Cracking the Code

The Symington administration cleared out more than a year ago. Like a bad enchilada from yesterday's lunch, however, a favor the Symingtonians laid on a friend as they left office is making a lot of government officials queasy.

The dyspepsia-inducing culprit? A proposed statewide Uniform Plumbing Code.
This little tempest in a toilet bowl has alarmed the leaders of almost every city and county in Arizona, Department of Environmental Quality officials and Governor Jane Dee Hull's office over the impact it would have on every new bathroom and kitchen in the state.

The Symington Legacy will be remembered as a wholesale rollover to business interests, usually in the form of tax cuts and relaxed regulations. But in the creation of a statewide uniform plumbing code, Symington's staff went even further, handing the reins of government over to the plumbing lobby, PIPE (Piping Industry Progress and Education Trust Fund), saying, in effect, "Here you go, plumbers. You write the code."

Some background: In 1997, PIPE floated a bill at the Arizona Legislature to create a commission charged with writing a statewide plumbing code, a popular idea that has succeeded in other states.

It's easy to see how it would simplify business for the plumbing industry. Cities, counties and DEQ all have different rules in place, designed to fit the needs of individual communities. Maricopa County, for example, is a plumber's nightmare with 15 different municipalities and 15 different sets of rules. Arizona has, by one count, 131 different municipalities with 131 different plumbing codes.

But the Arizona League of Cities and Towns and others opposed the bill, in part because they didn't believe the Legislature had the power to tell their municipalities what to do.

Stuart Goodman, then a lobbyist for the City of Glendale, was against it because the proposed commission's makeup, which included only four municipal representatives out of a total of 16 appointed members, didn't adequately represent city and county interests. In addition to the four municipal plumbing inspectors, the commission was to include four plumbing contractors, two mechanical engineers, one architect, three members of the general public, one representative of utility and sewer workers and one representative of PIPE.

Goodman was also concerned that the legislation allowed the governor to make all appointments.

He was quoted as saying the "politics of persuasion" might come into play on the commission. What he meant was that the political fix may have been in.

Goodman could get work as a psychic.
The bill creating the Uniform Plumbing Code Commission passed the Legislature, despite such opposition, and went on to the governor.

As he sometimes did when a bill was particularly controversial, Symington invited some interested parties up to the Ninth Floor to debate the merits of the legislation. Lobbyist Mike Williams was there, on behalf of PIPE. Williams had been working this legislation all along. He's slick and well-connected, and credited with getting the bill through the Legislature. But, for this meeting, PIPE's number one representative was Chuck Coughlin. Coughlin had worked for Symington as his campaign manager in 1994, then as deputy chief of staff from 1995 to 1996. He'd left the governor's office to start his own consulting firm, later joined by another former Fifeman, Wes Gullett. PIPE had contracted with Coughlin to represent it on this matter. His ties to Symington remained strong.

Those who were at the meeting recall that Coughlin blustered about in a loud, take-no-prisoners fashion, uneducated on the topic at hand, clearly there to sell the bill to Symington who, in the end, signed it.

But Coughlin's--and PIPE's--influence didn't stop there. The next step was the appointment of the Uniform Plumbing Code Commission. A review of the governor's files reveals that while appointments secretary Bettina Celaya had signed off on the appointments, PIPE was running the show. Every single board appointee had been recommended by PIPE; each application bears PIPE's mark--either the applicant's resume was faxed to Celaya from PIPE's office or from Mike Williams, or the applicant's address is the PIPE address. The file also includes a letter from PIPE executive director Carl Triphahn, with a partial list of people to appoint, all of whom made the final cut.

Tom Simplot, a lobbyist with the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, got a call from Williams asking him if he wanted to be on the commission as one of the representatives of the public.

Simplot says he was told "that was part of the agreement they [PIPE] had with the governor's office"--that they got to choose the membership.

The home builders were against the plumbing code legislation; Simplot figures he was the token opposition.

Later, when Symington was convicted and Bettina Celaya found herself out of work, Coughlin and Gullett gave her a job.

That is not the full extent of PIPE's involvement. The legislation Symington signed created the commission, but did not fund it. Nor did it provide for funds to commission the economic impact statement (EIS) that would be required before it could become a law. Even commissions with far less daunting tasks get money for an economist and a rule writer.

Nonetheless, the rules were written and the EIS was commissioned. Who wrote the rules and paid for the EIS?

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