TREO's President talks about San Diego trip, taxpayer dollars and accountability

TREO's President talks about San Diego trip, taxpayer dollars and accountability

CREATED Jun 6, 2012

Reporter: Claire Doan

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – More than a week after a councilman’s bad behavior shed the spotlight on a business trip to San Diego, the group that sponsored it is now speaking out.

From the beginning, 9 On Your Side has wanted to know more about the Tucson Regional Economics Opportunities (TREO) group – specifically, about the recent trip to an upscale San Diego resort, and about how they’ve spent your hard-earned tax-payer dollars through the years of funding.

The President of TREO decided to answer our questions on Wednesday during a sit-down interview with reporter Claire Doan, stating that they are all about transparency and accountability.

A document that KGUN9 News obtained from the city shows that since 2005, TREO has gotten about $9 million from Tucson taxpayers. For Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, that means TREO cannot operate in a vacuum.

“They’re accountable to both the city and the county because we’re both principal contributors, so they’re accountable to us and they’re accountable to the taxpayers,” Rothschild told KGUN9 News, adding that he will ask TREO what they learned on the San Diego trip that can be applied to Tucson.

For the first time, Joe Snell, the President and CEO of TREO,  sat down in front of KGUN9’s cameras to answer questions about TREO.

“Some people have been wondering why you didn’t come forward last week sometime to address some of those questions?” Doan asked.

“Claire, we did come forward. If you mean we didn’t go on camera, we’re on camera (now). We answered questions when people posed them,” Snell said.

To be fair, TREO did via email. Spokesperson Laura Shaw, who was out of town, answered our questions on Friday within hours. And today she provided a breakdown of expenses for the San Diego trip. It shows that $58,000 was spent for 36 TREO participants.

Snell stresses that each person wrote a $2,000 check for the trip: “I want to clarify this. No public dollars – not even TREO’s operating dollars, even though we receive part public funds – were used for this trip. [It was] 100% paid out of participant fees.” 

But what about through the years? Has public funding been worthwhile?

“What are some tangible markers, tangible accomplishments you can tell people that have resulted from TREO?” Doan asked.

“I think you’re asking me – when TREO was established, are we fulfilling the mission that we are established to accomplish? Absolutely yes,” Snell responded.

Snell claims TREO has helped attract or expand 59 companies, supported more than 16,000 new jobs and had an economic impact of more than $2 billion dollars. He also adds that TREO has marketed the region to prospective companies and analyzed its competitiveness, thereby helping public and private sectors.

“We’re not an agency made up of [just] the city of Tucson or Pima County. Our funding comes from multiple sources and I would argue there is value, especially on the private side or they wouldn’t be putting money into it,” Snell said.

Councilman Steve Kozachik said there’s another way City Council will ensure TREO does its job.

“We have a line item in our budget that’s called Economic Development. Now it has TREO’s name next to it. It doesn’t have to have TREO’s name,” Kozachik said.

Since TREO started eight years ago, a total of $15 million from the county and the city have gone to TREO; however, funding has steadily declined each year due to budget woes.

According to TREO, the current splitting of funding for TREO's roughly $2 million annual funding is split private at 60 percent and public at 40 percent.

Snell said there have been both financial and performance audits of TREO through the years, and none has been problematic.