THE END IS NIGH
One of the sleepiest election cycles in recent memory is coming to an end next week as city voters decide the Ward 3 race between incumbent Democrat Karin Uhlich and GOP challenger Ben Buehler-Garcia, and the Ward 5 race between incumbent Democrat Richard Fimbres and GOP challenger Mike Polak.
It's the second election cycle to feature the city's all-new, all-mail election system, with ballots sent to every voter and just seven polling places set up around town.
The ballots went out on Oct. 17 and a brief look at the returns as of Monday, Oct. 28, shows that the Democratic candidates are looking pretty good.
A total of 13,746 Democrats have returned their ballots, while just 7,622 Republicans have sent theirs back in. Another 5,542 voters that we can loosely call independents have also sent in their ballots.
So unless Buehler-Garcia and Polak are getting unheard-of crossover numbers, the Dems have a pretty solid lead.
But the all-mail system is a new one and those returns represent just 12 percent of the 225,294 ballots that were sent out. So a bunch of voters may still send in their ballots this week, and a bunch may still drop them off on Election Day.
BTW: If you haven't yet mailed in your ballot by Thursday, Oct. 31, you'll want to drop it off at one of the six polling places on Election Day. Find the nearest location to you by calling 791-4213 or visiting cityoftucson.org.
Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller is no stranger to making wild and unsubstantiated claims.
During her campaign for office last year, Miller told the Weekly during an interview with her that she believed, based on some anonymous information that had been passed along to her, that $345 million was "unaccounted for" in the county budget over the last 10 years.
Miller's assertion was, to put it kindly, hogwash. Even the guy who passed it along to her, would-be developer Michael Farley, admitted as much when the Weekly sat down with him for an interview. Farley—who is now suing Pima County because transportation planners wouldn't realign the intersection of Valencia and Kolb roads to make it easier for him to build a shopping center—was critical of the county's decision to spend the money on its transportation staff and maintaining the transportation system rather than filling potholes. But as he put it to us: "Is the money unaccounted for? Nah, it's probably in there."
When the Weekly reported that Miller was spreading BS in her campaign, she declared that your Skinny scribe's reporting was dishonest and vowed she would never speak to me again.
(It was a promise she has kept, with the exception of a curious exchange following a forum at the Loft Cinema, when she asked if your Skinny scribe was still drawing cartoons of her with teabag earrings. It was a confusing moment, until I realized she had me mixed up with Arizona Daily Star cartoonist Dave Fitzsimmons.)
But for all her insistence that hundreds of millions of dollars had gone missing, Miller has not made a peep about it since she was elected. This tells The Skinny one of two things: Miller is either now complicit in a cover up or she realized at some point that she was peddling false claims.
The point of this recap: Miller is far better at making wild accusations than she is at backing up her BS.
Miller has recently been going off about how developers keep telling her that they have to hire certain consultants in order to get their projects approved at Pima County. She's been making the claims on Facebook and on a Zion-based afternoon radio talk show.
Here's what Miller wrote on Facebook:
Tonight we talked about the fact I have been hearing alot of complaints over the past few years from developers and real estate folks who allege they are being required to hire certain "consultants" for high fees to get their development plans approved in Pima County. If I heard it once, twice or maybe even 10 times I wouldn't think much of it....but folks I am hearing this from everyone and the roar is getting louder...I will tell you these so called lobbyists and "consultants" are now being closely watched......If this is happening to YOU—I need to hear about it and pass on the information. Several people are coming forward and it is time to investigate to determine if these allegations have merit.
The allegations led Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to deliver a memo last week defending his staff from Miller's claims of extortion.
"These are criminal allegations; and I urge you, if you have any evidence of such, to take your complaints with specifics to the Pima County Attorney," Huckelberry wrote.
In his memo, Huckelberry explained that "there is natural tension between land developers and owners and regulating jurisdictions. Such is normal and appropriate."
But he also laid down some stats for Miller: Roughly 80 percent of all building permits are approved within five business days. He also delivered a list of all the engineering and planning firms that have done work on projects in Pima County over the last four years and encouraged her to "contact any of these firms to inquire as to whether the county required their particular firm to be employed to provide the services necessary to achieve or receive land use approvals from the county."
And, in signing off, Huckelberry laid down a defense of his staff: "Your claims, staff believes, are unfounded and based on bad information, most likely from disgruntled developers unhappy with the enforcement of county codes developed by the Board of Supervisors. To imply criminal activity on the part of county employees in your allegations is unfair, unfounded and irresponsible. County employees enforce the rules, codes and requirements adopted by the Board of Supervisors and do not engage in unfair practices or procedures."
Miller responded on Facebook in an effort at defending herself by claiming that she "didn't say it was county employees...I said it was 'consultants and lobbyists.'"
That's a curious dodge, given that those "consultants and lobbyists" would have to work with the staff of Development Services in order to get those plans approved. The staff would have to be complicit by requiring the hiring of said consultants or the whole pay-to-play scheme doesn't work.
It appears that voters will have a chance to decide the fate of the HB 2305, the omnibus election overhaul passed by the Arizona Legislature in the final days of the session.
Opponents of the bill turned in about 146,000 signatures last month to force a referendum on the law, which will put it on hold until voters can decide its fate on the November 2014 ballot. To qualify for the ballot, the Protect Your Right to Vote Committee needed 86,405 valid signatures.
Political strategist Robbie Sherwood expects that following a review by the county recorders across the state, the Arizona Secretary of State's Office will certify the petitions with about 112,000 signatures this week.
"I can't say what the other side will do, but that is an overwhelming cushion," Sherwood says. "We had an unprecedented 80 percent verification rate under strict compliance standards. There is just not going to be some magic technicality that nobody has yet seen that is going to invalidate 30,000 of our signatures."
But Barrett Marson, a spokesman for two political committees that support the law, says his groups will go to court in an attempt to invalidate a number of signatures because some of the petition passers were ineligible to collect signatures in Arizona.
"There are thousands upon thousands of signatures that are likely to be invalid," Marson said. "It's early in the game yet."