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The Skinny

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BUS FUSS: Buses are rolling again this week after Teamsters and Sun Tran management came to an agreement that the transit company had called impossible in earlier negotiations.

Thanks to the help of a federal mediator, union officials agreed to a pay package that delivers more up-front, but they remain so soured on Sun Tran management at this point that they're calling for the city to find a new company to administer the city-funded transit service.

Last week, tensions got especially high after four southside Democrats, including newly re-elected Ward 5 Councilmember Steve Leal, urged the city to intervene to end the Sun Tran strike that began September 5.

Leal was appropriately joined by two members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Dan Eckstrom and Raúl Grijalva, as well as state Rep. Vic Soltero (note to Alan D. Fischer and the Arizona Daily Star: Soltero is from the city of South Tucson). They urged city action, something Leal and fellow Democratic City Councilmembers Jerry Anderson and José Ibarra were unable to force three days before the Leal/Eckstrom/Grijalva/Soltero press conference.

Mayor Bob Walkup and his chief-o'-staff, Andrew Greenhill, responded to the demand for action by whipping out a statement denouncing the effort: "I find it appalling on a day of national tragedy some politicians are using divisive rhetoric to aggravate differences on local issues. Divisive political speeches right next to flags flying at half-staff crosses the line of decency. The people of Tucson and all Americans are still reeling from the worst terrorist attack on our nation in all of history."

What is appalling is this demagoguery from the man who has virtually nothing to show but budget problems, traffic problems, police problems, a failed and misguided push to change the City Charter and striking Teamsters.

The southside four were right to try to get the city to step in and resolve the strike issues. They have constituents who depend upon the bus for work, for medical appointments and for socializing.

Leal and the others, speaking about bus service for their constituents on Thursday, meant no disrespect to the thousands killed Tuesday in the terrorist attacks in New York and the Pentagon. They simply tried to get things moving here.

On Friday, numerous churches held special services, following the centerpiece prayers at the National Cathedral. Many here were denied the opportunity to attend because of the lack of bus service.

What's more, they got stuck--solidly--over the weekend. The day after Walkup got in his snit, Sun Tran's assistant GM, Terry Garcia Crews, rapidly sinking on the credibility meter, sent out a notice saying that no buses would run over the weekend.

Pro-Walkup forces in Star editorial jumped in Saturday. The Star backed up Walkup and bashed Eckstrom and Grijalva particularly, saying the county had no business in Sun Tran. Wrong. There are a number of routes in unincorporated Pima County. The Star editorial suggested the county might want to put up some money. Guess what? The county already kicks in about a million bucks a year to help support Sun Tran and Van Tran.

More important, the Star and Walkup completely misunderstand the southside constituencies represented by Eckstrom, Grijalva, Leal and Soltero. They like their elected representatives to speak up for them, be it in session or on the bully pulpit. The four and some of their predecessors were quite effective, for example, in speaking out on water, Kino Community Hospital and the landfills. All are issues the Star has no ability to recall.

Finally, the Star took a cheap shot against Enrique Serna, the former county manager who now is a deputy county administrator. It understated his duties and assignments while getting his salary wrong. We're here to help: It's $130,174.


WORKIN' ON THE RAILROAD: Speaking of public transit, the recently formed Citizens for Sensible Transportation has released its plan for an improved public transit system, including a 13-mile light-rail system.

The private group, spearheaded by graphic artist Steve Farley and trolley booster Gene Caywood, proposes constructing two starter rail lines. One would run east from downtown's Ronstadt Transit Center, moving along Sixth Street past the University of Arizona before jogging south down Country Club Road over to Broadway Boulevard, where it would continue east past both major malls all the way to Prudence Road. The second route would travel south along South Sixth Avenue to the Laos Transit Center at Irvington Road.

The rail line would be supplemented by an improved bus system that would include shorter waits at stops for riders and longer hours of operation.

Supporters estimate capital costs for the initial rail line at roughly $35 million per mile, for a total cost of $455 million. They hope to tap the federal government for 60 percent of the cost and propose making up the difference with various funding mechanisms, including impact fees, payroll taxes and the sale of mandatory transit passes to all Tucson Water households.

Curious about details? Check it out yourself at www.tucsonlightrail.com.


GREEN GONE: Democrat Paula Aboud got a boost this week in her campaign against Republican Kathleen Dunbar for the Ward 3 City Council seat when Green Party candidate Ted O'Neill abandoned his campaign.

O'Neill, in a statement to the press, said he was dropping out of the race because he's afraid he'll pull too many votes from Aboud, saying "the election of Kathleen Dunbar would be negative for the community as a whole, and would be a significant setback for Green issues and quality of life in Tucson."

The move makes sense from O'Neill's perspective, although it does little to build the Green Party. He clearly wasn't going to win the race and it's unlikely that the Greens could find a candidate more aligned with their agenda than Aboud.

Aboud, who picked up roughly three-fourths of the vote in her victory over Vicki Hart in last week's Democratic primary, trails Dunbar in fundraising, organization and name recognition, but Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans citywide. But then, Republicans are more likely to vote, so it's still a race.

Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman remains in the race.


