TAKING OUT THE BASURTO: TUSD Director of Bilingual Education Leonard E. Basurto is on paid administrative leave from his $81,000-a-year job pending an investigation into his conduct with female employees.
Part of the investigation centers on why the husband of TUSD's research project manager beat up Basurto on the beginning of a busy day at district headquarters, 1010 E. 10th St.
Gail Walton pummeled Basurto shortly before 9 a.m. on September 23. Though enraged at Basurto, Walton immediately stopped delivering the thrashing as soon as he was touched by Superintendent Stan Paz, who was about to get into his car to make an important lobbying trip to Phoenix.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Paz," Walton said repeatedly, according to witnesses.
Basurto declined advice to go to a hospital despite the beating he took to his nose and face.
"He was unrecognizable," one administrative aide said. "His nose had to have been broken."
Basurto has not returned repeated phone calls from The Weekly to the $300,000 Tucson Mountains home he shares with his wife, Amelia, who is Title 1 project specialist for TUSD.
Reached at his Green Valley home, Gail Walton politely declined to speak about the incident.
The Basurtos began their TUSD careers as elementary teachers, he at Henry and she at Davis, nearly 30 years ago. Amelia Basurto is paid $51,821 a year.
Basurto is an ardent defender of bilingual education who is critical of anyone who offers even modest bilingual reform--a stance that has prompted many inside and outside TUSD to view Basurto as chiefly interested in defending his bureaucratic empire.
But Basurto is on leave for other reasons. Walton's wife, Amanda, is a research project manager for planning at TUSD. She is paid $55,596 and began her career as a teacher at Safford Middle School.
It was not a great day for a rumble at TUSD. The fastidious Paz was preparing for a trip to Phoenix to lobby state Department of Education and state Board of Education officials on the landmark school labeling--excelling to underperforming--issue. He dusted off his suit and made the trip, but not before Tucson Police responded.
SO HE DIDN'T INHALE? Republican gubernatorial Matt Salmon has no love for former President Bill Clinton. After all, Salmon is a true believer who led the charge against Newt Gingrich, who engineered the 1994 GOP revolution, after he came to the conclusion that Newt was betraying the party's conservative principles.
But last week, after the Arizona Republic broke the story that Salmon had failed to register as a federal lobbyist even though he was representing the city of Phoenix and other clients with business before the federal government, Salmon offered a defense that sounded positively Clintonian: He didn't need to register under the federal law--a reform which he himself voted for when he was in Congress--because he wasn't a lobbyist, merely a "consultant" who set up some meetings between city officials and the federal delegation. He never specifically asked any of his former colleagues to vote one way or another on any issues.
Oh, please. How dumb does he think we are?
Why would the city of Phoenix--or any other client--hire Salmon if it wasn't because, as a former congressman, he had considerable clout with his former colleagues? Do you suppose they thought, although he'd set up the meetings and sat in on them, that he wasn't supporting the client's position?
We don't think being a lobbyist is automatically a bad thing--although we think its fair to point out that Salmon was cashing checks from Qwest while opponent Janet Napolitano was filing lawsuits against the much-hated phone company, which has plenty of regulatory issues in front of the state. And we suspect Salmon wasn't doing much to earn his pay for his lobbying--er, that is, "consulting" work while running for governor over the last six months, especially since he told us before the primary he was dedicated pretty much every waking hour to the campaign. Salmon himself realized this was a political liability and recently gave up those contracts.
Frankly, the failure to register doesn't strike us as such a big deal, but his defense is just laughable. If Salmon had just said he overlooked it, or forgot to do some paperwork, we can imagine most voters forgiving him and forgetting all about by election day. As it is, he just looks like, well, someone who says it all depends on what the definition of "is" is.
DEMOCRATIC DISARRAY: If you're judging from top to bottom, the Democrats have put together the best slate we've seen in a long time, while the Republicans have, overall, one of the worst we've seen. And if you don't believe us, just check out the widespread defections among the country-club wing of the GOP, with the formation of groups like Republicans for Napolitano and Republicans for Chris Cummiskey, the Democrat who's facing Republican Jan Brewer in the Secretary of State's race.
