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PISTOL PETE MISSES: The increasingly meddling Deputy Pima County Attorney "Pistol" Pete Pearman drew carelessly last week when he fired off a memo claiming the Board of Supervisors violated the law when it authorized Kino Community Hospital to spend another $1.3 million to fix its chronic management and billing problems. The Board put the onus on Kino's supposedly improved administration by just giving spending authority, not in approving an additional $1.3 million in cash.

Of the $1.3 million, $800,000 is supposed to go to Los Angeles-based PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consulting firm that was paid $210,000 to find what previous consultants and Kino employees have found: that hospital administration is so paralyzed that it fails to bill federal and state indigent medical plans to the tune of millions of dollars.

Pearman was one of five deputy county attorneys on the dais or in the audience during the board's special health care system crisis du jour meeting last week. Yet as the Board's counsel he said nothing then about this supposedly illegal act. Instead he sent a tattle-tale letter that claimed the Board -- which imposed a 10.3 percent property tax increase this year -- is guilty of "repeated failure to address the fiscal issues facing the county." The increase was levied, at Pearman's demand, to help buy down Kino's staggering $40 million deficit.

The memo impressed no one but the ninnies on the editorial board of The Arizona Daily Star and their darling, Democratic Supervisor Raul Grijalva.

We ask why they were not shocked when the same Board of Supervisors a week earlier gave Sheriff Clarence Dupnik an unspecified $2.3 million over three years to cover the match for the federal COPS grant. That also is a question County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry put to Pearman in a response Monday.

But more to the point, Huckelberry told Pearman exactly where he'll get the $1.3 million for Kino -- out of the County Attorney's bulging Anti-Racketeering fund.

"For fiscal year 1999-2000 you have a $5 million budget and year-to-date expenditures are only $900,000," Huckelberry told Pearman. "I have therefore concluded there is sufficient expenditure authority available within the Anti-Racketeering fund and will recommend to the Board that $1.3 million of the fiscal year 1999-2000 budgeted expenditure authority be transferred from the County Attorney Anti-Racketeering fund to the Kino Community Hospital budget."

"Pistol" Pete, on a crusade to manage the county as he approaches his much-needed retirement, also shot himself in the wallet. Huckelberry also informed Pearman that the raises County Attorney "Santa" Barbara LaWall dished out exceed what the Board authorized and will likely need additional spending approval.


GAS ATTACK: Tucson Water continues to wrestle with the problems of radon gas in our water supply. As you might recall, radon became a big issue during the recent City Council election because the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a new regulation limiting the amount of radon that can be in water delivered to homes.

Radon gas is primarily a problem in other parts of the country, because it collects in homes which are often sealed tightly against the elements. The colorless, odorless, naturally occurring gas has been linked to lung cancer, particularly among smokers. According to most radon experts, at least 95 percent of the radon in homes creeps up through the ground, with water-based radon adding a small percentage of the gas as it bubbles out of water from the tap.

It's easy to find out if you have a radon problem. Easy-to-use kits are cheap and widely available. You hang a testing unit in your home and in a few days you find out if you have a dangerous level of radon. If you do, it's relatively easy to take care of the problem.

The EPA wants to increase radon awareness, so agency officials are drafting water companies around the country for the effort. The federal agency has two proposed rules: one with a very low level of radon -- 300 picocuries per liter of water -- and one with a higher level of 4,000 picocuries per liter, provided the water company engages in a "multi-media mitigation program," which would likely include some testing of homes and a PR campaign to inform people about the potential dangers of radon.

Outgoing Assistant City Manager John Nachbar seemed to understand the concept back in February 1998, when, as acting head of Tucson Water, he wrote a memo explaining "an 'alternate MCL (maximum contaminate level) standard' would allow individual states to develop programs which control the overall risk of radon from both soil gas and drinking water. The idea would be to develop multimedia radon mitigation programs that could achieve the same or greater health benefits, reducing exposure of radon at lower costs than just dealing with water alone."

But Tucson Water Director David Modeer abandoned that strategy during the election season and announced the new rules would mean the utility would have to shut down a third to one-half of its wells to comply with the new regs.

Given that the election is behind us, you'd think Modeer and his crew would have come to their senses and be working on that multimedia mitigation program. After all, the utility is spending about $25,000 a month on a PR campaign to improve its image. You'd think now that they have permission to start pumping that CAP blend into our homes, they could divert those funds to producing some sort of friendly radon bulletin.

But utility officials instead are arguing that such a program has "equity issues," because some people would be reached with the information, while others would not.

So what's Tucson Water's solution? Ask the EPA to increase the lower threshold to 1,000 picocuries per liter, so only a few wells will exceed the limit and the utility will have to do virtually nothing about radon.

Given that the real radon problem is coming from the ground and not the water, this course of action will accomplish basically zilch in terms of protecting the community's health. That does appear to take care of the equity issue, in one sense: instead of some people getting the message about radon, nobody will.

Tucson Water -- looking out for the customer again!


LOONEY TUNE: Gov. Jane Dee Hull declared victory after her special session to resolve the disgraceful condition of the state mental hospital collapsed when grumbling lawmakers went home without doing anything.

We're reminded of the victory Saddam Hussein proclaimed following the Gulf War.

We can only imagine Hull is saying things like that because she's hoping her staff will have her committed, so that the press will pay some attention to the atrocious conditions at the state's looney bin. (And lawmakers strike us as a little nutty themselves, given that they couldn't even figure out a way to make mindlessly firing a gun in the air a felony. Maybe the whole legislative session could be run out of the mental hospital this year.)

What's with Hull these days, anyway? Talk among the common folk is that ever since her hospitalization several months ago -- for what was said to be a kidney problem -- she's seemed to be a mere ghost of her former self.

Also, the talk goes, her staff seems way too protective of her these days, and she can't seem to spend more than a couple of minutes in public before they hustle her into the proverbial waiting limo, or whatever.

Rumor mongers in the burning hellhole that is Arizona's capitol city whisper that the guv spent way too long in the hospital -- about two weeks -- for her supposed problem, leading them to speculate that she may have actually suffered a stroke or some other incapacitating trauma.

Hey, don't look at us -- we don't know for sure, and we're not high on the priority list when the Governor's Office gets around to returning calls. But if the rumors have any grain of truth, look for Hull to resign well before her term is up. To which, by the way, given the governor's increasingly tawdry- appearing environmental record, we're ever more inclined to bid her and her corporate henchmen a cheerful good riddance.


NORTHERN OVER-EXPOSURE: The Growth Lobby and its various elected pawns like to tell us that people are going to continue to come to Arizona because it's such a beautiful place to live. There's no stopping the population boom, so quit bitching about traffic, higher taxes, vanishing desert and the steady decline in your quality of life.

The Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU recently did a poll in Maricopa County, however, that painted a less rosy picture of life in Arizona. A full 45 percent of respondents to the poll in the greater Phoenix area said "they would move out of the region tomorrow if they had the ability to. The top reasons cited: too many people, too hot, crime, and traffic," according to the survey.

That's right -- nearly half of the people in Phoenix would pick up and leave immediately if they could. What a delightful metropolis we've built to the north!

The poll also reports that "nearly three-quarters of greater Phoenix residents believe the region is 'growing too fast' and 80 percent are either 'somewhat' or 'very concerned' with the metro-area's growth."

Are there some lessons we could learn from this down here in Tucson? Well, for starters, we might consider that mindless population growth is a great way to create hell on earth.

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