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BABY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF SHOES

Less than two years into his job on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Ramon Valadez has developed a conflict revealed on the first page of the board's March 1 consent agenda--the many items deemed so routine that they are passed on a single vote.

Valadez, the Democrat who inherited the southside District 2 seat held for 15 years by Dan Eckstrom, declared a potential conflict of interest in the matter of the county's $1 million amendment to its contract with Southwest Ambulance for non-emergency service through June 2006.

Is Valadez moonlighting?

Yes. Not as a driver, but as a consultant assisting Southwest, which does business here as Kord's Southwest, in community affairs.

Valadez, a former state representative and state senator, had taken a big job--$80k-plus--as a special adviser to Gov. Janet Napolitano when the Democrat took office in 2003. That job qualified him for the eventual appointment to Eckstrom's post--Valadez didn't take the oath for his new term in the Senate--and he also took a pay cut of roughly $25,000.

He may be single, but Valadez acknowledges that he needs the extra green for his biggest responsibility--the young kid he shares with Liz Carrasco, former Arizona Democratic Party worker and former spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Real Estate. Mother and baby live in Las Vegas.

The baby issue hurt Valadez not one bit. In fact, it helped up his street cred, especially within the Eckstrom political familia.


SHARE IS CARING

The push to stiff Arizona's largest cities on income-tax revenues has stalled at the Legislature, with a key lawmaker telling his colleagues they can't continue to use his bill for their scheme to end revenue sharing.

Under the current system, the state sends a portion of the income taxes it collects back to cities. But conservative lawmakers wanted to punish cities that hand out tax breaks to lure companies, so they cooked up a hair-brained scheme to eliminate revenue sharing. The bill would have allowed cities to implement their own income tax to make up the difference, but let's not kid ourselves; a municipal income tax would have been convoluted and filled with loopholes for people--particularly rich ones with greater mobility and more to gain--who wanted to dodge taxes.

Now the main brains--and we use that term loosely--behind the effort, Sen. Bob Burns, is telling the press that he'll search for another vehicle to kill off revenue sharing. But now, instead of having cities levy their own income taxes, he'll let them raise money through higher property taxes.

That's just what we need here in Pima County: Eliminate the only progressive tax in the state and replace it with a higher property tax to make it even harder to recruit businesses that pay a decent wage. (And then there's the fact that most homeowners in Pima County already have their high property taxes subsidized by the state, which would be on the hook for any further increases.)


NOT LIKIN' LIKINS

Phoenix Republicans last week attempted to wipe out UA South, the Sierra Vista-based branch campus that has been steadily growing in enrollment and programs. The GOP plan would have eliminated UA South and handed over its assets to Cochise College as part of a bid to make Cochise into a four-year institution.

Why get rid of UA South? Because some East Valley Republicans aren't fond of UA President Peter Likins, who made the mistake of being honest with lawmakers when he told them that UA South was going to play a major role in the future of the UA, because growth at the Tucson campus is limited by enrollment caps and limited available real estate. So to screw with Likins, House leaders decided to float this imbecilic proposal. Yes, they really are that petty and stupid.

But Southern Arizona Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Tim Bee, made it clear they wouldn't support any budget proposal that wiped out UA South, which is a popular program for Sierra Vista residents and soldiers stationed at Fort Huachuca.

Besides, as Rep. Jonathan Paton points out, UA South officials have been smart enough to put many of the campus' assets under the control of the UA Foundation instead of the state, so lawmakers have little control over their disposition--a little detail the conservative cavemen neglected to check out.


BRIGHT LIGHTS, DIM BULBS

The Arizona House of Representatives is again showing how much it loves to service the hideous erections of the billboard industry. Earlier this week, the House voted 36-22 to allow billboards to carry big flashing lights and messages that change as often as every six seconds. Can't imagine that being a distraction to high-speed motorists.

The vote came against the objections of the astronomical community, which is worried about light pollution degrading opportunities for viewing the skies. Hey, you've got one field dedicated to expanding knowledge and developing a clean industry with well-paid jobs. You've got another industry dedicated to visual pollution and selling Big Macs. Is it any wonder that lawmakers favor the latter?


