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MAYBE JOHN'S GETTING SOME FREE BILLBOARD SPACE: Radio talkshow gasbag John C. Scott (the "C" stands for C-note, which apparently he'll take from just about anybody) got it dead wrong March 1 when he accused City Councilman Steve Leal of getting local neighborhood activist Mark Mayer a $50,000-a-year lobbying contract from the city.

Mayer is on the city's Board of Adjustment, a volunteer post that pays squat. And, yes, he's picked up the odd buck or two acting as an expert witness and performing various surveys related to our town's chronic billboard blight. But he simply ain't the 50-G-a-year public tit-sucker Scott made him out to be.

In fact, he has never lobbied for the City of Tucson in the state Legislature -- either for Scott's wholly fictitious $50,000 or for free. Mayer is registered only as a lobbyist for the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Tucson. Thus, were he to lobby for anyone else without so registering, he would be committing a crime, which Scott has now apparently accused him of.

Odd, though, how political poopsters from Councilman Fred Ronstadt's office have been calling around the city trying to get a handle on Mayer's finances in an attempt to bolster Scott's big, slanderous blooper.

Guess John and Fred are both working for the sleazy billboard lobby these days -- why else would they go off so half-cocked against a good guy like Mayer?

Mayer's been battling the billboard bill now before the state Senate. It just narrowly squeaked through the House two weeks ago, thus sending a clear message to the senators that something in the proposed law stinks.

If enacted into the law, the bill would prevent Tucson officials from removing 100 unsightly boards currently in violation of the city code.

The whole sordid affair is yet another fine example of how special interests think they can screw the locals by getting the apparently corruptible Arizona Legislature to give them what they want. And with this latest wildly inaccurate personal attack on Mayer, the billboard folks and their running dogs like Scott and Ronstadt stand revealed for what they are: Bad people doing ugly things in public.

Ronstadt has already exhibited deplorable behavior towards his own ward in pushing for the big-box abominations at El Con (insiders are currently whispering that Wally-Mart may be back by the end of the year, folks); and now it appears he wants the rest of us to tolerate butt-ugly, illegal billboards. It's been rumored for weeks now that Ronstadt has been quietly telling legislators that he voted with the majority of the council members on the billboard matter just to keep up appearances, and that's not how he really feels.

Then, on March 2, without apologizing for his previous day's misinformation, Scott launched into a barely understandable tirade about how Mayer actually got paid $5,000 by the city for being an expert witness on the local billboard mess. Like that's some sort of serious misdemeanor, and like that expense was totally unnecessary -- despite the billboard industry's chronic recalcitrance and obstreperous refusals to remove illegal signs.

Gee, John, if your billboard masters hadn't sued the city over code enforcement, maybe we wouldn't have had to hire expert witnesses, huh?

Shit-for-brains Scott also complained that Mayer will be paid $10,000 in the current year to assist the city staff in lawsuits to enforce the code regarding billboards. Why not blame the billboard barons instead of a publicly minded good guy like Mayer?

Why not? Because Scott is the worst sort of demagogue, a Democrat turned Republican who long ago figured out there's no money in serving the greater good, a radio-wave weasel who long ago sold out to the big-money boys who run this burg from their smoke-filled room.

What kind of deal did you get to be the billboard barons' bitch, Mr. Big-Mouth? Then again, maybe all those Jim Click ads he's been getting lately have begun to make the obnoxious dude think he's runnin' with the big dogs.

Scott subsequently tried to turn his over-the-air lynching of Mayer into an extravaganza, announcing that he was going to produce a cross-referenced list of every activist supposedly on the city payroll. "We're gonna find out how much this party within a party is really costing taxpayers." Shades of Joe McCarthy.

Scott announced Ronstadt was checking it out for him. But somebody probably slapped Fred around a bit and woke him up, because Ronstadt told Scott -- on the air no less -- that he didn't think he'd be helping out on that little project. That pretty much ended the C-man's slanderous rant. For now.

Even Ronstadt isn't stupid enough to take on local residents whose major "crime" is that they're concerned about and involved with bettering their neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the billboard bill just came out of the state Senate Finance Committee by a four-to-three vote. But several of those voting in favor let it be known that they might change their minds if the full Senate gets a crack at it.

The next hurdle is the Rules Committee, where, as of press time, it's not yet on the calendar. We're looking for some more action next week -- but who knows? The fat cats are a slippery bunch and may find a way to hurry along their giant screwing of the public.


