I was copied on an email to the Scottsdale city council and mayor today, in which a word caught my eye: “Quango.”
Quango (quasi non-governmental organization) is an acronym that describes arms-length bodies funded by government departments but not run by them. They are given power and paid for by government departments.
One of my regular readers had previously explained to me two related concepts that fit roughly in the same box: “political entrepreneurs,” and “charitable entrepreneurs.” These are folks who make money from their involvement in politics and/or government; and their counterparts in some politically-related “non-profit” or ostensibly “charitable” organizations. We have several Scottsdale organizations that straddle the boundaries between these two concepts, and indeed could rise to the level of the term “quango.”
They receive considerable taxpayer funding, under “contracts” which provide essentially no accountability, and they provide virtually nothing of value to the average taxpayer. At the same time, they provide political support for our elected officials via distributing scraps under the guise of self-aggrandized and self-serving “charity.”
Unfortunately, this has become increasingly the modus operandi in the fifteen years I’ve been intimately involved with Scottsdale issues. And it’s become increasingly clear to me that mere threats to “keep an eye on elected officials,” never seem to do any long-term good.
One of my favorite examples is the Scottsdale Cultural Council. Under the terms of a 20-year, no-bid city contract, the “non-profit” SCC enjoys: Free rent in taxpayer-owned facilities; Free taxpayer-funded maintenance and upgrades on those facilities; License to leverage those facilities to receive millions of dollars in grants and charitable donations; AND an annual taxpayer-funded subsidy of over $4 million.
What do the taxpayers receive in return? Ostensibly public art (most of which the city already owns); exhibits at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (most of which charge admission); events at the Scottsdale Center for Performing Art and at the Civic Center Mall (most of which require purchase of tickets)…and once a year the Cultural Council gives out a few tens of thousands of dollars in “Community Arts Grants“…which are in-fact unwittingly funded by Scottsdale taxpayers.
The list of quangos associated with Scottsdale includes the Charros (which controls the taxpayer-owned Giants spring training facility), the Thunderbirds (which run the Waste Management Open at the taxpayer-owned and -maintained TPC golf course), the Museum of the West, and more. They are all masterful at sending out press releases bragging about their importance to the City of Scottsdale’s tourism and their charitable efforts. But they never mention that their generosity is funded–at its most fundamental level–by the taxpaying residents of Scottsdale.
And it’s very important for you, the taxpayer and voter, to recognize that they do so with the explicit approval of the folks you elected to keep an eye on your tax money: Mayor Jim Lane, and councilmembers Virginia Korte (up for re-election this fall), Suzanne Klapp (also up for re-election), Linda Milhaven (Wells Fargo banker and former board chair for the Cultural Council), David Smith (former city treasurer whose wife is on the board of the Cultural Council), Kathy Littlefield, and Guy Phillips.