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BRAVE NUEVO WORLD: Left holding a bad hand with two troubled proposals for Rio Nuevo and a tight timeline to take advantage of a tax-increment-financing opportunity, City Manager Luis Gutierrez has reshuffled the deck -- and he may have a winner with a new plan that promises to build a park celebrating Tucson's birthplace, fund a few downtown museums and create a modest new retail opportunity in the city center.

The sketchy new plan is not without controversy. The district that would fund the public portion of the proposed $320 million development stretches from the dusty 62 acres of Rio Nuevo through downtown all the way down Broadway to El Con and Park Place, the newly renovated Park Mall. A portion of new sales-tax revenues from the malls would be diverted from the state to pay off up to $100 million in bonds that would help fund the various projects.

Left out in the process is Daystar Development, which had proposed building a mega-mall on Rio Nuevo South. The California-based developer would have used the TIF funds at the proposed downtown mall to fund four museums and a historical park at the Convento.

But there were numerous problems with Daystar's grandiose scheme. To begin with, as Daystar itself acknowledged in its proposal, making a mall that size work downtown was risky at best. Combine that with neighborhood opposition to a mega-mall and the concerns of archaeologists who thought the project would overwhelm the Convento project, and the result was a project that Gutierrez wisely concluded was too big for Rio Nuevo.

Gutierrez's plan isn't perfect, or completely fleshed out, but it's still the most realistic plan we've seen so far. Given the tight timeline, he deserves props for his efforts.

COMMAND PERFORMANCE: Freshman state Rep. Kathleen Dunbar put in an imperious appearance during the Rio Nuevo debate. Standing before the Council like a newly crowned princess, Dunbar warned the peasants on the City Council that the rest of the royal family at the Legislature would be most displeased if the city tried to form a district that stretched all the way to Park Place.

OK, we'll agree that city staff has twisted the intent of tax-increment financing. The legislation had a much more noble goal -- building stadiums for wealthy athletes at taxpayer expense. Using it to build museums and restore Tucson's birthplace is a real corruption of the law.

Dunbar seems to have lost track of the fact that she's supposed to represent us, not the Maricopa County legislative delegation. Instead of lecturing the Council on the fine points of tax-increment financing (and threatening to exact revenge during the next legislative session), she should be advocating on our behalf if her colleagues in the Legislature ask questions about this arrangement -- which they probably wouldn't have even noticed, if she hadn't raised such a stink about it.

The state Legislature, as developer Joe Cesare pointed out at the meeting, has been screwing Pima County for years. If this is a chance to recoup some state tax dollars, then Tucson should take it.

Dunbar also showed little class when she repeatedly referred to Rio Nuevo as "just dirt." You think she'd have a little more understanding about the cultural significance of the historically rich parcel.

SABINO SHREDDER: Oh, how they try to be sly at the Tucson Unified School District. Buried in the consent calendar of the TUSD Board agenda for July 6 was the seemingly innocuous proposal to get rid of old administrative records from three elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools, an alternative education program and the purchasing department.

But wait! Here's 1994-95 student attendance records from Sabino High School -- among the very items that the Department of Education wants the Attorney General's Office to examine for possible grade and attendance fraud at the troubled Foothills school.

Rookie Board Member Rosalie Lopez ruined TUSD's little shredding party by pulling the item for a separate vote. And not even her bitter colleagues wanted to get caught destroying evidence.

Board President Mary Belle McCorkle did her usual "What, me?" routine for the Tucson Citizen. "It's just one of those things," she said. "It wasn't anything. We realized we needed to keep those (records)." Yeah, right.

In late June, a TUSD committee that investigated irregularities at Sabino pinned ultimate blame on Principal Susan Preimesberger. Sabino has already been given warnings by its accreditation authority, the North Central Association, for two of the last three years. Besides giving credit to students who didn't bother to attend some classes, Sabino failed to keep adequate records and inflated enrollment for other classes.

Preimesberger, who initially denied there was anything improper at Sabino while trying to blame supposedly disgruntled employees, did an about-face. She pledged full cooperation with any discipline coming her way, according to the Citizen, and said she was willing to "shoulder the responsibility." She also claimed, "I'm all about trying to get a situation better."

