The Yes on 401 campaign kicked off Thursday in a bid to change the City Charter in November, with a diverse coalition backing the initiative, ranging from business leaders to unions and Democrats to tea-party members.
The coalition held a press conference at City Hall and brought numerous "Yes on 401" signs bearing slogans such as "Cut bureaucracy," "Demand accountability," Cut costs" and "Streamline government."
The four charter changes call for making the council a full-time job, with pay indexed to that of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Council members now make $24,000 a year, with the mayor making $42,000. The change would bump pay to $61,280 for council members and to $76,600 for the mayor.
In addition, the proposed changes would give the mayor more powers to vote on several matters on which the mayor now cannot, such as firing the city manager.
The changes would eliminate civil-service protection for department heads and their deputies, and shift the city election calendar so all council members would run in the same year, beginning in 2013.
Changing the election cycle would save $140,000, even when the council members' raises are factored in, meaning the ballot measure would be revenue-neutral, its backers say.
Press conference moderator Lisa Lovallo, of Cox Communications, said she felt the change in the weather Thursday morning was a great coincidence because with the Proposition 401 initiative, the campaign was changing city government.
"An 18th-century government does not properly serve a 21st-century city," Lovallo said about the Tucson City Charter, which was actually adopted in 1929, in the 20th century.
Lovallo cited the bipartisan nature of the coalition, which she said includes Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, neighborhoods, union members, tea-party members and environmentalists.
Although they were enthusiastic in their support, the four co-chairs of the Yes on 401 campaign were a little off on some of their facts.
El Charro Café owner Carlotta Flores said the measure would cut costs by putting all the council offices under one roof at City Hall, which Lovallo acknowledged later is not true.
Former University of Arizona President Peter Likins said the measure could save as much as $400,000, which Lovallo acknowledged would happen only if the council members fire some of their aides if and when the measure passes - and there is no requirement for them to do.
Lovallo said the coalition did a poll of 500 "high-advocacy voters" - those who vote most often - that showed raising the council salaries could sink the initiative. However, she said that once voters are educated about the specifics of the ballot measure and learn that it's revenue-neutral, "they move toward a yes vote."
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org