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PROJECT FAT

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.

Among the other expenses gleaned from state records:
A $3,954.25 payment made to Land's End, the upscale catalogue clothing company. The claim, which includes no explanation on the face of the form, was processed through the Department of Commerce on June 13, 1991, under the bureaucratic code number 7969-the category for governor's security."

At least $6,815 for golf balls and clubs from Karsten Manufacturing, the renowned maker of Ping golf equipment. The Department of Commerce hands out golf balls stamped with Cactus League" or Film in Arizona" logos. The agency also gives away golf clubs. A November 20, 1991, memo from Dave Guthrie to Symington confidant and administration official Gerard Tobin explained that the Business Development/National Marketing unit of Commerce uses these golf clubs as promotional material. We like to have some on hand as oftentimes they take six weeks to obtain."

The Department of Commerce also paid $2,850 last January for a package of tickets and access badges for the Phoenix Open golf tournament. A memo from Guthrie explains that the purpose of our involvement in this program is to invite key contacts which have or are considering relocation to Arizona. This activity will give us the opportunity to further discuss current and potential projects with these clients and to give them exposure to a nationally known event which is a reflection of an attractive lifestyle in Arizona."

There were other golf-related expenses, including $2,656 for golf caps for the Arizona Film Commission and $240 for golf shirts Governor Symington gave away during his September 1991 trip to Japan. According to a Post-it note attached to the claim form, only half of the original $480 invoice was paid. They corrected this to pay only « the invoice. OK to pay? What happens to the other half?" queries the sticky yellow square. In pencil, beneath the question, is a small note from GAO's Carl Kohler, OK at $240."

$8,521 in incompletely explained Diner's Club expenses from the Department of Commerce. Judging by the codes on the forms, most of these bills appear to be airfare costs, but there's no supporting documentation attached.

$17,508.08 to the Marriott Desert Springs hotel in Palm Desert, California. This sum went to pay for a reception hosted by the Department of Commerce, presumably to promote filmmaking in Arizona, on November 11, 1991. Aside from $500 for flowers and $2,000 for theatrical props," the state picked up a $5,737.31 bar bill.

An oval conference table from a Phoenix antique store cost the Office of Tourism $3,734.50 in September 1991.

Just a few days after Symington took over state government in March 1991, the Governor's Office spent $408 at Hall of Frames on East Thomas. This was classified as a miscellaneous operating expense.

While in Mexico City in October 1991, Commerce director Jim Marsh, the former leasing agent for Symington's development company, found it necessary to hire, for $355, a car and driver to chauffeur him and his assistant Ann Bourland to a meeting. In a memo attached to his claim form, Marsh explained that the decision was made based on the short amount of time we had for meetings we set up, one after the other. We could not afford to wait for a cab after every meeting. The cost to take a cab in Mexico is comparable to having a car and driver and thus, we chose the driver."

Two hot-air balloon flights in December 1991 cost the state $625. Ostensibly, the purpose of these trips was to promote filmmaking in Arizona.

Mr. Togo, President Toyota Motor Sales" received a gift purchased at the Heard Museum Shop for $295. The claim form was filed on October 18, 1991, and was run through the Commerce department.

On November 21, 1991, Commerce bought 31 miniature burden baskets," pottery, five kachina dolls and 25 sand paintings from the Heard Museum for the governor to hand out during a trip to Japan. The total bill was $1,648, but the state was allowed a 10 percent discount, which brought the tab down to $1,483.20.

 

On December 4, 1991, the Arizona Film Commission bought 12 100 percent Cashmerlon" sweaters from Added Touch Embroidery in Tempe. Total: $295.43.

The state paid $755.21 for a couple of dinners at the elegant Vincent's-one on September 28, the other on October 25. No further information was available from the face of the claim form, except that this was an other miscellaneous operating" expense. A February 10, 1992, dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House charged to the Governor's Office cost $427.14. This was also described as other miscellaneous operating expenses." In August and September 1991, the Governor's Office ran up a $3,675.80 tab with Atlasta Catering Service. There's no note on the forms to explain these expenses.

A Diner's Club card used by the Governor's Office incurred more than $24,000 in miscellaneous expenses" in September 1991. A note attached to the claim forms indicates that supporting documentation is on file in the Governor's Office.

An April 23, 1991, luncheon for the Swedish delegation, hosted by the Office of Tourism at the Phoenician resort, set the state back $4,625.02.

For the opening of the state's office in Mexico City on February 27 of this year, the Department of Commerce paid $982.40 for musicians to play two hours.

The Governor's Office incurred $700 in cleaning expenses last summer at the Forest Ranch lodge in Pine. The request by the Governor's Office for the money listed it under conference expenses" but offered no further explanation.

Must have been a good party.

YOU WOULDN'T WISH IT ON A DOG... v4-22-92


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