POLICE STATE: Once again the Tucson City Council--all members, all political varieties, both parties, all factions--have proved they are little more than Student Government 1-A.
A variety of political and media types generally concede that the Tucson Police Department screwed up the Fourth Avenue basketball riot last April 2. The rioters got away. Folks who worked there got attacked by the cops. Nobody heard the order to disperse and those just watching received a beating, while those who caused the problem walked away. A student lost an eye and the taxpayers will have to eat many lawsuits. Members of the media got shot with rubber bullets. Worst of all, the punks who committed real crimes remain at large a month later, even though there are abundant photos of them and their mugs have been displayed on television and in both dailies.
Who got to appoint the committee charged with investigating this fiasco? Chief of Police Richard Miranda, the guy who already has decided his people did nothing wrong and responded appropriately. While it's true the council didn't let him pull off his attempt to have secret committee meetings, Miranda did get to choose who's on the committee, which had its first meeting last week.
Miranda didn't want the public giving information to his committee, declaring that "disruptive." And we since have discovered that those who called Internal Affairs with a complaint about police activity that evening were warned by the secretary who answered the phone that they could be arrested for making the complaint, if it was found out they were on Fourth Avenue that night. This obviously would tend to squelch most complaints and to lend credence to those who charge the TPD Internal Affairs unit is simply a rubber stamp for cop actions, right or wrong.
Message for Mayor Bob Walkup and the council: those who call for a civilian review board for the cops already have one--YOU. You are elected to be in charge. There's an obvious problem with the cops. YOU should appoint a committee to investigate the cops, not the very people who need investigating. Get off your dead asses and do your job.
WASTE NOT: The Texas Transportation Institute released its annual report on the state of the nation's traffic earlier this month--and some of the numbers in Tucson have actually improved. The institute says Tucsonans waste a total of 23 hours stuck in traffic a year, down from 26 hours in last year's survey.
Twenty-three hours sounds like an awful lot of time, especially to those poor suckers who find themselves trapped in lengthy daily commutes. But if you break the numbers down, that's less than half an hour a week. Do the math further: figure a drive back and forth to work each day, and you're down to less than two minutes and 40 seconds per drive. Even in today's go-go-go, multitasking world, that doesn't seem especially torturous. Frankly, we expect most Tucsonans waste more time battling computerized phone trees.
GONE WITH THE BID: Holy turnover! The Tucson Downtown Alliance, better known as the BID (for Business Improvement District), has lost still another executive director. Page Kurtz, on the job just since July, is departing May 25 for cooler climes. Don Durband, a two-year BID staffer, has been named her successor.
"It's going to get hot here in the next month," Kurtz said. "It'll be fine in Myrtle Beach."
Kurtz said the move to South Carolina is purely a family decision; she wants her children growing up by the beach. Asked whether Tucsonans should interpret her departure as a sign of discouragement with the city's downtown, she said, "Please don't -- I'm leaving about two years too soon. The next two years are going to be really fun downtown." Apart from the Rio Nuevo millions that are to swirl around the city center, she points to three separate projects as reasons for optimism. The city intends to renovate the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot and the empty Thrifty block, and to demolish the City Hall Annex at Pennington and Scott, she said. The annex might be rebuilt as a mixed-use space--offices, stores, apartments and parking.
Kurtz's tenure of less than a year mirrors the little-more-than-a-year reign of Carol Carpenter, the first BID director, who resigned in October 1999 one step ahead of a damning city audit. The non-profit BID, chartered to market the downtown, and provide it with security and maintenance, gets a big piece of its budget from taxes on beleaguered downtown businesses. For the last three years, while the BID has stumbled on its sea legs, downtown property owners and tenants have been paying the group big money. Kurtz claims as her major achievement the mending of political fences that had been badly damaged in the BID's first year. Instead of bickering with the city, Kurtz brought on the board such city officials as Mayor Bob Walkup, City Manager James Keene and Rio Nuevo specialist John Updike.
