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Follow-ups on stories regarding a BMX crusade, Wingspan and elections integrity

The news in 2009 was full of lessons in patience and tenacity—traits that all good underdogs need.

Having the right traits, however, doesn't mean that you always win.

Mike Hines has been leading a crusade to get the city of Tucson to allow BMX bicycles at the skate park at Santa Rita Park, and after months of pleading and waiting, he finally found out on Dec. 23: The answer is no.

The park and other city facilities only allow skateboards, although Hines has provided plenty of examples of cities that have figured out how to allow bicyclists and skaters to share the concrete, including Marana, Tempe and Mesa. (See "Bike Paradise," Jan. 29.)

Hines' final answer from the city came by e-mail on Dec. 23 from Yvonne Espino, management assistant to Richard Miranda, deputy city manager.

"The city of Tucson ... performed a risk assessment regarding BMX riders using the Santa Rita facility. They concluded that the facility was not constructed and designed for dual purposes and is strictly for skateboarding. If BMX bikes are permitted to use the facility, it would lead to undue liability to the City of Tucson," Espino wrote. "In addition, the existing protection agreed to under the design standards as delineated by the designer would seriously erode."

Hines continues to raise funds for the Kory Laos Memorial Freestyle BMX Bicycle Park, along with Kory's father, Scott Laos, and other volunteers. (See "Let's Share," July 16.) The land for the park, at 5510 N. Shannon Road, was donated by Pima County, and park construction will cost an estimated $1.5 million.

Because of the cost—which will need to be largely covered by donations—groundbreaking may not occur for a decade. Meanwhile, Hines says the city and county need to support other ideas to get young bicyclists off the streets. Kory Laos was struck and killed by a car in 2007 while riding his BMX bicycle near the UA.

"I'm not going to keep bothering them about going after Santa Rita. They've obviously made up their mind. The Ott (Family) YMCA is a possibility, and I feel I can bring in a couple of hundred new members if they allow BMX at their skate park just once a week, on the slowest day. ... I think that would be our best chance for an immediate place to go," Hines says.

Hines says there are also city skate areas at the Randolph Center and in Rita Ranch.

"I don't know when they're going to get it," says Hines, referring to the city government. "Do more kids have to keep getting into trouble riding in places where it's illegal? Do more kids have to die?"

While Hines' request got blown off, a request from Wingspan resulted in success.

Last summer, the LGBT organization had to cut staff, move to a smaller space and reevaluate its future due to the economy. Wingspan also said it needed to raise $125,000 by the end of October to create a reserve fund, and wanted to find 1,000 donors able to give $25 a month. (See "Drastic Decreases," July 23.)

On Dec. 21, Wingspan's board president Cynthia Garcia announced that the organization reached its first goal, raising $133,880.

Although the goal to find 1,000 donors to give $25 a month hasn't been reached, Garcia says the $133,880 shows the community feels Wingspan is needed.

In Garcia's e-mail, she noted that Wingspan has 17 secured grants and collaborator contracts to support core programs and services, totaling more than $460,000. The core programs—including the Anti-Violence Program, the Eon Youth Program, the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA), Senior Pride, Rainbow Families and the community center—continue on thanks to a volunteer staff and 10 employees.

While the agency has made a remarkable turnaround, Garcia says funding concerns remain due to the state budget. Wingspan and other agencies that depend on state grants are looking at certain cuts.

"We're fully expecting that this coming fiscal year," Garcia says. "Those in state government are going to make their choices, but we have to make sure Wingspan is still around and that it remains relevant to the community and self-sufficient."

While the past five months have been good for Wingspan, the past year has been a bit of bust for election-integrity activists—but they're not giving up.

The Tucson Weekly has covered election-integrity concerns in Pima County, particularly regarding the Regional Transportation Authority election in 2006.

This year, activists—led by the Pima County Democratic Party—finally convinced state Attorney General Terry Goddard to count the RTA ballots, and Goddard ruled out any foul play. (See "Case Closed?" April 30.)

Then in October, Pima County Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington ruled that the RTA ballots could be destroyed, as mandated by state law, and as requested by the county treasurer. That same month, the Democratic Party told attorney Bill Risner that it would not support an appeal.

The appeal is now being handled by the Libertarian Party, and Risner is still involved. The Democratic Party, however, did ask Risner to continue pursuing a public-records lawsuit asking for access to the RTA election poll tapes—election results printed from each precinct computer at the end of every election and placed with the ballots.

Although county officials have previously said that the poll tapes are public records, Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford's attorney recently argued that the poll tapes aren't actually public records, because they are another version of the ballots.

Election-integrity activist John Brakey says the idea that the poll tapes are equivalent to ballots is nuts.

"In 2004, through a records request, the Pima County Elections (Division) gave me poll tapes. In fact, I still have those tapes. Also, no other state claims such a thing," Brakey says.

The county Democratic Party's election committee includes in its agenda the desire for the county to put in a graphic scanning system, with all ballots scanned and put on the Internet. On Dec. 8, Risner presented a resolution to the state party resolution committee asking for support of a scanning system, and urging the "people of Arizona to elect Democratic legislative candidates who are pledged to see that the sanctity of the vote is protected."

The resolution passed and will now go before state committee members in January. Meanwhile, Risner will head to court to argue for the poll tapes on Jan. 19.

"We're still at it. We're going to win this appeal," says Brakey.

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