Funny how a few investigations can adjust attitudes.

Meanwhile, TUSD is trying to put another happy face on its inferior product: results from the Stanford Achievement Test are to be released July 19, and they aren't pretty, although TUSD will try to spin them as improvement from last year. In fact, results show TUSD, for all grades, mired in the bottom half in all categories -- reading, language and math. Scores dropped in the sixth, eighth and ninth grades, while there were miniscule gains for the other grades. Similar minor improvement was recorded in language, although there was no improvement for ninth grade. Math scores dropped for third and ninth graders but increased slightly for the other grades.

Taxpayers are paying dearly for TUSD's undereducated mediocrity. Spending for TUSD, on a budget approved with no adjustment and hardly a review by McCorkle, Carolyn Kemmeries, James Christ and Joel Ireland, will jump by more than $14 million to $344 million. Included in that is a $5 million increase in the desegregation budget, which is now $47 million. McCorkle is refusing Lopez's request for a full audit of TUSD's insatiable desegregation budget.

FLEISHMAN'S FIFTEEN MINUTES: Despite his promise to set the 77-year-old City Charter square with the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions, mayoral hopeful Mike Fleishman won't have a spot on the November 2 general election ballot. Pima County Superior Court Judge Robert Donfeld booted Fleishman, most recently of the Reform Party, and Libertarian Elizabeth Ann Strong-Anderson out of contention. Both failed to meet the city election law that requires mayoral candidates to be properly registered voters within the city for three years immediately before becoming a candidate.

Not even front-row coaching from his pal, failed City Council candidate and recent law school grad Demetri "Jimmy" Downing, could save Fleishman from the court challenge mounted by Libertarian Party regulars.

In his aborted campaign, Fleishman raised valid points, many of which were well-taken. But we wonder if the 27-year-old candidate may have aimed too low by running for mayor in his debut campaign. There's the gubernatorial race in 2002. Or a U.S. Senate race next year. Hell, there's still time to get into the presidential fray -- the Reform Party doesn't have a candidate yet!

DISTRICT 1 DONNEYBROOK: Having failed to land an appointment to the Arizona Corporation Commission seat that was vacated when the Supreme Court sent Tony West packing, Pima County Republican Supervisor Mike Boyd may be seeking re-election after all. Boyd had told a bunch of folks he was planning to give up the Board of Supes seat, probably to run for the seat of retiring Corp Commissioner Carl Kunasek in 2000.

We suspect Boyd's failure to get the Corporation Commission seat provided him with a dose of reality therapy. Boyd must have noticed several other players who wanted the job from around the state, all capable of raising more money than he could for a statewide GOP primary. Boyd, having no visible job skills and clearly unable to find a better one than he has as a county supervisor, will try to keep his current $52,000-plus post. He'll clearly have primary competition:

· Republican Ann Day, prevented from running for the Senate again by term limits, has all but announced for the seat. Day has amassed a war chest of $75,000 throughout her Senate tenure, which will go far to offsetting her otherwise flaky behavior patterns.

· Sally Slosser, who gave Boyd a good run in 1996, went down in flames leading the charge to incorporate the Catalina Foothills in 1997, but that shouldn't preclude her re-entry as a Supe candidate.

· State Rep. Dan Schottel, one of the few conservatives elected from Pima County, wants to run up for the Day's Senate seat, as he too is precluded from seeking another term in the House. Schottel would face Republican insider Tony Hellon in the GOP primary for the Senate seat. Hellon has been anointed by the GOP power structure, which basically consists of her husband Mike Hellon, former Republican Party state chairman and current Republican National Committeeman, and the power couple's friends. Considering low turn-outs, and Schottel's notoriously poor campaign habits, he might just jump into the Supes race, where his odds for survival might improve.

· The wild card, maverick developer/tree hugger Rich Genser, would be the one genuine restrained-growth candidate in a district that's pretty well had it with the bladers and graders. The rest of the field ranges from pro-development to builder stooge.

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