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NO CITY-LEAGUE SOFTBALL PLAYER LEFT BEHIND

Christmas came early last week for the Pima County Interfaith Council, when the new Democratic majority on the Tucson City Council doled out $1.5 million in stocking stuffers.

Members of the left-leaning alliance of churches packed the council chambers as Ward 5 Councilman Steve Leal handed out candy like jolly old St. Nick himself. A half-million bucks went to JobPath, a PCIC-backed program that helps support low-income folks who want to go back to school to learn new skills and land better employment.

The naughty commercial developers got only coal when the council, with the addition of new members Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich, took the first steps toward speeding up the collection of commercial impact fees. Now that's a Christmas miracle!

The council also voted to spend $188,000 to eliminate a waiting list for KIDCO, an afterschool program for elementary students. But they stopped short of dumping the tuition fees established a few years back by Mayor Bob Walkup and his ruling majority--$50 a semester during the school year and $75 for the summer program, with a sliding scale that offers a discount of up to 90 percent.

While in that generous holiday mood, the council agreed, with Mayor Bob Walkup and Ward 2 Councilwoman Carol West dissenting, to trim most park fees to the rate the city was charging in 2002. Last year, those fees brought in about $518,000 more than the city collected in 2002, according to city staff.

The rollback will cut swimming rates from $3 a day down to a buck for adults, while the cost for kids drops from 75 cents to a quarter. (Annual passes are available on a sliding-scale discount for low-income families.) Under the 2002 swimming rates, the city collected $143,625. Last year, it collected $233,000.

If you're more into picnicking, the cost of a ramada rental will drop from $14 for a half-day/$24 for a full day to a mere $10 for the whole day. Overall revenues from reservations and permits at park facilities has climbed from $375,000 in 2002 to $646,000 last year, but Leal says too many people were priced out of the market.

Adult sports leagues--such as softball, basketball and volleyball--also get a break. Por exemplo: The cost of fielding a softball team will drop from $700 to $375.

We've got a soft spot in our hearts for city-league softball. (In the interests of full disclosure, we should mention that back in our college days, we spent a season or two on the city payroll, keeping score at the games and turning off the lights at the end of the night. Heavy responsibility, but a great gig nonetheless.) But we gotta wonder why players can't pick up a third of the cost.

The city now subsidizes about 65 percent of the cost of running the adult sports leagues, while the teams pay for about 35 percent, according to Bob Martin, assistant director for Parks and Rec. Under the new council's rollback, that subsidy would increase to approximately 73 percent, with the teams covering 27 percent.

Leal says the estimated $1.5 million to enact the majority's agenda will be coming from $10 million that City Manager Mike Hein had suggested go for neighborhood street repair next year.

Given how long some neighborhood streets have been neglected, why did it make sense to lift some of the money from that pot to cut costs for people to play ball?

"A lot of the senior leagues have to do with exercise for seniors," says Leal. "We thought the park system should be more user-friendly to the community. But it's not an either/or to say that it's more important than neighborhood streets ... we only took 15 percent of the $10 million, which is modest."

Uhlich says she's not sure that the money will be coming from road dollars at all. She says the city coffers are looking flush in the upcoming budget year, so it can afford to subsidize park users, with plenty left over to fix streets.

So, hey, city residents: If you've been wanting sidewalks, streetlights or speedbumps, now's the time to call!


FIGHTING WORDS

Because the week wouldn't be complete without a Scramblewatch '06 update on the candidates who want to replace retiring Congressman Jim Kolbe: Democrat Alex Rodriguez, who is just finishing his first year on the TUSD board, says he didn't mean to slight fellow candidate Jeff Latas' military experience when he got into the Congressional District 8 race last week.

A-Rod, who sent out a press release saying he was launching his campaign because "no candidate with both military and security policy experience in international security affairs has entered the race," tells The Skinny that "in no way, shape or form did I say that I was the only guy who has military experience."

Boy, we don't know how we got that mixed up.

Although he has "great respect for Jeff Latas," A-Rod believes he has "a stronger understanding of the national-security decision-making process for our country" because he worked on issues such as NATO expansion and relations with European countries during a stint with the State Department in D.C.

