Citizen Staff Writer
The mostly invisible Rio Nuevo Multipurpose District Facilities Board for the past nine years stepped forward Friday to announce its intention to take back control of the beleaguered downtown redevelopment project.
At a hastily called special meeting Friday afternoon, the board decided to explore getting an outside management firm for Rio Nuevo and outsource the district’s financial management.
The city has operated Rio Nuevo since its inception in 1999 through an intergovernmental agreement initiated by the Rio Nuevo board. That agreement will likely be revisited, said Anne-Marie Russell, the board’s chairwoman.
“We have the opportunity to move from a passive structure to a more active structure,” Russell said before the three board members and Rio Nuevo legal counsel Bill Hicks retreated to a 35-minute closed session.
City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, who chairs the council’s Rio Nuevo subcommittee, welcomed the idea to have City Hall pass Rio Nuevo back to its board. The Rio Nuevo district is an independent political subdivision of the state.
“I think this is a major step forward,” said Trasoff, the only council member at the board meeting. “I think this is a perfect time to take (Rio Nuevo) out of the political arena.”
The board’s sudden move in its first meeting this year stems from this week’s firing of former City Manager Mike Hein and continuing threats from the Legislature to stop the Rio Nuevo tax increment financing.
“We have to do what we can to strengthen our relationship with the state Legislature,” board member Jeff DiGregorio said. “We need to shift the district financing to a more independent mode, separate from the city. We need better transparency and better accountability.”
Board member Dan Eckstrom, attending his first board meeting since his appointment in July, suggested forming several collaborations beyond City Hall to carry Rio Nuevo forward.
“We can set policy that will bring this whole thing to fruition,” said Eckstrom, who declined to say why he has not attended previous board meetings. “It’s a process that will take some time, but I’m up to the task.”
The state statute that created the Rio Nuevo district gives the board control of Rio Nuevo, but the board in 1999 chose to rely on city management rather than duplicating staff, Hicks said.
The intergovernmental agreement made the city manager the executive director of the Rio Nuevo district and the city finance director the district’s treasurer, and the City Council set Rio Nuevo policies. The Rio Nuevo board met sporadically, mostly to give initial approval for major expenditures that got final approval from the city.
The Rio Nuevo board consists of two members appointed by the Tucson City Council – Russell and DiGregorio – and two appointed by the South Tucson City Council – Eckstrom and Roman Soltero, who was absent Friday. South Tucson is involved because the state law that allowed formation of Rio Nuevo requires two government entities to sponsor such a district.