Deals made in the shade: Kudos to Sarah Fenske for taking the time to listen and investigate Paul Braunstein's allegations ("Friends at Work," June 1). The Arizona Department of Transportation's shady practices are why Arizona will always be the "pothole" of the country. Shame on James Romero. I can only hope he gets what he deserves -- legally, of course.
Dan Rivera, Phoenix
Who's the boss?: After reading through your story on ADOT, I wanted to commend you on keeping the real head of ADOT out of the story: Governor Janet Napolitano. Being that it's an election year, she doesn't need any bad press at this time. Do you think that your readers are that oblivious to the fact that the governor is the real head of the agency? Give some credit where credit is due.
David Gibson, Phoenix
But the metaphor lives on: It stinks! The way ADOT treated Paul Braunstein stinks. But the smell is coming from the rotting carcass of the dead horse he continues to beat with his lawsuits.
ADOT, once a national leader in transportation engineering, has died at the hands of a boneheaded Legislature, a self-serving Transportation Board, and a lip-service governor.
There has been a mass exodus of experienced engineers from ADOT. They have gone to the private sector where they command greater salaries and the respect of their employers. Those who remain at ADOT do so because of their proximity to retirement, for civic-mindedness, or because they are just plain stupid. They are holding the carcass together with duct tape and baling wire. The horse was brain-dead long ago.
ADOT's operating budgets and real salaries, controlled by the Legislature, have stagnated or declined steadily over the years. Meanwhile, consultants are bought with free-flowing highway-construction funds, controlled by the Transportation Board, away from the scrutiny of the state budget process. This creates the illusion that operating costs are being held in check when, in fact, they are increasing without control.
ADOT's "small" Valley Project office was established in the mid-1980s to oversee the original Proposition 300 freeway construction program. It was once the centerpiece of ADOT, had three times the present staff, and managed a program equivalent to the current Proposition 400 freeway program. It, and all of ADOT, has been rendered dysfunctional by the simple-minded conservative ideologues in the Legislature.
ADOT needs competent engineers to hire and manage consultants, but few rational engineers would commit to the abuses of state employment. This has led to the absurd situation where ADOT is hiring consultants to hire consultants. (In some cases, ADOT has hired consultant-employees to monitor the consultants who are hiring the consultants.) A stupid government bureaucracy has been replaced with a more costly, stupid, bureaucratic, private-sector profit machine.
And, while ADOT's engineering staff has been decimated, the PR staff has multiplied in response to the governor's mandate of "no bad news."
ADOT could be completely buried, with control of the state highways abandoned to the counties or cities. Or, it could be resurrected as an independent, self-funded organization in the mold of the Salt River Project. More likely, it will continue to rot in the sun with the occasional spritz of air freshener by the governor's PR hacks, shovel of dirt by the Legislature, and gnawing at the bones by the Transportation Board. The legal buzzards will continue to circle, and folks like Mr. Braunstein will render the carcass into their personal tallow at the expense of the taxpayers.
The ADOT horse is dead. It's time to dismount.
Richard Anthony, Phoenix
A thrilling tale of cronyism: I want to commend you on your well-written article on ADOT contract awarding. Normally I would not read such an article, but you made it "a thriller" through your craft, and I look forward to the next episode. As a retired consultant having been involved in competing for government awards, I am only too familiar with "cronyism" and tolerated it, fearing being blacklisted. Keep up the great investigative journalism.
Berny Rasch, Paradise Valley
Don't forget the arts: Looks like more Arizona graft. After over 45 years in the state, I left the smog, traffic, heat (minimum lows ever increasing), housing with red tile roofs and shaking hands across the five-foot space between houses and 10-foot back yards, and watering to keep anything alive -- and did I mention dust storms? And I forgot the pink underwear and Third World treatment by Sheriff Joe. Who needs any more reasons to get the hell out of the Phoenix area?
Of course, you still have the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Zoo, and the ASU sports losers!
Dick Obst, Eugene, Oregon
Fluff piece: Tag, you're It Girl! After reading the story about Katie Rose ("It Girl," Megan Irwin, May 25), I have to say that a part of my heart broke for the city. Is there really so little going on here that there is room for this horribly biased fluff piece? It was all about sex, drugs and drugs -- fuck rock 'n' roll. Is this what the press considers newsworthy these days?