Imagine Greater Tucson cuts staff

2013-08-20T00:00:00Z 2013-08-21T14:17:05Z Imagine Greater Tucson cuts staffBy Gabriela Rico and Norma Coile Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A community group tasked with refining a vision for Tucson announced Monday that it is “transitioning to an all-volunteer staff.”

Imagine Greater Tucson’s two full-time employees, including its executive director, and three contract workers were let go.

That will save the organization $120,000 a year in payroll costs, said its now-to-be-unpaid executive director, Mike Holmes.

The decision means the group will also no longer have to pay for human resources costs, rent (of about $1,200 per month, including utilities), or transportation for employees, he said, as it takes a “tactical pause” to figure out its next steps.

He said Imagine Greater Tucson’s annual budget has been reduced steadily, from $340,000 a year in 2012 to about $204,000 a year before these latest cuts.

Most of its funding came from a U.S. Transportation Department grant for regional planning administered through the Pima Association of Governments. Additional money came through the Brown Foundation, individual donors — which Holmes said included “significant donations” this year from local car dealers Jim Click and Buck O’Rielly and retailer Bob Oldfather of Bookmans — and in-kind donations. But the federal dollars “ran out in about February,” Holmes said.

He said the organization does not have the resources to tackle the lofty goals of, for example, pushing transportation initiatives through at the government level.

Holmes said he made the recommendation to the board. “It’s a strategic withdrawal,” he said. “It’s obviously not the ideal thing, but it’s the way to proceed.”

“Imagine Greater Tucson is proud of its role in bringing the community together to create the ‘Vision for a Greater Tucson Region’ (report),” the board of directors said in a statement. “Imagine Greater Tucson is now moving into the next phase of its work and is finalizing its upcoming strategic initiatives. At this time the organization has transitioned to an all-volunteer effort and anticipates hiring additional leadership in the future.”

Imagine Greater Tucson was an outgrowth of a 2007 Tucson Town Hall meeting on Tucson’s future. It was formed to gather community views and create a vision for Tucson.

Recently, IGT had focused on garnering support for transportation upgrades and logistics infrastructure, such as improvements to the Interstate 19 and 10 corridors as well as the creation of Interstate 11.

“Transportation is still the No. 1 project,” said Holmes, who will remain as a volunteer with IGT but said he is looking for a paying job. Holmes, who began as a volunteer with IGT in March 2012, became the executive director in September.

Robin Shambach, chairwoman of the IGT board, said lackluster fundraising led to the decision, but she hopes it is a temporary one.

“We are working to fund programs,” she said. “We started as a grass-roots organization and want to continue to be grass-roots.”

She called IGT’s focus on the trade corridor and accompanying infrastructure “critical” to Tucson’s future.

“International trade is timely, is pressing and it’s a huge opportunity,” Shambach said.

About 50 volunteers are still working with the group, she said.

“We may decide we need a paid staff down the line, but we want to stay as lean as possible,” Shambach said. “This encourages us as a board to really be engaged.”

She said IGT will keep the community updated through its website and social media pages while the board decides if a physical address is needed later.

In its statement, the board said it would assume full responsibility for fundraising, programming activities and operations.

The Imagine Greater Tucson website lists eight board members.

Holmes said IGT has made an impact on the community.

The group’s report, which was released last fall, is reflected in the city of Tucson’s “Plan Tucson” initiative, which goes before the voters for approval in November.

State law mandates that cities draft a mission statement every 10 years.

“Our vision is embedded in that plan,” Holmes said. “We accomplished what we set out to do.”

See imaginegreatertucson.org and click on the “vision and values” tab to download IGT’s presentations.

Contact Gabriela Rico at grico@azstarnet.com or 573-4232.

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