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HARD TO SWALLOW: Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup has lost interest in pursuing a handful of city charter changes that the Southern Arizona Leadership Council tried to force onto the ballot a few years back.

The changes were fairly wonkish--expanding from six to eight wards, having nonpartisan elections and increasing the mayor's power in hiring and firing top bureaucrats--and the Democrats raised enough of stink to get the matter turned over to a subcommittee somewhere.

Now the City Council has voted unanimously to forget about the whole thing, although the Democrats on the council had earlier floated the idea of putting the questions on the ballot, mostly to embarrass Walkup as he seeks re-election against Democrat Tom Volgy.

Frankly, we agree with Walkup's assessment of the issue: In light of budget cuts, reduced services, growing transportation problems and, oh yeah, the war, nobody is going to much care about some stupid charter amendments. Surely we've all got better things to do this summer than debate that malarkey.

We imagine the underlying reason Walkup doesn't care anymore has a lot to do with the original motivation behind the ward expansion push--namely, that the Catalina Foothills and Casas Adobes communities would consider being annexed into the city if they could have their own wards.

That was always a fantasy that flew right in the face of state annexation laws, which require the city to go block-by-block through annexation districts, gathering signatures of residents who agree to expand the city's boundaries. One-time annexation czar John Jones once told The Weekly the process would take at least two decades under current statutes. And that's assuming the folks up there want to lay down their defenses, which ain't happening.

It seems to us that Walkup is bright enough to realize that there's no point in charter changes like ward expansion until state annexation law changes, so there's no reason to put up a fight--especially if it's what the Democrats want him to do.

The bigger problem for Bob: He's now moved on to two other Big Ideas that require changes in state law and major breakthroughs with neighboring jurisdictions: Metro government and a regional transportation authority. Both are political long shots. So when these go bust, is Bob going to lose interest in them, too? And how are we going to solve our problems without these magic bullets?


SOAKED: In a topsy-turvy turn of events, the three Democrats on the Tucson City Council joined with Republican Kathleen Dunbar to sink an effort by Tucson Water to enact an impact fee.

Tucson Water had been working on a cost-recovery program that would charge about $1,400 per new residential water hookup. The additional revenues from the program would mean water rates for us regular Josés would rise by about 1 or 2 percent every other year instead of 3 to 4 percent annually.

It looked like the city of Tucson was ready to poised to slow our subsidization of growth, until Ward 5 Councilman Steve Leal came up with a last-minute list of concerns. In essence, Leal is worried that some people who have lived here a long time have already subsidized growth, so if they want to build a new home, they should be subsidized as well. He's looking for some goofy exemption program. Jesus, Steve, when did you start getting your talking points from the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association?

When the final vote came down, Mayor Bob Walkup, Republican Fred Ronstadt and Democrat Carol West supported the hookup fee, while Leal, Dunbar, José Ibarra and Shirley Scott voted against it.

Just what exactly is in that water down at City Hall, anyway?


BYE-BYE, BYRON?
Byron Howard, aide to Ward 4 Councilwoman Shirley Scott, may be heading off to a new job with the state's Registrar of Contractors office. Howard says he's been asked to apply and would be delighted to work for Gov. Janet Napolitano, but he hasn't negotiated a deal yet--and insists he won't relocate to Maricopa.

Howard is engaged to Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, who did a lot of campaign work for Napolitano last year. Since Rodriguez enjoys her work as county recorder, she's not interested in a new job. Instead, Janet will pay her back by giving Byron a sweet spot on the state payroll. (Not that the bright and handsome Howard isn't supremely qualified for the job!)

A former developer and political consultant who took at stab at the Board of Supes in 2000, Howard stepped into the Ward 4 office last year to fill the post once held by the canny John Macko, who left the office after allegations surfaced regarding some crude language he supposedly spouted. (Heads up, Shirley--we hear the Big Mack is now looking to pay you back during your run for re-election this year!) So with Byron stepping down, who's going to be Shirley's brains?

Scott recently hired a new aide: political operative Kevin Smith, a recent member of the city's Solid Waste Advisory Committee who popped up in the news last year after making some big contributions to an independent campaign targeting Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias. Hmmm, wonder if that'll set back the big city-county consolidation push?


