ANOTHER JOE VS. ANOTHER VOLCANO: The top is blowing off the scams of no-bid, as-needed, self-perpetuating architecture and engineering contracts doled out by members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
To Joe Burchell and Rhonda Bodfield, the Arizona Daily Star's fine reporters who revealed these well-known "secrets," we say welcome. In Burchell's old words: "The more the merrier." We, too, looked at the problems, particularly as they related to the $350-million, 57-project road bond program that has been grossly mismanaged and is grossly over budget in stories that ran way back in August and in March.
Smilin' Joe and Rhonda spent three months going over road and sewer system contracts only to see their two-day product chopped, packaged and repackaged.
It's hard to say where responsibility for deficiencies of the two-day series falls. It's safe to pin it on the multiple layers of editors. The stories talked about all the contracts handed to the engineers and architects who filled the campaign accounts of the supes. It is both mysterious and aggravating that the Star did not connect the dots--which supes got what from whom.
We can help.
Raúl Grijalva, the Democrat who has long been a Star favorite, left the board in February to run for Congress. Through his four successful campaigns for county office, Grijalva collected between 30 percent and 45 percent of his money from these consultants and others who needed votes from the board, according to records in the county Elections Division. In 2000, Grijalva led the parade with $6,497 in contributions from just 11 of the 25 engineers and builders who have been handed contracts for the road projects approved by voters in 1997. Nearly a third, $2,020, came from the big wheels at Collins-Piña/Tetra Tech, which the Star correctly noted has enriched itself with non-competitive sweetheart contracts that grow.
Burchell and Bodfield were eager to zero in on the owner of a small firm, Steve Corrales, who landed a couple bits of work after being shut out. The Star sought to target Democratic Supervisor Dan Eckstrom as Corrales' sponsor. Although Eckstrom recommended that Corrales talk to county officials about work, note that most, $200, of Corrales' minor contributions in 2000 went to Grijalva. He gave Eckstrom only $100.
Sharon Bronson, the Democratic chairman of the board, followed Grijalva on the political cash leader board, with $2,380 from contractors. That included $860 from three people at DJA/Castro, which shared rollover, lucrative work on a South 12th Avenue design. She needed every penny to squeak past Republican Barney Brenner.
It has been wildly amusing to watch Bronson react, simultaneously asserting that nothing is wrong and that she will fix it all. She raced to schedule discussion of procurement five days before the Star's first story and then put out some absurd op-ed piece in the Star that even the Star was compelled to discredit.
Despite lacking an opponent, Eckstrom pocketed $1,190 from these road bond contractors in 2000. Just $150 came from Collins-Piña. Eckstrom's biggest contribution came from one of the bosses of Southern Arizona Paving, an Ashton family firm that saw its work in South Tucson--the base of Eckstrom operations--more than double to $4.6 million for street overhauls and restyling as well as alley paving.
Republican Ray Carroll, who picked up $900 in political contributions two years ago from road-bond contractors, will emerge stronger with his eastside and Green Valley crowd. Sugar Ray has been bitching about the contracts and road bonds for more than a year.
Republican Ann Day, who got $650 in contributions from road contractors in 2000, is beginning to support Carroll. Hold the applause. Remember when Day ran interference for the Democratic majority by admonishing Carroll for taking too much time exploring the issues in a December meeting and whining that Bronson would not reschedule future discussions on the county's failing transportation improvement plan.
Grijalva's successor, Richard Elias? ¿Quién sabe?
LAND GRAB: Taxpayers made out like bandits in the short term last week, when Vistoso Partners outbid legendary land speculator Don Diamond on a parcel in a State Land Department auction last week. Vistoso will pay more than $29 million for the chance to build homes on the 1,071-acre property. Taxpayers will also get a piece of the action, with a 3 percent cut on the sale of every home.
Given Vistoso's record up in Oro Valley, we expect this development will be giving us opportunities for comment for years to come.
Gotta hand it to the state for its smart impact fee. We just wish the city of Tucson would get in game as well.
Remember, this is just the start for this area. The State Land Department owns somewhere in the neighborhood of 47,000 acres between here and Benson, and is planning to sell it off piece by piece, forecasting as many as 321,000 people in the area by 2050.
We understand how the state benefits, at least until it has to build schools for the new students in the new homes. But can someone please explain to us why the city will be picking up the tab for roads, police protection, fire protection, parks, garbage and recycling collection and, maybe someday, bus service?
RAGGED WRIGHT: Randy Wright, one of three assistant managing editors ("yes men") at the Star, has been named executive editor of The Daily Herald in Provo, Utah. Wright, a Provo native, will be going home.
He was known at the Star for his personal warmth toward co-workers, his faith in subordinates' judgment, attention to the details of his own work and an appreciation for deadlines. He will truly be missed.
Oh, excuse us, we got carried away. Retract that last paragraph, wouldya?
CUTTING-ROOM FLOOR: Ruben Reyes, the bright kid who is helping his former county boss Raúl Grijalva go to Congress, has quit his sweet deal at the county producing a documentary at Las Artes school. Reyes took the gig after Grijalva left the Board of Supervisors to mount his congressional campaign in late February. After 10 weeks at $22.63 an hour, taxpayers shelled out roughly $9,000 just in salary. That would cover the cost of about three home health aides. Reyes was off the job because of illness for at least two weeks. Yet he was spotted by press and campaign rivals, even in Yuma, during the "sick time."
Reyes now says he's dedicated himself to making the film, even though he's off the payroll. Can't wait for the world premiere.
Reyes' temporary county boss, Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry, was happy to help Reyes' real boss. Huckelberry already has given Grijalva $500 for his congressional campaign.