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The Skinny

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POWER OF ATTORNEY: One thing that every side of the political spectrum agrees upon is the general degeneration of democracy and representative government. Too many public officials at all levels closely resemble a combination of student government and potted plants.

The blame has been placed on everything from high-priced lobbyists and campaign money to cultural decline. Just about everybody has missed the real cause.

Lawyers.

Lawyers not only own one of the three primary branches of government, they have achieved massive inroads into dominating the other two.

Arizona is even worse off than many other places. The Attorney General's budget is larger than the three neighboring states of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico combined. We are paying for lots of lawyers way beyond prosecutors, most of them not litigating but micromanaging state government.

Arizona makes public officials--elected and appointed--listen to their lawyers, or they are personally liable for their actions. And they don't even get to select the lawyer--the AG or the county attorney makes the pick. This often means they're being "advised" by (and having their policies amended by) their political opponents. And anybody that believes these government lawyers are "non-political" should be forced to write a 2,000-word book report on the Warren Commission Report.

The same problem exists at all other levels of government. Those concerned over judicial tyranny and usurpation should note that what judges do occurs in a courtroom for all to see and is often appealed to a higher judge.

What a lawyer-bureaucrat does is make a guess--often unsolicited--about what a judge could rule. It's usually done in the star chamber of executive session, where all the participants are muzzled. And there's no direct appeal. Do not pass go, but pay a lot more than $200.

What we have essentially adopted is a modified version of Trotsky's system, where every unit of the Red Army and civil service had a commissar along who determined how well decisions fit Marxist dogma. The commissar was actually in charge.

There are three splendid examples of just how bizarre this has gotten.

The Amphitheater School Board is notorious for many dumb moments, including wacko legal calls by its attorneys. The first to achieve prominence was the decision that the simple call-to-the-audience meeting segment used by almost every jurisdiction in Arizona with no problem may (don't you love that "may" crap) be in violation of the state Open Meeting Law, hence the district should not implement setting one up. The attorney rendering it, Todd Jaeger, was backstopped when the former board hired another lawyer--Barry Corey--to further validate it. Embarrassingly, for Corey at least, he did. That opinion has since been laughed away by a better one from the Attorney General.

One could hope that Jaeger and Corey gave the opinion they were paid to. Unfortunately, it's worse. Seems Jaeger actually believes this crap.

Still standing is Jaeger's even more half-assed view that three members of the board--we assume that would include any board--cannot appear together, even at a candidate forum when they are all up for re-election. That's a stretch of the Open Meeting Law beyond logic or recognition.

Less amusing was Jaeger's attempt to redefine "retired teacher" concerning current Board Chairman Ken Smith's wife. Jaeger opined that Smith could not continue to hold his seat. After Smith spent thousands of his own dollars to bring the matter to a real judge, Jaeger was essentially told to take a legal cookie and go to his room. Smith and the new Amphi Board have continued his employment (they have to accept whoever the County Attorney sends, but they don't have to pay them extra), causing those who elected them to wonder "why?"

Jaeger also convinced Deputy County Attorney Paula Wilk in the Smith matter and she convinced her bosses, County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Deputy/would-be Congressperson Mary Judge Ryan, into looking as dumb as her.

Wilk's newest micromanagement involves another murky attempt to warp the Open Meeting Law. She has been assigned to the citizen committee overseeing Pima County's redistricting process and is already issuing bullshit pronouncements warning members not to e-mail each other or even meet in pairs. Are you beginning to understand why governance has become more difficult?

But one of the worst examples of lawyer takeover involves the rather obscure State Board of Property Appraisers. For years, it has been the private policy fiefdom of Deputy Attorney General Michelle Wood. She has determined standards, influenced staff hirings and, we're told, even been involved in choosing new commission members, something not that uncommon on other state boards.

What places Wood above the pack is the genuine fear many appraisers have of her and her arbitrary methods. When you consider that property appraisals involve millions of dollars and government often has an interest in them, this should be frightening for all of us. And it's almost impossible to verify as it occurs in executive session under the guise of "legal advice"--advice that is really a command delivered in secret and with the board members sworn to a legal omerta and potential harm for divulging what ought to be public knowledge.

These three are typical of an endemic problem. There's more. Attorney as legal advisor has clearly evolved into attorney as unelected policy maker. They don't wait to be asked for opinions any more. Like characters in Soviet novels, they often just declaim them. Some of it stems from an honest desire to keep folks out of "trouble." But that's always the excuse of the busybodys, meddlers and power-hungry. Using the Open Meeting Law as a club to empower lawyers at the expense of other officials has greatly--and unwittingly--contributed to the massive lack of confidence we all have in those we elect and expect to actually govern us.

The Russians finally figured it out and dumped the commissar system. Are we that far behind a bunch of dysfunctional commies in how we do the people's business?


DISCRIMINATING MINDS: As The Weekly reported last month, ("Big Bias Brouhaha," February 8), the Salvation Army has not submitted a signed "Statement of Nondiscrimination" to the City of Tucson. The need for this statement, which the city is requiring of most agencies it provides with funds, was sparked by the Boy Scouts policy banning gay men from their organization. If the Tucson City Council holds true to its word and withholds public money from organizations that don't sign the statement, the Salvation Army will be out over $43,000. It could also lose another $39,000 if the United Way follows the city's lead and no longer funds agencies that don't sign the statement.


KEEPING SCORE: A striking similarity between Tucson Electric Park's fancy scoreboard and the Board of Supervisors was revealed last week during the White Sox-Athletics slugfest. The Sox erupted for 10 runs in the third inning. But who knew? The park's scoreboard has room for just one digit each inning. Nine is OK. Ten is too much. From the fourth row, a spring training regular noted that fans should not be surprised: the combined IQ of the Board of Supervisors also doesn't exceed single digits.

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