MA AND PA JUSTICE: A salute to our flame-haired leader, Gov. Jane Dee Hull, for appointing Jan Kearney, a talented lawyer and prosecutor who happens to be a Democrat, to the Superior Court bench in Pima County.

Kearney joins her husband, Charles Sabalos, also a former federal prosecutor who was named Superior Court judge in 1993--one of J. Fife Symington III's smarter moves. It was the marriage that probably held back Kearney's appointment for several years when an assortment of backward-thinking nervous-nellies and jealous advisers said Kearney couldn't go where her husband is.

She'll prove Lady Jane right and the naysayers wrong.

Kearney, federal prosecutor of the year for Southern Arizona in 1997, served a couple of stints in the U.S. Attorney's Office, including two years as chief of the criminal section. She is independent, experienced, tough, smart, energetic and squeaky clean. So is Sabalos, whom we predict will eventually be selected for the federal bench.


FIREMAN'S FUND: Tax-and-burn Northwest Fire District will have a new chairman of a budget committee to spoonfeed its incompetent elected board majority spending instructions after the resignation of Danny Matlick.

Matlick, trying to appear selfless, sat on that Northwest Fire committee and another advisory board while his company, United Fire Equipment, hauled in hundreds of thousands of dollars from Northwest for service and goods. It was Matlick who encouraged the board last spring to jack up Northwest property taxes--a suggestion that board Chairman Pat Quinn illegally acted upon well before any public hearings and before the item was on an agenda for a vote.

The cozy arrangement was clearly a conflict according to Title 38 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. Northwest's legal adviser, Tom Benavidez, a polite sort who leans toward giving elected officials latitude in doing public business, nonetheless said Matlick's position with Northwest had to stop.

Still, Matlick acted as if he gained nothing. That's too bad for a guy who actually performed admirably on the sort-of citizen panel reviewing the police mishandling of the North Fourth Avenue crowd the night of the NCAA basketball championship. Quinn was obtuse and defiant. He is among the dumbest and most dangerous elected officials in Pima County.

Hats off to young reporter Ryan Gabrielson of the Northwest Explorer for following Northwest Fire District and for detailing Matlick's conflict of interest.


CHERRY POPPING: A sales tax election might not be the only issue on the ballot in May. Officials with the Tucson Unified School District are discussing the possibility of asking voters to approve the acquisition of property for the development of district recreational facilities.

One project under consideration is the construction of ball fields at a vacant site the district is eyeing near 22nd Street and Park Avenue. These new diamonds would replace those now used by Tucson High School teams at Cherry Field, located on Kino Parkway south of Broadway Boulevard. The fields would be moved because Pima County and the U.S. Corps of Engineers wants the Cherry Field property for a controversial detention basin to be built along nearby Arroyo Chico.

But the proposed design for the detention basin project allows the diamonds to remain at Cherry Field. In addition, many Tucson High boosters believe the teams should stay where they are.

Our spies tell us that school district officials believe Cherry Field is worth $10 million, which is significantly higher than county appraisals show the land is worth. But TUSD officials apparently hope to use these funds to build the new facility on 22nd Street and then have some money left over, possibly to use for a new district administration building.

Pima County Flood Control District administrators acknowledge they are far apart from the school district on cost figures concerning Cherry Field. TUSD Superintendent Stan Paz will soon meet with John Bernal from Pima County to discuss the detention basin project and the sale of Cherry Field.


THONG SHOW: Rotten Tucson Unified School District, former Rincon High administration and former Rincon teacher Patrick Lee Woods are sadly off the hook. The family of a young woman who claims to have been repeatedly sexually harassed by Woods while she was a student has agreed to an $87,500 settlement approved by TUSD's board last week.

While we hope the woman can heal and move on with her life, we can't help but note the value this legal action would have had in cleaning up TUSD and its foul administration. Stephen M. Weiss, the tough Tucson lawyer who represented the family, would have done a public service with his depositions and other discovery, starting with then-Principal Suzanne Ashby. The record, according to the claim filed by Weiss, is clear that Ashby knew of Woods' predatory behavior toward his female students and yet did nothing about it. Superintendent Stan Paz attempted to rid the district of Ashby but was blocked by two of his board members, Joel Ireland and Mary Belle McCorkle. Their intervention saved an equally high-paying job for Ashby at a tiny alternative high school. She also showed up on an attempted job fix wired by Amphi Superintendent Vicki Balentine to be Amphi High principal. That was wisely blocked by a screening panel.

Woods, who turns 56 on November 16, resigned in May as TUSD was preparing to fire him and scurried home--to his house in the 4700 block of East Ninth Street, right around the corner from Rincon.

According to Weiss's complaint, Woods constantly commented on the dress of his female students and gauged their sexuality. He enjoyed back massages from female students and sought Weiss' client for a ménage à trois with his 29-year-old wife, also a former Rincon student. According to the Weiss claim, which lists six pages of accusations of inappropriately sexual discussions and actions by Woods, as well as TUSD's own papers, Woods touched the victim's breast in his classroom and commented "anything bigger than a wine glass is too much."

Also on that day last fall, Woods told Weiss' client that he had a "condition" and that it was, according to the legal papers, "that he get to see her thong panties every so often."

Weiss and his clients have not ruled out legal action against Woods.

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