South Tucson’s top administrator is crafting a new conflict-of-interest policy after a city councilwoman received nearly ,000 in home repairs paid for with public funds.
“Management believes that policies relevant to the use of public funds must be in place to insure that conflicts are properly addressed and any appearance of impropriety are removed,” City Manager Luis Gonzales wrote in an email to the Star on Thursday. No such policy is now in place.
The city approved spending ,739.94 on repairs to Councilwoman Anita Romero‘s house in January 2013. Gonzales joined South Tucson months later.
With an income around ,000 a year for her work as part-time director of religious instruction at the Santa Cruz Catholic School, Romero met the standards to receive help through a federally funded program for low- and moderate-income homeowners.
The city verified her eligibility, and the county, which helped with administration, double checked, as it did for all eight South Tucson applicants, said Daniel Tylutki, the county’s manager of community and rural development.
Because of its small size, the 5,500-resident city gets funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant through Pima County.
Romero said the house she has lived in since she was 8 years old, originally her parents’ home, needed emergency repairs. An adobe wall was on the verge of collapse, and in the winter she hung plastic in place of a long-broken window.
Romero received a rebuilt wall, new windows, a repaired floor, a new evaporative cooler and ceiling insulation through the program. She said she used no special influence to receive the funds and that the repairs did not influence her votes in any way.
She learned of the program through fliers in City Hall, but the program was not widely marketed, she said.
“I applied as a resident,” she said. “I don’t even tell people I’m on the council when I introduce myself.”
City and county officials said every applicant to South Tucson’s home-repair program received help.
“It was announced to the community, more of a direct communication to residents in need through phone calls, etc.,” Gonzales wrote. “Currently there are a few individuals interested in the program should funds become available.”
County documents show each participant received repairs worth at least ,000, with four recipients getting more than ,000. Federal rules cap the value of repairs at ,000.
Mayor Paul Diaz said he thinks implementing a conflict-of-interest policy in South Tucson will be difficult because of the high level of political apathy and the small population.
“Everybody’s related to somebody else in this community because we’re small,” he said. “It’s already hard to get people involved. It’s going to eliminate a lot of possibilities.”
Diaz said the city could definitely advertise aid programs more widely, but he thinks the ,000 limit discourages people from applying because most homes in the area need more repairs than can be covered.
The most recent census figures show the median household income in South Tucson is about ,500.
Contact reporter Carli Brosseau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4197. On Twitter @carlibrosseau.
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