Citizens Suffer Bureaucratic Runaround

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Note to citizens who would serve their country by getting involved: Stay calm, take up meditation, brace for frustration. Don’t take our word for it. Consider the runaround the public-spirited Citizens Awareness Committee got when it set out to find someone to look into the bizarre budget Eastern Arizona College (EAC) has inflicted on Gila Community College (GCC).

EAC administers GCC under a contract required by the state. In attempting to keep rural districts from forming independent community colleges, the state worked out a sweetheart deal with existing colleges. That formula made GCC the single exception to a no-more-colleges scheme — providing GCC contracted with an existing college and accepted a sharply lower level of state support.

EAC provides no clear or consistent accounting to taxpayers as to how it spends $3.4 million in local property taxes, $1.6 million in tuition and $700,000 in state aid. EAC has in the course of a single year provided at least 10 different estimates of spending — with a swing from high to low of some $4 million.

A state auditor general’s report in February saying that EAC President Mark Bryce had improperly borrowed taxpayer money was the last straw. So the CAC asked the auditor general for an audit.

No can do, replied the auditor general’s office. Not our problem. So the Citizens Awareness Committee appealed to Gov. Jan Brewer’s office.

No can do, replied the governor’s office. Not our problem. No authority to ask for an audit — even though the college spends state taxpayers’ money.

The group also wrote a letter to the state attorney general. As expected — so far, no reply.

The governor’s office helpfully suggested the committed, involved and now unhappy citizens ask the Gila County attorney or the Arizona Legislature’s Joint Legislative Budget Office to look into the situation.

At this point, the long-suffering folks at CAC threw up their hands. Heck with it: Better to push for a change in the law that will enable GCC to gain its independence, so that the board elected by the taxpayers can be held accountable by those same taxpayers.

At the moment, we can’t decide whether to feel inspired or depressed by this sad little tale of bureaucratic buck passage.

Granted: We’re unsettled by the spectacle of so many state agencies so frantically washing their hands of responsibility. On the other hand — gotta love the Citizens Awareness Committee’s high-minded, touchingly naïve belief in the system.

Turns out, the price of liberty is not only eternal vigilance — it’s a high tolerance for frustration and double talk.

Happy effort to unclog pipeline

By now, we’ve written enough stories about the generations-long struggle to build the Blue Ridge pipeline that you’ve begun to take it all for granted.

Make no mistake: the Blue Ridge pipeline underlies all our hopes here — from an ASU campus to a sustainable, year-round economy. The pipeline’s 3,500 acre-feet will roughly double the region’s sustainable water supply.

Therefore, it’s worth noting that it will require yet another act of Congress to smooth the way for a water pipe to serve Rim Country. Sen. John McCain in the U.S. Senate and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in the House of Representatives are sponsoring parallel legislation to make it clear that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has authority over Payson’s pipeline — not the Forest Service.

This may seem like an obscure point and it is. But it’s also a point that could nonetheless save months — maybe years of delay — as assorted federal agencies conduct their intricate and incomprehensible turf wars.

It certainly makes sense to entrust charge of the project to the Bureau, with its expertise in building things, instead of the Forest Service, which remains focused on protecting its vast resources and avoiding lawsuits.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans estimates that assorted bureaucratic tangles have already delayed the project by perhaps a year — and that the federal legislation should snip through future snarls.

We hope so — most fervently.

In the meantime, we hope our dear readers will take note that getting our little pipeline built will require yet another moment of the congressional attention span — in the midst of wars, recessions and spewing oil wells.

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