FAST EDDIE, FASTER MONEY: Ed Arriaga and his wife Mary Agnes cashed in last week for $25,000 of Tucson Unified School District taxpayers' money as part of a settlement the TUSD board approved to mollify the Arriagas after the 1998 leak of confidential information that detailed sexual harassment claims against Arriaga and the legal nightmare his behavior caused TUSD.

But Eddie and Mary aren't likely to see much of the moola. They are buried in debt. Including potential awards from ongoing litigation, the two face a staggering $696,179.71 in bills, according to records in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. At least $100,000 of that is from new lawsuits against Ed Arriaga filed on behalf of two TUSD employees Arriaga is accused of sexually harassing while he was first the principal at Rincon High School and later when he was the director of human resources for the corrupt district.

The bulk of liability -- $523,398 -- arises from a Superior Court lawsuit that alleges Mary Arriaga mishandled and misspent money and assets in an aunt's estate for which she was the executrix, bankruptcy papers show. Nearly $73,000 is for consumer debt and legal bills. No wonder why the Arriagas, through their high-octane lawyer Stephen M. Weiss, wanted $150,000.

Arriaga spent 30 years with TUSD, including time as principal of Tucson High School. At Rincon, he and two others were accused of harassing Rincon teacher Paula Morris. The case was settled in 1996 -- with taxpayers paying Morris $50,000. From there, Arriaga was appointed to the district's plum job as gatekeeper of patronage and political pork: human resources director. It was in that job -- one that includes responsibility in overseeing harassment prevention and training -- that another worker, Sue Carda, complained Arriaga sexually harassed her. Her claim was settled for nearly $18,000. Arriaga then retired but was lured back by TUSD Board Member Joel Ireland and other political allies to serve as interim principal at Sahuaro High School.

It was within papers in that case that the Arriagas landed the $25,000. Packets of information, deemed secret, were sent anonymously to The Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Weekly in 1998. Included was a stern warning from TUSD legal counsel at the time, Todd Jaeger -- yes the same one who now advises the equally troubled Amphitheater School District. Jaeger, in this case, was on the ball. (We've always said that despite his tricks at Amphi, he is a whole lot smarter than TUSD's current counsel.) Jaeger warned the can't-be-bothered TUSD Board in 1997 that the TUSD's failure to fully investigate the complaints against Arriaga eroded the district's defense for any future claims. In bankruptcy papers, Ed Arriaga now lists an Albuquerque address -- the same as one of the individuals seeking money in the estate dispute.

All of this was made much more laughable, in a sad sort of way, by the Star's timidity. Ireland and TUSD Superintendent George F. Garcia concocted a plan to keep the district's dirty little secrets secret. They raced to Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lee, who unwisely issued an order forbidding the Star from running any article. It was ultimately sent back by the state Court of Appeals. The prior restraint was lifted and the Star published a decent piece after The Weekly published its own account.

The sick thing about that press-muzzling misadventrue was the $22,424 TUSD taxpayers were forced to pay DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy to have lawyer John Richardson fight against the First Amendment. And when Ireland wanted to out the supposed leaker, he conned the board into hiring Frank Cassidy, notable for his representation of Canoa and El Con Mall developers, for $4,288. Cassidy's investigation led to no leaker.

A word of advice to TUSD. Settle up with Carda and Morris. Now.


STATEHOUSE SCRAMBLE: As we've noted before, Legislative District 13 promises to be a fierce battleground come November. Stretching through central Tucson and the Catalina Foothills, the district is one of a handful in the state with a roughly even balance between Democrats and Republicans; given the current narrow balance between D's and R's in the state Senate (16 Republicans, 14 Democrats), both parties are hot to win the D13 seat, currently held by Democrat George Cunningham, who is stepping down to try to unseat Congressman Jim Kolbe in November.

The GOP is solidifying its slate, with Rep. Kathleen Dunbar taking a stab at the open Senate seat. Running alongside her for the two House seats are Carol Somers, owner of Norrell Staffing Services, and Jonathan Lee Paton, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for a House seat in District 9 in 1998. Paton has been persuaded by GOP kingmakers to relocate to District 13, where he grew up. We hear the GOP is planning to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 in soft money promoting their slate of candidates.

The Democrats don't appear prepared to match the dollars. Local Democratic officials have been so busy with their Internet presidential primary that they've put off planning for the District 13 race, which may prove fatal in November. Current District 13 Rep. Andy Nichols will take on Dunbar, while at least four Democrats are planning on battering each other in the Democratic primary for the two House seats on the November ballot: UA prof Ted Downing, real-estate broker Colette Barajas, El Campo tire heiress Gabrielle Gifford and Dr. Howard Shore.

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