CLEANED OUT?

A big-time rumble is brewing between the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and freshman Rep. David Burnell Smith.

Burnell, a conservative perennial candidate who's kinda like the Joe Sweeney of Maricopa County, overspent on his publicly financed campaign by at least $8,000, according to Gene Lemons, a former member of the Clean Elections Commission who investigated his campaign records. Lemons is recommending that Burnell be stripped of his seat, pay a $10,000 fine and repay the state more than $34,000 in Clean Elections funds, according to a letter uncovered by the Associated Press.

Knocking someone out of office is essentially the nuclear option for Clean Elections--and if commissioners push for him to get the boot, it's a matter that's likely to end up court to determine if Clean Elections actually has the authority to overturn an election. Republican leaders are saying they'll close ranks to protect Smith.

In other Clean Elections news:

A couple weeks back, the Weekly reported on legislation by Sen. John Huppenthal that would ask voters to prohibit the use of public funds for political campaigns, which would essentially end the state's Clean Elections program ("The Big Fix," Feb. 24). Huppenthal has since withdrawn SCR 1036, but we're willing to bet it'll be back in some form or another--if not this year, then next.


MARCH MADNESS

The Skinny mentioned last week that Cathy Eden, who heads up the State Department of Health, had tendered her resignation, just as Republican lawmakers were hearing testimony on problems with Maricopa County's mental-health care as part of a bill sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Paton, a freshman Republican who represents eastern Tucson and other parts of Southern Arizona.

Now Leslie Schwalbe, the head of the state's mental-health division, is also on her way out the door. Coincidence? Or another sign of deep trouble in delivery of mental-health treatment?


WHEN THE SAINTS COME MARCHING IN

The City Council acceded to the wishes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week, directing the Planning Commission to amend a 1996 ordinance that limits the height of steeples and spires.

In the buildup toward the vote, Bruce Call, architect for the Rita Ranch church, which will have a 67-foot-high steeple, told the Arizona Daily Star that besides being a First Amendment issue for all to be concerned about, other cities hardly gave the Mormons any trouble when it came to the height of the steeples.

Hardly the case. The Jan. 13 Orange County Register noted that a golden statue of the Angel Moroni had just been placed atop the 90-foot-spire of the Newport Beach Temple of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after a long controversy. The Newport Beach City Council approved the spire in 2002, the OCR reported, "after 18 months of dissension within the community." That spire, on a church in a neighborhood of one- and two-story homes, was planned at 124 feet.


MORE SECRETS SECRET

The City Council hasn't learned what the Board of Supervisors learned long ago: Governments can't keep secret the settlements they reach with those who sue. Case in point here is the council's agreement last week behind closed doors to pay $1.25 million to the family of an 8-year-old boy who was killed in 2003 when a Tucson policeman ran a red light while responding to a call. He rammed the vehicle Jordan Horn Rodriguez was riding in.

The council is doing the right thing, the wrong way. It approved the amount in executive session and then emerged to make a public vote--on Democrat Carol West's motion--to have its lawyers "proceed as discussed" in that closed session. Final council actions must be public and must be complete.

This is the type of chickenshit, secret motions old Boards of Supervisors used to love. Democrat David Yetman never wanted the public to know what the county was doing. He cherished his ability to say "I move that we (or the attorneys) proceed as instructed in executive session." This applied to lawsuits, multi-million-dollar property buys and critical personnel decisions--all matters that, while the governing boards may discuss in private, boards cannot take final action without disclosure in a public vote.

To its credit, the Board of Supervisors and its lawyers have come a long way in providing disclosure. They didn't do so on their own; it took a ripping a few years back by the state Auditor General Office, which noted that such secret moves were illegal and concealed from the public the details and dollars government was spending.


PORK CHOP

Ultimate political insider Sami Hamed is getting some payoff for all his time and trouble spreading the gossip for Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva and his camp.

Sami The Bull also is a devout member of the Eckstrom mission, and so, he's been rewarded by being named a judge.

The Board of Supervisors appointed Hamed and 13 others to the bench, as hearing officers of the Small Claims division of the Justice Courts. Judge Hamed will serve the rest of the year.

More by Jim Nintzel

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