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MANAGER'S SPECIAL

Since Tucson City Manager James Keene announced his resignation, Mayor Bob Walkup and the City Council have exercised the same sage and steady judgment that had A Mountain painted a couple dozen different colors following the invasion of Iraq.

After originally voting to have an interim manager fill in until after next November's election, the council started back-pedaling when staff complained that they didn't want to remain rudderless for more than a year. The next plan was to hire an interim manager to fill in for the next few months while hunting for a new manager. When they finally emerged from executive session last Wednesday, Dec. 8, they had come up with yet another plan: putting Keene's assistant, Mike Letcher, in as acting manager while finding a new boss

Letcher was one of three finalists for the interim job, along with Assistant City Manager Liz Rodriguez and former IBM exec Rick Myers. We may hear a lot of talk about a national search, but the favorite in the race remains Myers, who's been knee-deep in local politics since retiring from Big Blue. If he wants the job, the fix is as good as in.


RISING TIDE

Tucson Water Director David Modeer is expanding his empire with a takeover of the city's bumbling and stumbling trash and landfill operations that have neatly been renamed Environmental Services.

Now those who pay for water also will pay for the chronic mistakes of the solid waste department.

The move will put another 252 people under Modeer's command, bringing the total to 836. It comes after a test run during which Modeer and his people were assigned to teach those in solid waste how to answer the phone, how to count, how to dispatch a truck to a home or business that--while having city barrels or dumpsters--was not entered into city computers as an account.

That was not just a friendly tutorial. Tucson Water, which runs strictly on the money it makes from monthly bills and other fees (like hookup charges), was forced to charge solid waste for all the time spent on those lessons.

And that should be troubling, even disturbing, for all Tucson Water customers. Like Tucson Water, the solid-waste department has been quasi-labeled an enterprise fund and is now supposed to spend only what it takes in. But that won't happen. Shoddy billing practices and inept management will force solid waste to continue to lose money.

The more than a third of Tucson Water customers who live outside the city should be downright frightened. They will subsidize city trash and landfill operations.

These ratepayers will want to know, as the Tucson Water begins handling trash crises, how much they are being charged to buttress another city department. We do know this much: Tucson Water's administrative overhead is twice as much as what another government utility, Pima County Wastewater Management, charges its sister agencies.


CHUCK WILL BE THEIR HUCKELBERRY

Pima County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry has agreed to bail out the Board of Supervisors through another four-year term. For his trouble leading the board, Huckelberry will be paid $216,000 a year, including $18,000 in deferred compensation. He will, of course, be entitled to the usual percentage raises the supes hand out annually to the 8,000-person bureaucracy.

If supervisors were to tire of Huckelberry--and that will never happen unless someone spikes their lattes with mescaline--taxpayers will be forced to pay him $75,000.

Huckelberry, a county executive for more than three decades and the big man since December 1993, deserves more. Contrary to reports in the daily press, he never considered or will ever consider seeking the job of city manager.

Supes and the rest of the county bureaucracy would be paralyzed without him. He is accessible, smart and a local boy who refuses to take himself too seriously.


GAY OLD TIME

The Republican Party has learned that asking voters to amend state constitutions to ban gay marriage is a great way to get conservatives to turn out on Election Day. So it's no surprise that Republican lawmakers are already fighting each other for the chance to introduce such a referendum on the 2006 ballot when the Arizona Legislature starts work next month--especially since Gov. Janet Napolitano will be running for re-election at the same time.

One big question remains to be resolved: Will voters be asked to ban civil unions along with gay marriage?

This one is bringing out some stellar Republican supporters, too. Recently spotted huddling with lawmakers and Len Munsil of the faith-based Center for Arizona Policy were none other than Jeff Groscost, the disgraced former House speaker who was responsible for the alt-fuels fiasco that cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and Nathan Sproul, the disgraced political consultant who wasted more than $600,000 on a half-assed effort to repeal Clean Elections this year. You may also recall that Sproul's name kept popping up in stories about voter-registration irregularities earlier this year.


TUCSON HIGH TIMES

Tucson High Assistant Principal Francisco Moraga had just landed his new gig at Tucson High School when the Weekly phoned to ask him how his drug bust and subsequent court resolution should play in his career.

It was not, Moraga said, the "many storms I've been through in my life, but the ship that I brought into port" ("Role Model," Tucson Weekly, March 27, 2003).

Consider, then, the Tucson High student who left campus one day. The kid was slipping through the school's bar-style fence when he felt a hand on him and a tug on his backpack. It was Moraga who yanked the kid back on campus. Moraga and others assert that they found some dope in the kid's pack. TUSD's governing board quickly backed its former doping administrator and kicked the kid out of school.

In hearings, the kid's lawyer is having a hard time getting him back in school, despite the fact that he had no other problems and certainly no drug issues. Plus, the kid is getting none of the petting afforded Moraga, who was shuttled to drug court and given a clean bill with the records of his misdeeds covered up by a judge's seal.

The TUSD board, led by third-rate lawyer Joel Ireland, offered the kid an appeal before a hearing officer. It sounded good until the hearing officer was identified as a member of TUSD's law firm, DeConcini, McDonald, Yetwin & Lacy.

The conflict is all the more stunning and sickening when considering the law firm's role has increased since Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer wisely showed the door to TUSD counsel Jane Butler.


BILLBOARD BLATHER

Clear Channel will continue to block views and pollute the landscape with its illegal billboards while Pima County seeks yet another deferred solution. The Board of Supervisors last week voted to send the matter to mediation. The Supes' best hope that it goes better for them at mediation than it did on a separate but related billboard issue that was before Judge Richard Fields of Pima County Superior Court.

The day after the supes' vote, Fields smacked down the county with a swift denial of a motion for reconsideration on the matter of five mammoth billboards along Interstate 10. Not only did Fields not want to hear that issue anew; he didn't want to hear from the county's legal team. He told them to take their seats and zip it.

More by Jim Nintzel

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