Keegan came in second for the Brick Wall Award, the annual prize given by the state's journalists to "public officials and institutions that brazenly ignore the duty to disclose public information."
First prize went to the fourth estate's own Karen Wittmer, publisher of The Tribune, a suburban Phoenix paper. Wittmer is on the governor's Stadium Task Force, and she shamefully went along with fellow board members' illegal decision to shut the public out of meetings where they discussed using public money to pay for a new Arizona Cardinals football stadium.
Keegan earned her brick for her strenuous efforts to keep the state's new AIMS test secret. Bought and paid for by the Arizona taxpayer, the test measures high school students' math, reading and writing skills. It's a high-stakes test -- if kids don't pass it, they don't graduate. Following students' overwhelming failure on the first test given last year, teachers clamored to look at it so they could teach the kids what they need to learn. Parents argued that their kids should get to see their tests afterward so they can find out where they messed up. Journalists joined the chorus, maintaining it's impossible to evaluate whether the test is legitimate if it's kept secret.
Too expensive, Keegan maintained. For a public viewing, the state would have to ante up the money for an extra version of the test with similar but not identical questions to what the students suffer through. Keegan came up with a ludicrous compromise on the lines of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Her plan allowed people, upon request, to take a look at the test, as long as they took no notes or pictures and promised not to reveal what they'd seen. The Arizona Republic slapped Keegan with a lawsuit, charging the schools chief with violating the state's public records access law.
Last month Judge John Foreman agreed with the newspaper, saying it's "in the public interest to disclose" the majority of test questions. He noted that the loopy compromise reached by Keegan was a little like trying to have it both ways -- by granting any access at all to the test, the state gave up the right to restrict what people could do with their new knowledge.
The state Board of Education's response? Cut off all access. Now no one's allowed to see the test under even the limited conditions of the Keegan compromise. Unfazed by the brick that will be delivered to her office by the Arizona Press Club, Keegan told a reporter that the total blackout is the only way to keep the Republic from publishing the whole test.
ALLAN ELIAS, RECORD SETTER: The former Tucson financial big shot got slapped last month with the longest prison sentence -- 17 years -- for an environmental crime in the United States. It is news, out of U.S. District Court in Pocatello, that more than a few Tucsonans in financial, development and other business are flat-out happy to hear. And they didn't suffer anything compared to what Elias did to 20-year-old Scott Dominguez in August 1996 at Elias' Soda Springs, Idaho, chemical processing plant.
Dominguez's vibrant life was ruined when he was poisoned with cyanide while cleaning a tank that had the toxic sludge from a mining waste extraction process. According to Idaho press accounts of the trial and 10-hour sentencing hearing, Dominguez suffered brain damage leaving him in a condition similar to that of a Parkinson's disease victim.
A co-worker who struggled to pull Dominguez to safety testified that Elias "should have been tried for murder, because he might just as well have put a gun to Scotty's head and pulled the trigger."
Said Judge B. Lynn Winmill: "The sentence adequately reflects the danger Mr. Elias posed to the community and one individual in particular."
Elias was cocky, thinking he could talk his way out of prison at the sentencing hearing after declining to take the stand during the trial. And he is defiant, planning on an appeal. He was convicted on four charges of violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for dumping toxic waste and knowingly endangering his employees. He also was convicted for lying to OSHA and falsifying records.
Elias was a brilliant whiz kid here into the 1980s. A Wharton grad at age 19 and a graduate of the University of Arizona College of Law, he was a founder of the Union Bank and developed what is now the Bank of America at Stone Avenue and Pennington Street. He also syndicated and speculated in land and showed off with an eastside restaurant.
GRINLESS GRINNELL: Rick Grinnell, the luckless Republican who ran decent races for City Council in 1995 and 1999 in northeast Ward 2, will not be running for the Board of Supervisors against Republican Ray Carroll.
There had been plenty of talk of Grinnell challenging Carroll in District 4, which covers the east side and Green Valley. Grinnell would have had to move into the district, where Carroll is extremely popular in his third year in office, particularly for showing the strength to walk out of Democratic Supervisor Raul Grijalva's shadow. Carroll was appointed in 1997 to fill the term of John Even, who died after just four months in office. In a special election in 1998, Carroll defeated John Even's widow, Brenda Even, and government watchdog Ken Marcus in a three-way GOP primary.
In both of his City Council campaigns, Grinnell carried the ward but lost citywide. His Board of Supervisors candidacy was floated after the boys couldn't round up sports guy Dave Sitton or somebody else to make the challenge. While he was making the rounds, Grinnell was dropping the name of Bob McMahon, head of a local restaurant empire, as one of his chief sponsors. (McMahon himself denies involvement with the aborted campaign.) We hear the roof caved in on Grinnell when car dealer/banker Jim Click stalled.
COPPER BOWL OF TEARS: In all the wailing about the exit of Tucson's bowl game to Phoenix, little was heard about the real victims: the taxpayers of Tucson and Pima County. The City Council, beginning in 1988, gave the Copper Bowl and its various successors a total of $903,683. Of that, $50,000 was repaid, according to the city's Office of Budget and Research and the city Finance Department. We remember when the fat-cats (some of them hacks from failed savings and loans) promised to repay the city $200,000. Pima County, on votes from previous Boards of Supervisors ending in 1995, doled out another $680,000 for the bowl game with four cash payments that included $200,000 in 1992; $100,000 in 1993; $200,000 in 1994; and $180,000 in 1995, according to county records.
The bowl promoters loved to give their lackey elected officials wildly inflated figures they claimed would be the return on the taxpayers' investment. The reality was paltry. Direct tax benefits to Pima County -- based on the Copper Bowl's own inflated figures -- was only $21,000.
A RECALL TO REMEMBER: It should be an exceptionally interesting graduation ceremony at Canyon Del Oro High School next week. The far northwest-side school will be holding its commencement Tuesday, May 16, the same day as the recall election in the Amphi School District.
School board members traditionally attend graduations (Amphi High's is Monday), but this could be dicey. Will the incumbents who are facing recall be sitting there with transistor radios in their pockets, listening for results through an earpiece? And what happens if it's announced over the air halfway through the graduation that they've lost their spots on the board? Do they get up and leave? Will the newcomers insist that the incumbents give up their seats on stage?
Finally, an exciting graduation ceremony that doesn't involve beach balls, vodka bottles, or streaking. At least, let's hope not.