-director" of Project SLIM-which already had a director being paid more than $80,000.