OH, SHUT UP: Assistant City Attorney Dennis McLaughlin has reaffirmed his preposterous opinion that City Council members who are seeking reelection cannot talk about their campaigns on radio gabfests like the John C. Scott Show without it constituting an in-kind contribution from the radio station.

But the good news for candidates is that McLaughlin does say council members are allowed to appear on radio and television programs, "so long as a candidate merely discusses or gives opinions on current events, issues facing the city--and--recent mayor and council actions." McLaughlin says a candidate can't "use the interview or appearance to expressly advocate--the election or defeat of any candidate."

The magic words that must be avoided include: "vote for," "elect," "re-elect," "support," "endorse," "cast your ballot for," "vote against," "defeat" and "reject."

So if Mayor Bob Walkup and challenger Tom Volgy turn up for a debate on Inside Track and host Emil Franzi asks Bob why voters should reelect him, Walkup can only say he can't comment on the advice of his attorney. Yeah, that makes sense.


GHOST WRITER: Among Democratic City Councilman Jose Ibarra's props is a copy of Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince. It figures. Little Nicky also was a brooding, petulant and isolated figure who yearned for a place.

Ibarra also is turning to writing. He's setting people straight. And he's using an aide or, more likely, the aide's e-mail address to accomplish his task. The aide is Pete Rico, a former longtime city courier and auto valet, who is making way too much money, $41,548 a year, to be tapping nastygrams. When Ibarra wasn't neglecting his westside neighborhoods--Menlo and Manzo and Barrio Hollywood--he was spitting on them. And when some called him on his complete lack of support for Hollywood's Fiesta Grande, Ibarra struck back with brilliant prose.

The e-mail fiesta continued when, under Rico's e-mail, the Ward 1 council office targeted Scott Egan, the aide to Republican Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll and former aide to Ibarra's Ward 1 predecessor, Bruce Wheeler, a Democrat.

Ibarra/Rico noted that (Congressman Raúl) Grijalva "kicked your ass!! Then you want to come into our Ward? (Egan has lived in Hollywood for 20 years). It is pretty sad and pathetic to see you all scatching (sic. It's all sic) for attention -- begging for someone to recognize your human feelings! Wow, 'has-been' titles are cruel are they not? The funny part is that both of you don't have the guts to say this face to face. Go and hide behind your computers, maker yourself feel important, while we just move ahead--

"p.s. Remember when you are sitting in your 11th floor office, that it was GRIJALVA who gave you that seat, it was his political power that allowed you another chance at life. You were dead in the game no new opportunities, no new chances, you were just going to be a distant memory--.untill RAUL saved your sorry self. We told Raul not to trust you or your boss, you are a pathological liar and use people. But, like always you would rather fight with those that help you then those that hurt you. I knew you were mentally unstable, but I did not know you had a split personality?"

Didn't Machiavelli have anything to say about simple, noble service? Simple stuff like patching the horrid potholes and huge cracks on most of the Ward 1 streets.

With Ibarra busy with drafts of the new Prince, most of the real work falls, as it usually has, to Valerie Vidal, an aide who has always been smarter and more capable than her boss.

We tried to chat to Ibarra, who actually was a superbly efficient and professional aide in Grijalva's office on the Board of Supervisors before he achieved his surprise council victory in 1995. He took none of our five calls last week.


GROUNDSKEEPERS NIGHT AT TEP: Sidewinders pay scale: $50 a night.

County pay scale: $100 a night.

Difference over course of season: $3,600.

Sidewinders' four-day rental of Jumbotron: $16,000.

Damage to landscape while moving Jumbotron: Unknown.

Pima County-Sidewinders pissing match: Priceless.


LET THE PANDERING BEGIN: With Gov. Janet Napolitano's veto of the bill repealing the 2004 presidential primary, it looks like Arizona voters will have a chance to help decide which Democrat gets chewed to shreds by the Bush campaign machine next year. It also gives Napolitano a chance to grab some more of that national spotlight that brings out the color in her cheeks.

Already, the parade of asses has begun. A whole stable of hopefuls is set to address some Hispanic gathering in Phoenix in June.

One of The Skinny's spies spotted John Kerry up at the Capitol last week. Despite the windy day, not a hair fell out of place. "He must have had it lacquered on pretty good," says Our Man in Phoenix.

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