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The Skinny

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DRIVE-BY SPENDING: City of Tucson officials finally finished punching their calculators and released the detailed figures on how many taxpayer dollars they're spending on the "education campaign" for the May 21 proposition asking voters to hike the sales tax by a half-cent to fund transportation programs.

The city had spent a total of $626,952 on the sales-tax push through March 6. About $356,000 was spent on the Let's Go Tucson program, which set up a committee to examine all kinds of options for transportation funding and improvement. Not so surprisingly, that committee brushed aside all options besides a half-cent sales tax increase, mostly to be spent on roads.

Spending on Let's Go Tucson wrapped up on December 9. The Let's Go Tucson name has since been picked up by the Growth Lobby political committee that's looking to spend a cool half-mil on a campaign blitzkrieg.

After Let's Go Tucson was privatized, the city started another program, the Transportation Improvement and Traffic Congestion Reduction Program, or TITCRAP, which has cost the city roughly $273,000 through March 6.

TITCRAP's biggest single expense was $184,739 in transportation staff time. The city had also bought nearly $18,000 in media air time and spent more than $6,000 for video production and more than $10,800 on printed materials. Public meetings had cost nearly $7,500, along with about $6,600 on speaker training and manuals.

How much will the city end up spending? Your guess is as good as ours.

Steve Farley, a sales-tax opponent who is pushing for better public transit, says the city has spent an awful lot of money on "pure propaganda."

"It's too bad the city has to spend our tax dollars promoting its plan," Farley says. "They could have fixed a lot of potholes with that money."


SLEEP WITH THE (SUN) DEVILS, GET BURNED: Poor Pima County found out the hard way when the Morrison Institute of Arizona State University backed out of its contract to provide the long-delayed economic analysis of the county's proposed Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

The boys from the think tank, including former Arizona Daily Star "thinker" Mark Muro, were to do what no one had been able to do: determine just what the conservation plan would do to property values, the property owners and the county economy.

In the end, the vaunted Morrison Institute wants to keep $80,000 of the $169,207 no-bid contract it managed to land late last summer. It produced not a word on the meat it had been hired to dissect.

The Growth Lobby is parading the cancellation all over town, hooting about the contractor firing the client. There's something funny about how the heavies in the Growth Lobby who have been seeking to derail the conservation plan got individual, if form, letters from Morrison bigwig Rob Melnick informing them that the Morrison Institute was stopping its work.

Melnick whined that the county had not supplied his people, including Jun Onaka, the San Diego man to whom Morrison subbed most of the hard work, with necessary layers of data on land values, taxes, federal permits, zoning and other basic underlying material that is, frankly, available.

Melnick fired off his cancellation notice to conservation plan leader Maeveen Behan as Onaka and others were working with Behan's crew in the county's computer and geographic information systems to get vast data into a program that Onaka and the Morrison people could use.

It is funny, or sad, that Melnick blamed the county for holding back when the stack of gushy emails says otherwise.

We don't know when, specifically, Melnick got his marching orders to cancel the county work and to begin some other unnamed projects.

But at 10:07 a.m. on March 6, Onaka dashed off an email to John Regan of the county GIS department: "Thank you for your update and the many strategies to make it work. It sounds like a major effort.

Behan, a lawyer who does nothing but work on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan seven days a week, responded and at 1:29 p.m. Onaka told her: "I hope I didn't precipitate a huge task by my request. Thank you for keeping track."

The day before, Regan had launched a major task to merge 28 complex sets of data overnight. It took two days. All you nerds start to salivate: Regan says "28 individual topological unions were performed, processing for over two days to produce a 'final' coverage consisting of 627,000 polygons and 30 separate attribute fields. The last task was to covert this into a .DBF file then find some way to transmit the very large file to San Diego and Dr. Onaka's system. Dr. Onaka was kept informed of progress and problems encountered during processing and never indicated we were approvaching a critical juncture where it was too late to complete the analysis--."

But in Tempe, Melnick had already put the kibosh to the gig.

Ya know, Pima County is big, 9,200 square miles. But this stuff is not that elusive. There are 353,000 parcels in the county and data for each of them.

One week before Melnick told the Growth Lobby that the Morrison Institute was out, Onaka told Behan and Regan that the county's data "approach will work, I'm sure, for both the parcel date and the tax/full cash value data."

When he got cracking on New Year's Onaka thanked Behan for "the torrent of information," which he described as "simply amazing."


TECHNICAL FOUL: Sahuaro High Principal Steve Wilson is a big-time college basketball referee who should be benched for his crummy management of the eastside school he was hired to put right. Wilson went way out of bounds last week, crying to the Tucson Unified School District board to fire Sahuaro math teacher Steven Bloodsworth, who sought a restraining order against a freshman given to violent outbursts.

Not just any freshman. But a 6'3" kid who is the next Sahuaro "franchise" basketball player. After threats and intimidation, Bloodsworth bounced the kid, who returned to his room to issue a threat and smash a glass in a door.

Wilson and Delano Price, who has settled into yet another assistant principal's position, claimed Bloodsworth's actions were uncalled for and constituted intolerable insubordination.

Bloodsworth called Wilson's bluff and demanded an open hearing before the TUSD board. But Wilson went wild, saying Bloodsworth and an unnamed parent were perpetrating an "extremely bigoted, zealous, racist attack on a young man."

