Grinnell's Vision of Action outlines business community's blueprint for change: reform and recall - Inside Tucson Business: Roger Yohem

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Grinnell's Vision of Action outlines business community's blueprint for change: reform and recall

BUSINESS NOTEBOOK: Calm, bulldog determination

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Posted: Friday, January 22, 2010 12:00 am

Whether you’re in business, in government, or in the dog house, Rick Grinnell challenges you to do better.

He has a passion for business development. He has a vision for a better community. He knows the issues. He talks straight about the flaws and flubs of elected officials, government bureaucrats and business leaders. When interviewed on talk radio or in print, he is a calm, insightful man of reason.

As founder and CEO of Smart United Business Strategies, called SUBS, he just released the organization’s 2010 Vision of Action to over 500 business people. It’s a hot read because he’s doing a slow burn. He’s tired of all the anti-business, NIMBY knuckleheads in town. He’s fed up with more taxes and vacant buildings, and less jobs and the loss of Spring Training baseball.

He’s working on fixes that focus on reforming local government.

Last July, “non-partisan” city elections became law. It’s a game changer. The legislation requires each council member to be elected solely by voters in the ward they represent, not citywide.

SUBS and most of the business community loved the idea. Many politcos hated it. Last week, City officials asked the Superior Court to trash it. That surprised Grinnell, the mayor had told him just days earlier the law was not going to be challenged.

The group wants to fix the City Charter, blaming it for our “weak mayor” model of municipal government. The council has the legislative authority and shares executive authority with the mayor.

The paperwork to fix this flaw is underway, Grinnell said, for ultimate voter approval. Business must “achieve parity” with the special interests of neighborhood associations, artists, and other groups living off grant monies. 

Its time to give the mayor a big hammer to wield as a certified leader, not a powerless cheerleader. 

For years, the consolidation of redundant and similar city and county services has been talked about. Now, a new idea is getting attention.

Grinnell is pushing for the merger of several economic development entities, namely the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Downtown Tucson Partnership.

Grinnell admits this long-term goal is “touchy” and many people are unhappy. “But how can we ask government to do things the business way when we do things the government way?” he said. “Yes, each organization is too territorial, but a unified business voice is needed to advance our goals.”   

Once under a corporate-style umbrella, move on to privatization.

“Why isn’t TREO excited over the Rosemont Mine?” he chided, citing the estimated gain of some 400 jobs and billions of dollars for the economy. “Because the city and county give them about $1 million each and they oppose the mine. Economic development needs to partner with government, not be beholden to government.”

The recall is real

The effort to recall Mayor Bob Walkup and council members Karin Uhlich and Regina Romero get a mixed reaction from Grinnell as a citizen. Without pause, he candidly thinks the two council members should “consider alternate careers.”

For the mayor, he again blames the City Charter. It’s “the system” that’s flawed.

For now, Grinnell is sitting back, watching how Walkup handles the recall and hopes he “will be more assertive with an overall attitude adjustment toward business.”

To Grinnell the executive, the

recall is serious and “for real, but further broadens the gap between business and government.”

The Vision of Action directly addresses this situation. For business development to regain a foothold, two things must happen: find political leadership that understands business issues, and get them elected. Neither is easy.

The election of Steven Kozachik to the city council was “a good first step,” although Grinnell mused about finding that next generation of political leaders.

Being Irish with a bit of a temper, Grinnell has masterful self control. In public, he never shows his scorn for things anti-business. He likes to say that SUBS is willing “to do the leg work on finding solutions, not just yell about them.”

In my business notebook, that makes Grinnell a cross between an Irish Terrier and a bulldog.

Contact Roger Yohem at (520) 295-4254 or His Business Notebook appears biweekly and weighs in on local political, social and business issues.

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