Latas, who put in time at the Pentagon when he wasn't flying bombing runs in Iraq during his 21 years as an Air Force fighter pilot, says that Rodriguez "didn't do his homework" before announcing.

"The guy's obviously not doing a great deal of research about this," Latas says. "I don't know him that well, and he might be a nice guy, but quite frankly, is that the kind of guy you want to be your congressman?"

Besides Rodriguez and Latas, the Democratic race will feature former state lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords, who is in the lead out of the gate with money and endorsements. But we're still waiting to see if former newscaster Patty Weiss decides to get into the race, which promises to upset the entire political universe. Eva Bacal, who lost big to Kolbe last year, also wants in.

The latest name to emerge on the GOP side of the aisle is Dave Sitton, the UA Wildcats play-by-play guy who's also worked as a vice president for Clear Channel Outdoor. Wonder if God is telling him to run?

As the CD8 race takes on increasing national significance for both parties--it's being talked up as a swing seat by national political analysts--GOP kingmakers are still looking for someone besides Randy Graf to win the Republican nomination. Among those out to prove that they're worthy of one or two million bucks from the RNC: State Rep. Steve Huffman, State Sen. Tim Bee, developer Bruce Ash and mechanic Mike Jenkins.


ACADEMIC QUESTION

The race to replace Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who stepped down from her Arizona Senate seat to reach for that congressional brass ring, is set to be decided in early January by the Pima County Board of Supervisors. The supes will choose between three candidates chosen by precinct leaders last week: The two House members, Ted Downing and David Bradley, and former City Council candidate Paula Aboud.

Arizona's resign-to-run law prevents Downing from announcing he'll seek the seat even if he doesn't get appointed, but he's wink-winking that he plans to do just that. Given that he'd crush Aboud (who, by the way, isn't doing herself any favors by telling the dailies she doesn't know what she'd do if she gets the job) and has outpaced Bradley when they've run on the same ticket, Downing is likely to end up with the seat no matter what the supes decide.

Unless ... well, ponder this far-out proposition: Downing may have some problems with those future colleagues in the Senate because of his work at the University of Arizona. State employees are prohibited from serving the Legislature, unless they teach for a living.

As a prof at the UA, Downing spends most his time on research, but he tells The Skinny he still teaches students. He says he just wrapped a course at the law school on "collateral sanctions," which has something to do with the problems that released prisoners face as they re-enter society. He says any of his critics who want to take his class "are welcome to come down and enroll."

Downing says he's heard word that state senators aren't happy at the possibility that he'll be joining that august body.

"If it tightens their sphincters because I'm coming over, so be it," Downing says.

Thanks for that image, Ted.

What if: The supes appoint Downing to the Senate, and he gets booted by GOP lawmakers/the courts? Then the supes could appoint Bradley, who ends up with the seat while Downing is taken out of play altogether. Of course, that leaves Ted with enough free time to get into that District 8 congressional race.

Another scenario: Bradley gets the seat, then runs for the House next year instead of staying in the Senate. Our question: Does that restart the clock as far as term limits go? It's probably irrelevant, since Bradley isn't exactly pining for the chance to spend eight more years in the House.


THE LOVE THAT DARES NOT APPLY FOR EMPLOYMENT

An employment ad posted by Phoenix-based National Equity Consultants on The Arizona Republic Web site caused a furor in the UA LGBT community.

The Nov. 27 listing was pretty ordinary except for two words--"No Gays!"--under the job description. A copy of the ad was disseminated on the LGBT faculty, staff and graduate-student organization's e-mail listserv.

Chad Sullivan, co-owner of National Equity Consultants, blamed a former employee for inserting the words. The now-dismissed employee received an e-mail at her personal address confirming the ad's placement, he said, and she apparently clicked on a link that allowed her to make instantaneous changes to its contents.

Sullivan said the employee was "just like a tornado, and just wrecked our office." She reportedly canceled a contracting license, let the registration lapse on a company vehicle and bounced six checks before her reign of destruction was done.

The ad prompted a flurry of e-mails, Sullivan said, including the same message sent about 50 times by an outraged man who threatened to report the company to the Anti-Defamation League.

"The single worst business decision I ever made in my life was hiring that woman," Sullivan said. "You have no idea how much grief I've gotten over this."

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