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RANCH DANCE

Talk about your hot real estate market! Last week, the Tucson City Council voted to put the A-7 Ranch on the market without the niggling conservation conditions that have limited interest in the 82,000-acre property. Just days later, the county started talking about using bond funds to buy the ranch, located about 18 miles east of the city limits, for $1.9 million.

The $1.9 million would cover the city's remaining debt on the ranch, which was originally purchased by the city for $2.5 million more than five years ago to prevent it from being subdivided into little ranchettes. The city had hoped to flip the property, also known as the Bellotta Ranch, to a conservation organization, but nobody showed much interest. Debt service and ranch management are costing the city about $600,000 a year.

But once the council started talking about putting it back into private hands, the county quickly stepped up with its offer. While accepting the county's price would mean the city would get less than it paid for the property, it would also bring the chapter to a close, build on the ongoing push for better regional cooperation and ensure the preservation of the land, which was the idea behind the purchase in the first place. Here's hoping council members don't get greedy on this one.


BARRY BONDS

Say whatever you'd like about Pima County's bond program--it may save the world or it may bring on the End Times--but say this about Bond Administrator Jim Barry, executive assistant to Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry: Barry has done such an outstanding job of organizing, synthesizing and proselytizing the bond effort that his pending retirement should be denied. And he should be given a raise from his nearly $86,000 a year salary.

Barry, who holds a doctorate and is quite convincing in the role of professor, performed brilliantly in making sure the six-part bond was clear and easy to understand. There may be debate on the true costs of all these goodies that taxpayers--or the devoted few who turned the tide strongly at the polls last month--said they were willing to dive into debt for, but there is no debate about Barry's professionalism. He did his duty under the monumental strain of competing interests and ever-changing priorities, while simultaneously contending with some monumental egos, particularly from a cast of super-geniuses on the Open Space bond advisory panel, stooped by the sheer weight of all the knowledge they carry for the rest of us.

Barry, a 20-year county executive who also has lobbied state and federal governments and served in the county transportation department, has about a half-year to kick around or get kicked around by his nephew and fellow Chicago native, Republican Supervisor Sugar Ray Carroll.


IN THE ROUGH

Pima County supervisors may have sliced one with their recent vote on the management contract for moribund Arthur Pack Desert Golf Course. The issue wasn't quite as simple as dumping the presumptuous Southwest Golf after 25 years and awarding the contract to Wildcat Golf for energetic management, marketing and the quick infusion of $2 million in improvements. Supervisors got a lecture in a secret, er, "executive" session before their vote. They were warned that the Bureau of Land Management, which handed the Arthur Pack property to the county, demanded back in the day that the property not be used or managed or signed over to a for-profit business.

Supervisors played through, scarcely slowed by the BLM's supposed provision. What the hell is the county gonna do--make Southwest partners Tom Chandler and Steve Porter pay back all that money they made since 1979? Southwest, by the way, was a distant third on the ratings of six bidders scored by county staff.

Southwest's swan song, hosting the Pima County Amateur Tournament a couple weeks ago, was marred by a goofy attempt to pay winners in cash rather than in balls, gloves, shirts, etc. Memo to Porter: That's why it's called "amateur." The great Armen Dirtadian won his 10th county amateur title, which oddly received no mention in the daily sports pages.


DISORDER IN THE COURT!

Heeeeee's back! Lovable John Kromko, the former state lawmaker, once again wants his own courtroom. Now that a five-year ban on seeking office in Pima County has expired, the wily Democrat is facing two attorneys, Trina Armenta and Maria Lilia Felix, in the hunt for the justice of the peace bench in District 9.


MEET THE NEW BOSS

Herminia Frias, one of 11 people elected to the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council out of a mind-boggling 66-candidate field, was named chairwoman of the 14,000-member tribe by her fellow council members last week. Frias, 31, is the first woman to ever head up the tribe. The UA grad will serve a four-year term.


STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Looks like Ralph Nader may have made this battleground state's presidential ballot. Nader supporters delivered his petitions to the Arizona Secretary of State's office last week.

In recent weeks, the folks collecting Nader signatures were also collecting for the Protect Arizona Now initiative, which would ban the delivery of state services to illegal immigrants. It's not exactly the same crew that normally supports Nader, but the bottom line was, as you've probably guessed, filthy lucre. The petition passers were being paid to get the sigs.

All of which is perfectly understandable in today's political world--except it's the Nader purists who are always complaining that mainstream Democrats have sold out and aren't any different from Republicans. Guess the end justifies the means every once in awhile, eh?


ACCESS AXED

Don't want to see Access Tucson, the city's public-access channels, get chopped on the city's cutting board? Better start calling your council members.

As we mentioned last week, funds for Access Tucson have been sliced by about 10 percent every year for the last three years, with city funding down to about $1 million, even though the city rakes in about $5 million in taxes on cable service--a portion of which is supposed to fund public access.

Ward 6 Councilman Fred Ronstadt wants to whack further this year, cutting funding by $300,000, or 30 percent of Access' budget. Councilwoman Carol West came to the rescue, sort of, by suggesting that they only cut $150,000.

Oddly, no one suggested cuts to the city's public-relations showcase, Channel 12.

More budget maneuvers are scheduled for this Monday, June 21.


LEAVING FOR LAS VEGAS

Richard Carranza is leaving Pueblo High School, where he's served with distinction as a teacher, vice principal and most recently principal. Carranza, 37, is a Pueblo alumnus who returned to his school to lead a vibrant mariachi program before moving up to administration. He has accepted a job in the wildly fast-growing Clark County school system to gain some exposure for a likely return to a top TUSD administrative post. We are eager to sing Carranza's praises, but we're not quite ready to spin the kind of fairy tale about his tenure we read in the Arizona Daily Star. Yes, scores were up a little, but Pueblo still lacks a community bond, and portions of the campus are broken down. And let's not forget the death of a student last school year during a bullying incident.

Elsewhere in TUSD, Toni Cordova, who went from being a meek public relations operative to chief of staff under Superintendent Stan Paz, is out. Estella Zavala, who once worked mostly to keep TUSD secrets secret, is now the PR queen at 1010 under the ongoing reorg ordered by Paz's successor, Roger Pfeuffer.

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