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ARIZONA DAILY STAR

It didn't take long for Paul Loomis to cash in from his time on the Regional Transportation Authority's board.

One month after he left office as Oro Valley's mayor, a position that carried with it a seat on the RTA's board, Loomis was awarded his first RTA consulting contract for $19,500.

And the contracts kept coming. In the last year Loomis received more than $153,000 in no-bid contracts to provide engineering oversight for the modern streetcar project.

Loomis spent 12 years as the mayor of Oro Valley before losing his bid for re-election. At his last Oro Valley council meeting in June 2010, he tried to stay upbeat, sporting a tie with smiley faces. It was a fitting choice because it's been happy days since then.

The first of his five RTA contracts was awarded on July 8, 2010. The most recent, for $47,250, came on June 1 and runs through November. Loomis said the timing of the contract cluster is linked to the award of the streetcar construction contract, not to his leaving the board.

Both Loomis and RTA Executive Director Gary Hayes defended the contracts, saying there is no conflict of interest, even if the contracts do look like a fat hookup for a former RTA board member.

The state's conflict-of-interest law says a former board member can't represent another person to that board for at least 12 months.

But in this case Loomis isn't representing someone else, he's representing himself. And Loomis said he made it a point not to speak to the RTA board for 12 months, so you could argue he's not even representing himself. "I specified that I could not testify in front of the board until 12 months was over," Loomis told me. "I could attend the meeting. I could sit in the RTA office. But I was not, did not, and would not testify to the board just for that reason."

So we have a six-figure RTA consultant who can't actually speak to the RTA board for a year. This is so Tucson.

For his part, Hayes said the contract was never discussed until after Loomis left the board. And he said he ran the idea by the RTA's attorney, Thomas Benavidez, who gave it the OK. Besides, Loomis has technical engineering expertise the RTA needed, Hayes said.

"Our position is that nothing illegal or inappropriate occurred with Paul's contract," Hayes wrote in an email. "I functioned within my authority to comply with the voters' wishes to ensure the completion of one of the RTA's most important projects, the Modern Streetcar. Paul's contributions have been invaluable."

Nothing to see here. Just move along.

It's always like this with Hayes and his nickel-and-dime contracts. Stack a few of them up and you're talking about some real money.

As executive director of the RTA, Hayes can execute contracts for $50,000 or less.

That's small change for the $2.1 billion RTA, but it all adds up. Since the RTA's inception, Hayes has doled out more than $3.6 million in small, no-bid contracts. The thinking is these contracts save money because the RTA doesn't have to hire any salaried staffers. But it's also led to some strange contracts.

The RTA can tap Sheila Storm, the communications director for Pima Association of Governments, for some public relations help. Still Hayes has doubled up on help for her, inking David Joseph (whose wife Michele is the spokeswoman for Sun Tran) and former Tucson Citizen transportation reporter Garry Duffy, for additional PR.

Hayes also gave nearly $89,000 in contracts to a firm led by his daughter-in-law's brother.

And now we have Loomis and his engineering skills. He studied ocean engineering in college.

"When Paul was on the RTA board, because of his kind of background he would raise questions about the design of the streetcar," Hayes said. "You know, he's a private citizen that could bring that kind of skill set to the table. We thought it could help the project immensely."

So why not sign Loomis to a bigger contract, say one for more than $50,000, which would have to come before the board at a public meeting - the same board he just stepped down from - rather than a series of little ones that avoid scrutiny?

Because, Hayes answered, "You hire a contractor, you are not always convinced you are going to get a high-quality product out of that."

So on one hand Hayes is saying that Loomis proved his worth while serving on the RTA board. On the other hand, he wasn't sure he would do a good job.

"We had a good feeling (about Loomis)," Hayes said. "But it's just like every contract I do. You are going to have to convince us that you are going to give us a quality product before we go to phase two."

Maybe Paul Loomis is worth every penny, but Hayes never showed the public that. Instead it's just another reminder that in this town it's really not what you know, but who you know that makes a difference.

Contact columnist Josh Brodesky at 573-4242 or jbrodesky@azstarnet.com