But to win in November, the Democrats still need to match the Republicans, who have been light-years ahead of the Demos when it comes to get-out-the-vote efforts like voter identification, early balloting, mailers and phone banks. The Arizona Democratic Party, under chair Jim Pedersen, has been working hard to lay the groundwork.
So what's going on in Pima County? Well, county chair Dave Bradley, after finding a new party headquarters, abruptly resigned his position to run for the state Legislature in midtown Tucson's District 28. Bradley won the Democratic primary for one of two House seats, but didn't grab as many votes as UA prof Ted Downing; now the two of them face incumbent Republican Ed Poelstra in November.
In the meantime, the chairmanship went temporarily to Carmen Prezelski, a longtime Democratic activist who regularly shares recipes with readers of her Tucson Citizen column. Prezelski has never struck us a much of a political powerhouse, but even we were amazed by what happened to her in the primary election.
Prezelski actually managed to lose her race for a precinct committeeman spot. And get this: our spies tell us that, as one of four candidates in her precinct, she would have been a shoo-in, except the party had recently reduced the number of slots from four to three. So Carmen ended up losing to her own son, Ted Prezelski, as well as party treasurer Becky Schulman and Roger Schrader.
Now c'mon: If you're doing your job as party chair, even if you're just temporarily filling in, surely you can get your own neighbors to cast a symbolic vote for you, for God's sake.
With Carmen now ineligible to serve as party chair, Bradley took the job back, but he's supposed to resign and give it to former lawmaker Hershella Horton. But we're told Horton is plenty busy these days, having gone back to teaching since her losing bid for the Corporation Commission two years ago, so she'll looking to unload the job.
The internal disarray doesn't bode well for the big turnout effort the Democrats need in November.
BUZZ BOLTS: It's no big surprise that the Center for Creative Photography failed to snare photography hotshot Willis "Buzz" Hartshorn as its new director. The center secretly extended an offer to Hartshorn last summer to take on the job of directing the CCP, which has now been leaderless for two years, three months and counting. Hartshorn has led the big-deal International Center for Photography in New York since 1994, and when his board heard he might head West, they counter-offered with a gigantic salary increase. Who can blame him for pocketing the cash and just saying no to the dysfunctional CCP? The once-great art institution has been systematically slashed and burned by petty UA bureaucrats for half a dozen years. No other candidates thus far drummed up by the search committee were even remotely qualified, bringing the center back to square one.
Enter Charles Guerin, two-year director of the University of Arizona Museum of Art. Guerin has been given the charge of directing BOTH art institutions, part-time, for the next six months while the CCP search committee regroups. It's an asinine solution that devalues both institutions. And while Guerin got hired at the UAMA mostly because he succeeded in building a new museum at the University of Wyoming, his last job, the UA spin doctors are trying to recast him as a photography expert. But more interesting is the office furniture angle of this story. Carla Stoffle, the UA dean of libraries and a principal villain in the tale, has been occupying the Center like a conquering general for months. She moved her desk to the place, the better to spy on its few remaining art professionals. Now Guerin has announced that he too plans to put his desk over at the CCP. Can't wait to see what happens in this battle of the bureaucrats, this frenzy over furniture. Which desk will win? Are two desks better than one?
TRUDY TRIUMPHS: On a happier note, Trudy Wilner Stack, the former CCP curator who left this summer after 11 stellar years, has made a big splash with her first post-CCP exhibition. She put together Winogrand 64 at none other than Buzz's International Center for Photography in New York, drawing on her longtime study of the Winogrand archive at the CCP. The show thus far has garnered a major review in The New York Times and another in the New Yorker. Someday Tucson will say, we knew her when.
AS THE STAR SETS: The morning daily's soap opera continued Friday when Features Editor Maria Parham informed her staff of its latest departure, reporter Elaine Gale, who was summarily and rather noisily dismissed the day before. Parham also reminded her co-workers that "sharing" anything that goes on inside the Star with anyone outside the Star is a violation of the paper's Code of Ethics--and possible grounds for dismissal.
Surely Parham wasn't referring to an item in these parts last week detailing all the comings and goings in Features. She doesn't think we would stoop to that daily newspaper tactic of finding sources on the inside to get the real scoop about what's going on in a bureaucracy, does she?
Next week: Will Gale join RuthAnn Hogue in suing the Star? Who will be walked out of the building next? And will that person be allowed to clean out her desk? Stay tuned...