SAVE THE BALLOTS!While we remain skeptical that the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority was flipped, we agree with everyone who says we should hang on to the ballots until we can get a judge to let the county recount 'em. First step: stopping Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford from destroying the ballots.
As we reported on our new political Web site, ScrambleWatch.com, it was longtime RTA critic Bill Risner who let us know that Ford was preparing to destroy the ballots from the RTA election, which enacted a half-cent sales tax to fund an estimated $2.1 billion in transportation projects over two decades.
Risner, who has successfully sued Pima County to gain access to electronic databases related to ballot tabulation, suggested last year that the RTA election might have been flipped--that county election officials rigged the computers to show the RTA propositions passed even though voters actually rejected it.
Since then, we've had an investigation by Attorney General Terry Goddard (which critics have dismissed as a "sham") and lots of legal jousting by Risner and the Pima County Attorney's Office, which reached a climax when the Pima County Board of Supervisors agreed to give up an appeal of the case and turned over the databases to Risner.
Even though Risner and his team got their hands on the RTA database in January, we've still got months to go before we learn if getting it means anything. Jim March, the tech guy with the election-integrity crew, says he's been working on developing a program that might (or might not) detect any signs of fraud in the RTA database he got from the county back in January.
March hopes to have some results by November, though he warns us that no program can eliminate the possibility that the election was flipped.
So why not just recount the ballots? Because state law prohibits the county from doing a recount without a judge's order, which ain't easy to get.
But it would be a whole lot harder if Ford destroys the ballots.
Ford recently sent letters to the various political parties informing them that she would be destroying the ballots from the RTA election if no one raised an objection by Friday, July 11.
State law requires ballots to be sealed in a vault under the control of the county treasurer and destroyed six months after an election. The RTA ballots are still around because they were evidence in the lawsuit that Risner had filed against the county, which has been more or less resolved.
Ford maintains she has no position on whether the ballots should be destroyed, but she doesn't want to be facing charges for failing to destroy them in accordance with state law.
"It's fine with me if we keep them," she says. "It's fine with me if we destroy them."
Members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors and Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry want to keep the ballots, as do a lot of other interested parties.
Huckelberry and Ford--an elected official who does not answer to Huckelberry--met with lawyers from the Pima County Attorney's Office last month to discuss the legal options regarding the ballots. Huckelberry says he wanted to preserve the ballots, while Ford says she was concerned about the potential violation of state law.
Those separate positions, according to Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and her chief deputy, Amelia Craig Cramer, set up a conflict between the two county departments.
The attorneys asked both Huckelberry and Ford to waive any conflict so they could join forces to devise a legal strategy to ask a judge to preserve the ballots.
Huckelberry agreed to the waiver, but Ford refused.
"I'm not real comfortable with the county attorney's representation of my interest in the first place, because if they were looking out for my interests when this case first went to court, they would have addressed it at that point," Ford says. "I wouldn't even be in this position."
Here's where it starts to cost you money: Both Ford and Huckelberry will now have to hire outside counsel to settle the question of destroying the ballots in court.
THE BOONDOCKS AFFAIRAttorney Bill Risner had a second Big Reveal at his RTA press conference last week: He produced a affidavit signed by Zbigniew Osmolski, a former county employee who claims that he had a "candid conversation" with Elections Division computer programmer Bryan Crane, during which Crane confided "that he 'fixed' the RTA, or Regional Transportation Authority election, on the instruction of his bosses."
This conversation, according to the affidavit, took place at the Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave., while the two stepped outside for a smoke.
County Elections Director Brad Nelson says he did not order Crane to fix the election; Crane himself has denied it under oath.
Osmolski did not return our phone call as of press time. Risner says Osmolski is more interested in talking to Attorney General Terry Goddard than to us.
Osmolski's county personnel file shows he was fired from the county in 2002 after he was busted for insubordination related to drinking on the job. Among the details in the file:
• Osmolski refused to take a blood-alcohol test after his supervisor believed she smelled alcohol on his breath. She was checking on Osmolski after hearing that he smelled of booze and had grabbed the hand of a co-worker in the elevator, because he "liked to" hold her hand.
A notice of dismissal to Osmolski notes that his supervisor "had verbally counseled you to not drink before coming to the office or any public meeting where you represented the county. She stated that citizens had complained to her that you attended meetings reeking of alcohol and were obnoxious and belligerent in meetings."
• Osmolski tried to explain his intoxicated state by claiming that he was taking prescription pills and wearing cologne with an aroma of alcohol. However, Osmolski could not produce a prescription or a sample of his eau de booze.
• Osmolski had been reprimanded in 1995 for losing a county-issued car in the parking lot of the Desert Diamond Casino. The car ended up getting towed to the Sheriff's Department.
In that case, Tony Paez, who was then director of the county's transportation department, reduced a two-week suspension to a written reprimand because of Osmolski's "outstanding performance and significant contributions to this department."
• Osmolski was reprimanded in 1992 for asking an engineering consultant for a date; she complained that she felt sexually harassed by the invitation. The engineer said that Osmolski told her a breakfast, lunch or dinner date could mean "lots of money."
In the personnel file, Osmolski complained that "this matter was improperly investigated."
Whatever Osmolski's history--Risner said last week that Zbig lost his county job because he was a "whistleblower"--Risner hopes the affidavit offers enough evidence for Goddard to come down to Tucson and order the ballots to be counted again, which would either prove that the election was rigged or remove the cloud hanging over it.
DASH FOR CASHDemocratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords stayed a few steps ahead of Republican challenger Tim Bee in the second-quarter fundraising numbers. Between April 1 and June 30, the Giffords campaign raised $562,137.97. Giffords ended the quarter with more than $2 million on hand and has raised nearly $2.5 million since the November 2006 election. Bee, who was distracted by his duties as Arizona Senate president during the second quarter, raised $391,821 and had more than $687,000 in the bank at the end of June. Bee will get a big financial boost later this week, when President George W. Bush comes to Tucson for a breakfast fundraiser.
We'd tell you more about the reports, but we're all out of space. Check out ScrambleWatch.com for more analysis.