Blast From the Past: Manhole Counting in Pima County

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Longtime Pima County watchers may recall the stink that arose when the county awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to count manholes in Pima County.

The question came up again at today's Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting, when Republicans Ray Carroll and Ann Day asked that a $500,000 contract related to the project be pulled from the consent agenda and delayed for a few weeks. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says he'll be happy to answer any questions.

Here's what the late Chris Limberis wrote about the project in TW way back in 2001:


Pima County government is a sewer. The member of a previous Board of Supervisors who used to say that, Republican Greg Lunn, was a smart college drop-out who was a quick study with zero tolerance for the day-to-day grind that is the job of supervisor. He had no stomach for it. That is why he was a much better player in the state Legislature before coming back to sit on the board from 1989 through 1992. The Skinny has previously noted Lunn's disdain for long hours in the shop.

Nonetheless Lunn's characterization of county bids and the award of millions of dollars of county contracts was not off. It is why hardened county officials nicknamed Lunn "Ed Norton," not after the popular young actor (American History X, Rounders) but after the New York sewer worker who was Ralph Kramden's buddy on The Honeymooners.

Lunn, now a legislative and Indian tribe lobbyist, would have been delighted by the Board of Supervisors' 4-1 vote last week to award $3.8 million to Tetra Tech Inc., a Pasadena, Calif. engineering company. Tetra Tech, which last year swallowed up the Phoenix and Tucson engineering company Collins-Piña, will be paid to check out the county's 59,000 sewer manholes. That's $64.41 per manhole. Ray Carroll, a Republican, dissented.

Data collected, according to the paperwork

the board was given to justify the contract, will "better the county's ability to locate, and vehicularly access the public system's 59,000 manholes."

This seems like a volunteer job the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Tucson could do. One, two, three, four —

But alas, Raul Piña, the local manager of Collins-Piña and now the political point man for Tetra Tech, bagged another one. Piña has lavished campaign contributions on supervisors for years, particularly for his friend and supporter Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat in his fourth term. Piña regularly has fundraisers for Grijalva and Grijalva's campaign finance statements reveal not only Piña's largesse but that of a host of other Collins-Piña and now Tetra Tech big shots.

Piña beat out Stantec Consulting, a Phoenix-based engineering firm that can hardly complain. Its people know full well the brazen political paybacks in Pima County. Stantec, locally, was once Cella-Barr & Associates, a firm that also threw a ton of political contributions around in the last 25 years.

How Collins-Piña and several other firms landed lucrative county road engineering contracts in the last seven years is the subject of investigations by the FBI and another agency. Allegations by Brooks Keenan, the director of Transportation and Flood Control, claim that Grijalva and fellow Democrat Dan Eckstrom pressured County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to scrap the choices made by a selection panel and instead give them to Collin-Piña and other politically connected and minority firms.

Huckelberry has denied any wrongdoing and has also given detailed explanations why the panels' recommendations were not followed.

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