MISTAKES WERE MADE: Tucson Water finally released a report
last week detailing some of the possible reasons that an eight-foot
main exploded in February, sending 38 million gallons of water
flowing into a southside neighborhood and destroying homes.
As you might expect, the report is written in the passive voice to avoid actually assigning responsibility for the problems, but we're happy to decipher the language for you: Tucson Water screwed up--bigtime.
First of all, according to the report, "inadequate consideration was given to soil and drainage issues during the design and construction phase." In other words, the plans sucked from the start--just as Tucson Water whistleblower Jim Patterson tried to tell his supervisors, other city officials, and the City Council years ago.
But that's just the beginning. Patterson also complained about subsurface water that was running under the pipeline--and his concerns were brushed aside. Instead, Tucson Water staffers--whose names have not yet been released by the utility--decided to build a clay dam under the pipe to divert the water--a clay dam that runs right under the area where the break occurred.
Guess what? The dam "may have created the opportunity for wet/dry cycling of the pipe coating contributing to increased deterioration of pipe materials, as well as increasing the stresses on the pipe at the failure point," according to the report. Oops!
"The dam didn't work," says Tucson Water spokesman Mitch Basefsky. "It didn't divert the water the way it was supposed to. What we found later is that the water that was going through there was very corrosive water. And no consideration was given as to how the alkalinity of the clay might affect the pipe."
It gets worse. During the installation of the clay dam, Tucson Water workers damaged the pipe and didn't repair it correctly.
Basefsky says workers didn't worry too much about the pipe because they considered it virtually indestructible. Only since the break, he claims, has Tucson Water learned that these kinds of pipes are vulnerable.
But Patterson warned the utility six years ago that the pipe would break. "They had underground water that started running under the main," Patterson told auditors as far back as '93. "They don't know what to do about it and it's going to break the main, I'll guarantee you...."
Although Tucson Water Director David Modeer brushed aside Patterson's concerns when he met with him earlier this year, Basefsky now says Tucson Water officials should have listened to Patterson years ago.
"He may have noticed the bedding was inadequate," Basefsky says. "There may have been some validity in what he was saying. Certainly, from David's perspective, we'd better start listening to a lot of these employees who point out things, because we need to check to see that things are done correctly."
Basefsky says the utility is still trying to determine which employees were responsible for the problems.
"We have all the old work records and we're looking at them," says Basefsky, who adds that "some might be, some might not be" still employed by Tucson Water. Asked if they will face disciplinary action for their role in Tucson Water's worst single-day disaster, Basefsky says, "Certainly, if it's appropriate, we'll follow up on that."
THE END OF MILLER TIME: With Mayor George Miller's predicted announcement that he'll step down at the end of his term this year, Tucson's mayoral race continues to take shape.
Still holding an early lead in the Democratic primary is former Ward 6 Councilwoman Molly McKasson, the first Democrat to toss her hat in the ring earlier this year. You can expect McKasson to stress Tucson's poverty problems and the need for higher-paying jobs, as well as her opposition to direct delivery of CAP water.
A former colleague of McKasson, Councilwoman Janet Marcus, is giving up her Ward 2 seat to seek the nomination. Marcus will try to position herself as a moderate alternative to McKasson. Marcus has never faced a primary opponent and has always run behind her fellow Democrats in citywide general elections, suggesting that she has a weak base among Democrats.
Officially joining the Democratic race last week was longtime politico Betsy Bolding, most recently a Tucson Electric Power employee, who is playing the outsider in these early days of the campaign. Bolding's announcement speech was short on specifics, but she promised to play a conciliatory role in city politics, bringing people together for the betterment of the city as a whole. That may be a tough message to sell in a low-turnout primary election, given that pro-neighborhood candidates like José Ibarra, Jerry Anderson and Alison Hughes have won upset victories against establishment politicians in recent hard-fought primaries.
Still trying to decide if he'll enter the race is real-estate broker Pat Darcy, the former Cincinnati Reds pitcher who's weighing his first run for public office. A true outsider, Darcy will have a hard time lining up experienced campaign supporters given the current field--which will make it difficult even to collect the necessary 1,970 signatures to get on the ballot, much less the cash necessary for a winning campaign.
Candidates who sign a contract to accept the city's matching funds--as all three women have done--will be limited to spending about $150,000, which means the candidates will have to avoid spending too much during the primary, since Republican Bob Walkup will be waiting with a full war chest when the Democratic nominee emerges in September. Walkup himself hit the campaign trail last weekend, appearing alongside Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe at several events and hitting the fairgrounds in search of voters.
