FIXING THE FIX: Pima County's Democrat-controlled Board of Supervisors is finally answering the bell. Nine years after the county's procurement department was junked by a costly and completely ineffective reorganization, supervisors called for a beefed-up procurement director.
The move followed disclosures that many road and public works contracts are handed out to friends and political benefactors (shocking!) and that the contracts roll over and over and over. The Arizona Daily Star is crediting itself with the attempted reform.
Supervisor Dan Eckstrom and his Democratic majority of Sharon Bronson and Richard Elias want Martha Durkin to head procurement. Durkin is a lawyer and assistant county administrator who, in her previous stint, was a deputy county attorney for civil matters. She has overseen elections as well as purchasing during the latest crisis threatening Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry.
Republicans Ann Day and Sugar Ray Carroll opposed Durkin's installation, saying they wanted to wait until separate reports on the county's shabby 1997, 57-project road bond program are completed by the state Auditor General and county staff.
It was the 1993 putsch by other Republicans--Ed Moore and his monkeys, Mike Boyd and Paul Marsh--that decimated procurement and many other departments. The completely apolitical George Widugiris was among the 13 longtime county executives swept away by the Moore-Boyd-Marsh purge and his procurement department was cast adrift, though several professionals remained. He also was among those who successfully sued the county.
Widugiris, now with Phelps Dodge Mining Co., was a skilled, by-the-book type plucked from another mining company in 1987. A strong procurement director is no panacea. As talented and straight as he was, Widugiris was unable to stop certain political payoffs dished out by supervisors. He could not stop, for example, the quarter-of-a-million dollar "Spare The Air" contract that Moore, Eckstrom and then-Supervisor Raúl Grijalva handed to PR woman Judy Abrams in 1989, even though dear Judy ranked in the basement of the firms seeking that car-pool/bike/bus campaign. Abrams helped Moore, then a Democrat, win re-election in 1988 and also helped Eckstrom that year retain the seat he first won through appointment.
What is more striking is that the Grijalva-Eckstrom-Bronson majority board did nothing to secure a procurement director or create a strong department in 1997 in anticipation of the massive contracts that would be let after the success of the biggest road bond package in state history. Instead, they granted themselves more leeway by relaxing rules on Huckelberry. For Day, the paralysis remained 21 months after she succeeded Boyd.
Durkin in 1996 worked with another lawyer, Margaret McConnell, to redo Pima's procurement code. McConnell, recently canned as the state procurement director, was a heroine of the Project SLIM (add the "E") scandal that helped take down Gov. J. Fife Symington III, a Republican. McConnell also worked on a no-bid contract for the county.
A final note on the county's purchasing mess. One of the leading critics of county government, Steve Emerine, is a former county assessor and former editor at both the Star and Tucson Citizen. He has repeatedly lambasted the county's contract procedures, or lack thereof. But Emerine also was a beneficiary. He and his partners in American Property Service Consultants received a no-bid, $25,000 contract from Democrat Assessor Rick Lyons in 1995--a few months after Emerine and a partner contributed to their buddy Lyons' successful campaign to oust Assessor Alan Lang.
GABBY GOBBLE: George Gobble, famous for steering a no-bid $35,000 Pima County contract to the New Jersey political firm he joined after quitting his job as aide to Supervisor Ann Day, ran up more than $3,000 in cell phone bills while on the county payroll last year.
County taxpayers provided Gobble with $63,500 in salary. But that and the full benefits were not enough for this Republican stalwart. He talked his way through $2,980 in cell phone bills in 11 months. One month of the Gobble-line bill was missing from county records, making us truly suspicious. Could Boy George have talked any more than he did in March 2001? He gabbed on the county cell phone for nearly 45 hours that month for a total cost of $689.35.
Before we get into the details of Gobble's Rolodex, rest assured he was making calls at taxpayer expense to Jamestown Associates, the political consulting firm whose $35,000 ads promoting the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan must be in one of the Soprano landfills or maybe even in Satriale's butcher shop. They've not been seen.
Gobble also was busy dialing his favorite City Councilman, Fred Ronstadt, the Republican whom Jamestown helped rescue last year. It is Ronstadt's wife who is now running the Republican re-election campaign for another Gobble patron, U.S. Representative Jim Kolbe.
WASHED UP: Tucson Water Director Dave Modeer and his water-cannon lawyer, Marvin Cohen, blasted back a challenge from Ed Moore to Modeer's election campaign for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAP) board. This question remains: If Modeer told the truth when he filed papers stating he would not spend more than $500 in this campaign, how in the hell did he pay for Cohen, who also is Tucson Water's hugely expensive lead outside counsel? At his normal rates, Marvelous Marvin has far exceeded Modeer's $500 limit just by filing an answer and showing up for the hearing.
CLARIFICATION: On July 25, we reported in The Skinny that J. Kenneth Orms, a mortgage banker and real estate broker, was found guilty of domestic violence/assault charges on Jan. 31, 2001, and sentenced by Oro Valley Magistrate Jim West to 10 months supervised probation. We also reported on civil suits involving Orms and his fiancée, Robin Gardner. Gardner won a $900,000 judgment from Orms, which he has appealed, over their business relationship.
Orms objected to our characterization of the judgment in his criminal case and provided us with court records from his civil case that expound on the criminal proceedings.
According to records in the civil proceedings, Pima County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lee ruled on July 20, 2001: "A review of the criminal proceeding reveals there was a finding of guilt by the judge in the misdemeanor criminal action. There was no adjudication of guilt and no judgment of guilt. Instead, the Court in the criminal matter opted to proceed under A.R.S. 13-3601(m). Under this provision, if the Court finds an individual guilty, the Court does not enter a judgment of guilt and defers proceedings. While the proceedings are deferred, the individual is placed on probation. Upon the successful completion of the terms of probation, the Court dismisses the criminal charges. In this case Plaintiff successfully completed the terms of his probation and pursuant to A.R.S. 13-3601(m) the charges of domestic violence/assault were dismissed."