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ZOO NEWS

The elephants at the Reid Park Zoo won't be packing up their trunks anytime soon. The Tucson City Council voted 6-1 last week to move Connie and Shaba from their current half-acre enclosure to a new 3-acre savannah, rather than examine the possibility of sending the elephants to another zoo with more space, or to an elephant sanctuary.

The new 3-acre pen--part of an 8-acre African exhibit--is still not so much space for Connie and Shaba, who would walk 30 to 50 miles a day in the wild. A pile of research shows that elephants frequently develop foot diseases when they can't take those kinds of strolls in captivity, and end up having to be put to sleep, which explains why some zoos around the country are shutting down elephant exhibits. But the majority of council members--only Ward 3 Democrat Karin Uhlich dissented--went along with zoo supporters, who said that having the elephants was important to schoolchildren and conservation efforts.

Besides, Ward 4 Councilwoman Shirley Scott says she's inspected the elephants' paws and wished her own feet were in such good health. Hope no one in her office has the job of cleaning out pus and applying "purple stuff," as records show the zookeepers occasionally do for Connie.

Left unresolved was the question of whether the zoo would try to get more elephants. Current plans call for the zoo to build a barn that would accommodate up to six elephants, which pretty much amounts to animal hoarding.

The expansion is going to cost an estimated $8.5 million. The Tucson Zoological Society has promised to kick in about $2.25 million, which is certainly a generous offer. Whether they can actually raise the money is another question we'll have to wait to see answered.

That leaves city taxpayers on the hook for the other $6.25 million. Part of that is supposed to come from bonds that will be repaid through higher zoo admission fees, while the rest is supposed to come from a general obligation bond that will be repaid through property taxes. Hey, who needs playground equipment when we've got elephants?

The Arizona Daily Star editorial page floated the unorthodox suggestion that the county pick up the cost of paying for the African expansion, since the zoo is a regional attraction. We're sure county supervisors, who have already bailed the city out on the library system, will rush to write a check to pay for a decision they had no control over. While they're at it, maybe they can pick up the cost of the bus system, the parks department and the police force, which seem to have regional benefits, too.


IS JOSE IBARRA NUTS?

After meeting behind closed doors, the Tucson City Council agreed last week to pay $160,000 to Cara Reid, a former employee of Councilman Jose Ibarra. When you toss in the roughly $50,000 in legal costs that the city ran up, that's about $210,000 that Ibarra's mouth cost city taxpayers.

Reid had filed a $2.5 million claim against the city, saying that Ibarra had defamed her when he blamed her for the theft of $4,000 in water-bill payments that had been made at the Ward 1 office.

The thefts came to light in the waning days of Ibarra's last re-election campaign, when news broke that police were looking into the theft of the payments. The investigation revealed that because Ward 1 office workers routinely used the cash box to borrow money for lunch and other petty expenses, there was no way to know who took the money.

That evidently didn't stop Ibarra from telling C.J. Karamargin, who was then the political reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, that Reid was the thief. He also told Tucson Citizen reporter Oscar Abeyta that an unnamed employee took the money and had since left his employ; Reid was the only employee who fit that description.

In his deposition, Ibarra did his best to weasel out of responsibility by flatly denying he made the comments to Karamargin. You can decide whom you believe, but Ibarra also told Reid's attorneys he never tried to set the record straight because "from my experience, it's not like it's going to make any difference. They're not going to correct the statement; they're not going to correct their inaccuracies; they're not going to do anything about it."

Well, that's certainly the case when the reporter accurately recounts what a politician said, anyway.

From our review of the court file, it sounds to us like Ibarra should be grateful his colleagues ended the case when they did. Reid's attorney, former City Council member Michael Crawford, pretty much loathes Ibarra, dating back to when the two of them were on the council together. Crawford was pushing the court to unseal portions of a deposition of former Ibarra aide Jesse Soto.

According to Crawford's motion: "Throughout this litigation, defendants have contended that Ms. Reid was unhappy with her employment in council member Ibarra's office. The reason she became disheartened in her employment had to do with Mr. Ibarra's conduct. During Mr. Soto's deposition, it came to light that defendant Ibarra's bizarre conduct was related to a diagnosed mental illness he suffers from. It is clear in order to explain Ms. Reid's growing unhappiness with defendant Ibarra's conduct, to establish that he did indeed have this particular mental illness to which he took medication, some of which he offered to other employees in the office."


SCRAMBLEWATCH '06: MO' MONEY

Last week, the Scramblewatch '06 desk noted that Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, the former state senator seeking to replace retiring Congressman Jim Kolbe, announced that she had raised $569,642 through March 31. Giffords had already spent $94,540.

Judging from the reports filed last week with the Federal Elections Commission, we were right in our prediction that Giffords had more money than the other Democratic candidates combined.

· Former newscaster Patty Weiss had raised $173,719, including $9,720 she had loaned her campaign. It's a respectable showing, given that she's a first-time candidate. She had spent $45,132.

· TUSD board member Alex Rodriguez reported raising $16,838 and spending $11,209.

· Jet Blue pilot Jeff Latas, a former Air Force fighter pilot, had no first-quarter filing on the FEC page, but his campaign tells us he raised about $18,600.

· Francine Shacter, a retired federal worker, had no report filed, but in a recent e-mail to Democrats, she said she'd spend no more than $50,000 on the race. Shacter vowed to give any contributions above that threshold to charity. We don't imagine Casa de los Niños should go spending that money just yet.

On the Republican side:

· State Rep. Steve Huffman has come out of the gate strong, assembling a war chest of $239,659. He had spent only $13,204. The GOP money guys are betting on Huffman: Jim Click, Don Diamond and Karl Eller, for example, have each given him $4,200 since January.

· Randy Graf, the former state lawmaker who took a shot at Kolbe in 2004, had raised $130,812 and spent $118,560.

· Mike Hellon, the former Republican national committeeman, had raised $102,440, including $40,000 he'd lent his campaign. Hellon had spent $11,077.

· Mike Jenkins, the auto-shop manager who has previously run for the Arizona Legislature and Tucson City Council, had raised $3,830 and spent $1,877.

More by Jim Nintzel

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