Rio Nuevo board member Alberto Moore charged Tuesday that there was a conspiracy by the Senate president to throw several recent Rio Nuevo board members off the panel, so past financial misdeeds could be covered up and Rio Nuevo could again begin spending freely.
As two new Rio Nuevo board members - Flecther McCusker and Chris Sheafe - were seated at their first meeting, Moore began the meeting with a 45-minute speech in which he read a 19-page letter alleging there was a "relentless effort of powerful special interests to keep the truth from the public."
Moore said the reason former board members Jodi Bain and Rick Grinnell were removed from the board was that the board was on the cusp of releasing audits that showed misspending and missing money on west-side Rio Nuevo projects, along with other city misdeeds.
He said local car dealer Jim Click was behind Senate President Steve Pierce's removal of Bain and Grinnell, and in exchange "word on the street is that Senator Pierce left the meeting with funds added to his gubernatorial war chest and another substantial amount more promised to a pro-Pierce PAC."
Click denied talking to Pierce about the Rio Nuevo board changes and denied making any contributions to Pierce's campaign. Pierce also denied the allegations.
Pierce said he's been to Tucson many times and heard that Rio Nuevo was not accomplishing anything. He said McCusker and Sheafe have six months to right Rio Nuevo's finances and one year to come up with a plan, or he will try to have the Legislature kill Rio Nuevo outright.
Moore contended Pierce barely knew Sheafe's name, and didn't know that he was the former chair of the Rio Nuevo board for eight years. Sheafe was actually the head of the Rio Nuevo Citizens Advisory Committee.
Moore said there are only two original members left from the new board appointed in March 2010, and others were systematically taken off the board by special interests.
He got choked up and broke down crying as he finished his remarks.
"To be a member of the reconstituted board that worked so hard for a better outcome it was a privilege. Those of us who have fallen and been vilified for standing firm against the rolling tide should be commended," Moore said.
Moore's speech ripped the city as well as other board members, specifically, Mark Irvin, whom he called a "mole" for the city and its interests.
He said millions of dollars were missing and said the city is too incompetent to find it. He said powerful forces were conspiring to gut the board and prevent it from uncovering the truth about Rio Nuevo.
"This was a cesspool started by the city, and the puppeteer and the magician was Michael Rankin, the city attorney," he said. "Unfortunately, the new board coming together and the new mayor are now tainted with this sewage. And Speaker (Andy) Tobin of the House and President Pierce of the Senate have allowed themselves to be sucked into this sewer. And the Arizona Daily Star is the toilet paper for all of them."
Rankin said it would be unproductive to respond to Moore's comments.
McCusker, of Providence Service Corp., tried to interrupt Moore early on to make a motion that the audits be made public. Moore went on speaking for another 30 minutes.
McCusker called Moore's speech one the best histories of Rio Nuevo that he has heard given.
He said the audits would be released and he was no friend of the city, contending it had blundered for years and blown a tremendous chance for downtown.
"You are in for a surprise if you think that I am a Jim Click good ol' boy," McCusker said.
Sheafe also congratulated Moore, but said the board must move forward. He said if people did things illegally, the FBI and the Arizona attorney general will hold them accountable. If the $230 million was blown because of incompetence, then the board must move on.
The board did not take much formal action, as McCusker said he wanted to wait until three remaining vacant board positions are filled.
Irvin bickered with Moore and board member Jeff Hill over approving minutes. Then Irvin tried to get McCusker appointed chair, even though McCusker said he wouldn't accept it and would vote against it. Irvin lost his second for the motion and his push died.
Finally, the board also learned it may have missed its window to spend $3 million in unspent money from the 2008 Rio Nuevo bonds. The language in the bonds said all money had to be spent by November 2011.
Rio Nuevo voted to have its attorney look into it. If the deadline was missed, the $3 million will go to pay off debt service.
On StarNet: Find past Star special reports on Rio Nuevo at azstarnet.com/rionuevo
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8465.