Flagstaff Council Cozy With Taxpayer Funded Charities
By Elisha Dorfsmith
Conflict Of Interest : a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust –Merriam Webster
Every year, the City of Flagstaff gives hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to private charity. The purpose of this article is not to focus on the merit or lack of merit of any specific charity. Many of these charities do wonderful things for our community. The purpose of this article is to show that there is often a blatant conflict of interest with our leaders at City Hall and how they spend our tax dollars.
There are many examples of this but I’ll start with the most obvious.
The City of Flagstaff currently gives $262,750 of our tax dollars to United Way. Mayor Sara Presler, Kim Ott (Public Information Officer, City of Flagstaff) and Stacey Button (Director, City of Flagstaff Economic Vitality Division) all serve on the board of directors at United Way. When our Mayor and Council vote to send our tax dollars to United Way they are voting to support an organization that some members personally have a vested interest in.
But it goes further than that.
United Way funds dozens of organizations in Northern Arizona. Some of these organizations are directly connected to sitting council members.
For example, United Way gives money to the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association. Councilwoman Coral Evans is the Executive Director of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association. Her organization would benefit directly from her vote to approve the FY 2013 budget which sends taxpayer dollars to fund United Way. Councilwoman Evans removes herself from some votes that are obvious conflicts of interest but I will be very surprised if she removes herself from the FY 2013 budget vote.
UPDATE: It is important to note that Councilwoman Evans voted for the tentative and final approval of the FY 2011 budget as well as the tentative FY 2012 budget. She was excused from the meeting where the final vote to approve the FY 2012 budget took place. These votes approved tax dollars for United Way.
SEDI is another local organization that gets $10,000 in city taxpayer funds. They will receive $20,000 next year if the 2013 budget is approved. Councilman and Mayoral candidate Al White is currently the Vice President of SEDI. Councilwoman Celia Barotz is a SEDI board alternate and Flagstaff City Manager Kevin Burke is a board affiliate.
SEDI works with and promotes a variety of businesses and organizations who share common goals. One of those businesses is Southwest Windpower. Besides working with SEDI, Southwest Windpower has had close dealings directly with the city in the past.
Mayor Presler will be serving as the general counsel for Southwest Windpower when her term expires. Andy Kruse, co-founder of Southwest Windpower was a strong supporter of Presler when she ran for a second term in 2010.
Starting to see how the dots connect?
The conflict of interest web extends much farther than just the City of Flagstaff. Coconino County, FUSD and NAU leaders all show up numerous times in the links provided above. In the future, an expanded story on these conflicts of interest may be necessary.
Bottom line, our local government here in Flagstaff is taxing the people and sending the money to groups and organizations that directly or indirectly benefit them.
As I have said before, rather than using tax dollars from the citizens of Flagstaff for their own special interests and agendas, our Council and Mayor should allow the citizens of Flagstaff to keep this money and donate it to the charities of our choice.
We don’t need the Flagstaff City Council using our tax dollars to promote their special causes, no matter how worthy those causes may be.
UPDATE: This post has been updated to clarify that Councilwoman Evans does remove herself from some conflict of interest votes.