HERE COMES DA JUDGE RYAN: Mary Judge Ryan, second in command at the Pima County Attorney's Office, wants to be southern Arizona's member of Congress. Emboldened by the victory of her boss, Democrat Barbara LaWall, in 1996, as well as last fall's supposed Fab Five female electoral victories statewide, Ryan is zig-zagging across town to kiss the rings of a bunch of elected officials.
She's at least the third Democrat to publicly drool over a congressional seat. Tom Volgy, the former Tucson mayor and a two-time loser for Congress, and state Sen. George Cunningham want to oust Republican Jim Kolbe, who'll complete his eighth term next year.
Judge Ryan, who once was a staffer to U.S. Rep. Morris K. Udall, was a deputy in the County Attorney's civil division before LaWall made a boss out of her. She has, at least outwardly, toned down some of her trademark petulance and defiance (for example, it's hard to imagine her stipulating to the fact that it's hot in Tucson in July) that distinguished her performances in the civil division. That's where she took a regular flogging from The Arizona Daily Star (when the Star gave a damn about public records the county fought to conceal) as well as from the lawyers who represented county employees who were cheated and lied to.
It was never pretty watching her storm out of courtrooms screaming that a Superior Court judge's decision was "so stupid!" It got so bad in a 1993 hearing in front of the county Merit Commission, that a member of that civil-service panel sought a recess by declaring he'd "had enough of this snot." Mary may have taken too seriously all those EST-like "training sessions" then-County Attorney Stephen D. Neely mandated for his troops. Opponents may have fun looking at Judge Ryan's work at a private law firm that essentially disintegrated before she joined the county.
SHOCKED AND APPALLED: On Friday, April 9, The Arizona Daily Star described Tucson Electric Power's purchase of the naming rights to the county-owned baseball park on Ajo Way as a successful example of locally based corporate support.
"Mostly, we were looking for something to do in Tucson," TEP public-affairs spokesman Jay Gonzales shamelessly told reporter Alan D. Fischer. "The electric company here is committed to this community--that is what this really says."
Only problem: That $2 million--paid out in $200,000 chunks over a decade--didn't go the community. Pima County taxpayers sure won't see a penny of it. Instead, it went directly to the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago White Sox. And would anyone like to bet that TEP was able to deduct the $2 million from its taxes?
Gonzalez's comments are particularly appalling when you consider that the fiscally strapped county is now facing legal problems because it has borrowed more than $5.9 million from restricted school district funds to pay off the bonds sold to build the $36 million ballpark.
It's hard to figure how enriching Diamondbacks owner Jerry Coangelo and Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf can be helping our community--but at the end of the day, we're sure the Star will tell us it's just another win-win situation!
DOES NO MEAN NO? In 1998 Arizona voters passed a constitutional amendment that severely restricts the state Legislature from altering any initiative measure passed by the voters. All the major dailies endorsed it, based on the principle that the voters' choices should override all considerations, perhaps even coherence.
One small question: If the "yes" decisions of the voters should be maintained in perpetuity until they're repealed by a similar public vote, how about when the voters say "no"?
Try restaurant smoking. Tucson voters turned down a ban back in 1985, but nobody even mentioned that during the recent City Council debate on the matter. This time, the Council approved the ban. Granted, the public made its wishes known 14 years ago. So is there an expiration date on "no" votes, but not on "yes"?
Similarly, Pima County voters have rejected increasing the local sales tax three times since 1986, twice for roads, and once for jails, by ever-increasing margins. Yet most local pols and both daily papers ignore those public votes and simply state that the sales tax should be increased. Again, while voting "yes" is apparently sacrosanct, voting "no" can be ignored.
So what's the rule here--you have to keep voting until you get it right? Only positive actions are protected by the current law? Perhaps it's time to protect rejections too, by placing a time limit on when the same subject can be brought up again and prohibiting governments at all levels from passing laws that override decisions made by the voters.
CORRECTION: Last week's Skinny column mistakenly reported that Amphi Board members Nancy Young Wright and Ken Smith supported the appointment of Angie Julien to the principal's post at CDO. (For more details on that controversy, see "One Small Step," page 8.) We should have said both Board members supported re-opening the search for a new principal. The Skinny regrets the error.
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