"The way these two people are acting, I think, is almost like Mississippi in '54 only without the rope," Wilson said.

No evidence, of course.

TUSD legal beagle Lisa Abrams promptly dialed City Court for an ex parte conversation with the judge, a move she and her boss, Jane Butler, defended as saying was only about the procedure. Ha. Abrams previously worked at Juvi. She knows the procedure.

Magistrate Eugene Hays modified the restraining order Monday, saying Sahuaro's future hoop star can get back to school but that he must steer clear of Bloodsworth, whose contract is under review by Superintendent Stan Paz.


BIONIC MAN: SWAT Doc Rich Carmona, still putting out stories that he'll be the next U.S. surgeon general, has had his knees repaired, with a cost of $50,000 at Pima County expense as a industrial injury. The $3 million man (1995 settlement with Tucson Medical Center) says he has suffered numerous injuries to his knees on the job during SWAT training and other maneuvers.

Meanwhile, we're wondering about the Deputy Doc's backing from the GOP congressional delegation. One local citizen who is not exactly friendly to Carmona wrote to Congressman Jim Kolbe to express concern over his support for appointment to the surgeon general post.

She got this back: "Recently, Dr. Carmona, whom I have known for many years, contacted me for a letter of recommendation for this position to the President. No other Arizonans appear to be interested in this position, so I was happy to comply."

Wow, Jim, that's a real vote of confidence. He'd be a great surgeon general as long as no other Arizonan is interested? How about at least making it "no other Southern Arizonan?" You might recall, Jim, that you represent them? And by sending it to someone you knew was opposed to Carmona's appointment, you further sabotaged the effort you purportedly support by allowing the recipient to send your wimpy and weak endorsement around--to folks like us.


SHUT UP OR WE'LL SUE: For several years, controversy has swirled around property on East University Boulevard where the First Congregational Church once stood. First, demolition of the building was unsuccessfully contested in hopes of using the structure for a new denomination.

Now the architectural plans for a housing development to be built on the property are drawing fire. Over the past several months, the West University Historic Zone Advisory Board has listed several objections to the proposal. They'd like to see masonry instead of wood-frame construction, more historically appropriate windows and a better grade of stucco used on the project. In other words, they don't want to have typical suburban-schlock construction used in the historic neighborhood.

The Kemmerly Companies, which is developing the new project, refused to change their plans, so the advisory board filed an appeal under long-established city procedures. The Tucson Planning Department and Historic Commission sided with the developer, but the Development Review Board decided not to make a recommendation in the case.

Before the issue went before the Development Review Board in February, attorney Michael Meehan, representing The Kemmerly Companies, wrote the chair of the advisory board, stating: "This letter is a demand that you cease your efforts to appeal." Continuing the appeal process, Meehan said, would cost his client at least $100,000. If the appeal wasn't dropped, the lawyer warned, "The Kemmerly Companies will pursue all of its remedies of law that might be available to them, against you personally--."

On Monday, March 25, the Tucson City Council will hear the appeal. Whatever the merits of the case, Meehan's heavy-handed tactics to silence critics warrant a loud note of condemnation and a solid "No" vote from the council.


DIA DE LA SAN JUAN: One of Pima County Supervisor Ann Day's blunders was to turn up her nose at campaign worker Bennett Bernal when it came time to hire a staff for her central, foothills and Oro Valley District 4. Her loss, and the district's loss, is City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar's gain. Dunbar, a Republican in the Ward 3 office since December, snapped up Bernal and he is doing all that Day could have hoped for: he works hard, handles constituent calls and does the unglamorous work he learned how to do as a low-level aide for Big Ed Moore, during Moore's last and most tumultuous term on the Board of Supervisors that ended in 1996.

Indeed, Bernal was a bright spot on the Moore staff that was bent on reinventing the county in El Ed's image.

Dunbar will see she got the best end of this deal when Day brings back Ron St. John, who, after helping Day's predecessor Mike Boyd simmer down, got too high-falutin' to be bothered with roads, parks, sewers, zoning, health, barking dogs--you know, county issues.

And Bernal is a bargain. He's making $34,602 a year. St. John, if his salary under Boyd is any indication, will be given about twice that


McPAPER: The Arizona Daily Star, desperate for higher circulation after abandoning conventional methods such as publishing a decent product, has come up with a new marketing tool. Go to McDonald's, buy a value breakfast, and get a free copy. Offer good Monday though Saturday.

Now let's see: there are about 30 McDonald's in Tucson and at least a dozen more throughout the rest of Southern Arizona. That should give the Star the chance to hand out several thousand copies and then claim--presto!--a circulation boost. That means they can crank the rates on any advertiser dumb enough to buy into this increase of already padded circulation figures.

Buy an EggMcMuffin and get a free Star. Wonder what else they could hand it out with to boost circulation numbers?

We were going to suggest they hand out a paper to every schoolchild in the county, but then we heard they already have a program to hand out freebies to local schools--and that they recently added those copies to their circulation figures.

Maybe they could start delivering two copies to every business that has a subscription. Oh wait--they did that last year.

How about having bums hand 'em out on street corners? Come to think of it, that was the Citizen's distribution strategy, until the Tucson City Council made it illegal.

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