Until now always a groomsman-but-never-a-groom, Durband, 36, won the board's nod for the top job. Durband, who's close to getting a master's degree in planning at the UA, was acting executive director between Carpenter and Kurtz.
He says the three-year-old group now is poised for action.
"My first priority will be to bring some viable businesses downtown," Durband said. "We need to get our recruitment effort into high gear. We'll get public input and approach it methodically and scientifically. What kind of businesses? That's the $64,000 question. Restaurants, coffeehouses, a bookshop? I don't want to get too specific. That will take analysis and consultation."
Anybody heard that song before?
HEY MAYOR, DO YOU ALL LOOK ALIKE IN IOWA? We thought Mayor Bob Walkup was particularly cowardly when he stacked the deck of speakers at a Rio Nuevo hearing in front of the City Council a while back. Out of about 20 speakers, only three or four who were critical were allowed to talk. He treated his Rio Nuevo committee people, such as Chair Chris Sheafe (from Oro Valley), as if they were just ordinary citizens. Walkup, a cardboard Republican, could take a lesson from Paul Marsh, a Republican who chaired the Board of Supervisors in 1995 and 1996. Even that legendary dim bulb had the manners and guts to alternate speakers at contentious Pima County hearings. Marsh, we have to say, was respectful. Walkup has disdain.
Walkup managed to sink lower at a recent meeting of Rio Nuevo's District Facilities Board (this is the one with the power). Big Bob looked at facilities board member Alice Eckstrom and called her "Mrs. Grijalva." To the mayor, smart Hispanic women who are married to county supervisors must all look the same.
RED HOT CHILI PAPERS, PART II: Inquiring minds, even those of reporters and editors at the Star/Citizen, want to know why they are being told "cut, cut, cut" when they are bombarded with festive and costly circulation promotions and even joint parties. The goons at Pulitzer's morning Star are busy making the lives of reporters and editors miserable again with revolving beats and other changes. At Gannett's terribly weak Citizen, the talk is about dress codes--a female assistant was recently reprimanded for some clothing that a boss thought was too tight--and even tiny overtime must be approved in advance by big boss man Michael Chihak. Still there is plenty of time and money to waste on the chili cook-off the Star, Citizen and their unwieldy child, Tucson Newspapers Inc., staged between Chihak, who brags about having professional cutlery to go with his culinary training, and Dennis Joyce, a generally despised assistant managing editor at the Star. It was even promoted with a pretend fight card poster that kind of symbolizes the whole team-building nonsense on South Park Avenue: it ain't real.
What's next? Jane Amari's Tuscan festival? Might have to hurry for that one. Star Editor and Publisher Amari has put out the "for sale" sign in front of the Santa Catalina Foothills home she snapped up for a mere $365,000 ($73,000 cash down) soon after her arrival in October 1999. Is she packing up? Or is she just tired of the glare of the lights from the Catalina Foothills High athletic fields while she promotes the full Gannettization of the Star?
SCHOOLYARD BULLIES BEATEN: The Tucson Unified School District board and former Tucson Magnet High School Principal Cecilia Mendoza have agreed to a $150,000 settlement that will avert a messy trial. The trial would have shown how then-Superintendent George F. Garcia and former TUSD Board member Gloria Copeland systematically harassed Mendoza for several years before chasing her off in 1999.
Mendoza, who restored order to Tucson High's troubled and riotous campus in 1995, was popular with everyone but Copeland and Garcia. They couldn't stomach her success. They stooped to accusing Mendoza of mishandling funds--from soda machines and for stamps--and even commandeered outside and costly investigations trying to make the incredible seem real. Board member Joel Ireland, a lackluster lawyer, jumped on the bandwagon and at one meeting proclaimed how serious the charges were against Mendoza.
Mendoza moved back to lead a high school in her native California. The settlement, which needs ratification at the Board's June meeting, will be paid by taxpayers and the district's insurer. Too bad. It should come right out of the bulging pockets of Garcia, now a superintendent in Boulder, Colo., and Copeland, who has gone into hiding.