RETRACTION ACTION: We passed a pleasant lunchtime recently with Pima County's most powerful politician, Steve Neely. Powerful not only because as county attorney he can indict, sue and otherwise make life miserable for lawbreakers, but because of his sheer staying power in local politics--18 years by our count. This intense, brilliant man undoubtedly could have been governor or a U.S. senator, had he so chosen. Of course there would have been the little matter of overcoming the local defense attorneys' well-financed opposition--most don't like him because of his forceful policies and his dedication to, if not sheer delight in, prosecuting the hell out of their clients.
We still think he could have won just about any higher office in this state. And he would have been damn good at it, too. If only he'd chosen to run against Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, our generally worthless prince of public relations. Sigh.
Instead, Neely, who'll turn 54 next month, seems to be winding things down these days. He's concerned about his cholesterol count, and he talks longingly of spending more time with his children.
Regular readers may recall us tweaking him from time to time about his plans to settle in New Zealand. At lunch the other day, he was very clear on at least one reason why he's considering that far-away land: There is simply too much crime and violence in the U.S. to make for the kind of life he wants to live once he leaves office. The fact that he and his wife will be taking a 75 percent cut in income, at least initially, to move to the other side of the planet is strong evidence of his conviction.
But then Neely has always been a man of strong conviction, as any one who has ever tangled with him can attest; although of late, he has seemed to lack his usual vigor in the public arena. Frankly, we were somewhat surprised--even concerned--that he chose to ignore some of our recent negative opinions about his office. At one point, he even told a mutual friend that he was beyond caring--a dismal thought indeed. If Neely the Dragonslayer could not rouse himself to attack the press, a task he once appeared to relish even more than putting less literary low-lifes behind bars, then what, we wondered, was to become of Pima County?
Well, we are happy to announce that our latest tirade roused Neely from his apparent public funk. He has sent us a demand for retraction on our two most recent opinions: 1) That the county supervisors could remove him from office for malfeasance should he choose not to prosecute certain crimes as retaliation in a budget dispute; and 2) That there are a bunch of private attorneys hanging around the county who look like political contributors.
In typical Neely fashion, he noted his letter was not intended to concede that any other statements made about him in The Weekly were true or not libelous. Ah, the old take-no-prisoners Neely we know and love.
During our lunch, which occurred after the receipt of that letter, he also complained, relatively good-naturedly, of other items we have printed about him in the recent past that he said were just plain wrong. For a person who claims not to read this rag, he demonstrated a commanding grasp of details. But then, he always has.
Sitting there, listening to him alternately complain about us and the press in general, then discuss some obscure theory about social organization, then talk about New Zealand, human mortality and various other topics, we were struck anew by what a driven, complex person he is. We could just picture him out there in the green pastures of his newly adopted homeland, intently focused and working really hard to relax.
We also realized how much we're soon going to miss this 500-pound gorilla on our local political scene--his wit, tightly argued verbal attacks and the sheer force of his presence, when he chooses to exert it, in some much-publicized battle or other. If the truth were known, when all is said and done, we kinda like this guy. He's not only made our politics and public lives richer in his uniquely brash and contentious way, but he's helped put a lot of bad guys in the slammer, too, at reasonable cost to the taxpayer. No small accomplishments these.
So we hereby retract everything negative we've ever said about you, Steve. And, as for as points 1) & 2): We now realize you couldn't possibly be removed for malfeasance for the reasons stated, because, as our duly elected prosecutor, you're legally empowered to pick and choose whom you go after. Furthermore, we didn't think item No. 2 said anything derrogatory toward you personally. If you took it that way, we're sorry.
Fact is, we've come to the oddly painful realization that soon your accomplishments here will all be part of the good old days. And regardless of any legal outcome, you can bet we'd cheerfully look you up to reminisce, were we ever to make it to New Zealand. But, hey, don't worry--they'd never let us in.
KROMKO FAILS AGAIN: Some Skinny readers wonder why we picked on former state Rep. John Kromko during the Big Ed Moore recall petition drive. For the same reason we're picking on him now--failure to follow through and wasting a lot of people's time.
Kromko was great in the state legislature. Even Republicans loved his gadfly tactics and constant wit. He kept people honest, and the worst that could be said of him was that the other 59 house members deserved him.
But gadfly tactics don't get the job done when it comes to petition drives. Kromko's latest failure involves an attempt to get a referendum on the state's new tax decreases. The referendum would alter the formula used by the legislature and aim the tax cuts at lower incomes. Critics claimed the modification made the referendum unconstitutional, but that point is moot. Kromko, once again, didn't get enough signatures.
This time he claimed he "ran out of time" because the three-month period allotted to gather referendum sigs wasn't enough and he started six weeks into the process. John, why not start early and use the all the time?
For years, Kromko has scared the pants off the establishment with petition drives. Unfortunately, everybody has noticed that he's only finished a couple of them, including the City of Tucson's Neighborhood Protection Amendment in 1985. That one took two tries after Kromko blew the notarizations on the first batch, and would have flopped again had not Wanda Shattuck basically taken over and made it happen. Shattuck, unlike Kromko, understands details and scut work.
The unfortunate part of this: Thousands of hours of volunteer labor goes down the drain on behalf of causes for which Kromko leads the charge. Remember that next time you see him on camera--and you will--holding a clipboard and announcing his next tilt at a windmill.
CONCHOLA FOR SUPE? Former Nogales mayor and well-known businessman Joe Conchola is rumored to be ready to go for the Democratic nomination for Pima County's District Two supervisorial seat now held by Danny Eckstrom.
Hey, wait a minute--we thought he lived in Nogales. Well, he sorta did, at least enough to legally qualify as a resident. But he's back now, and living outside District Two. We hear that's no problem--he'll just register to vote out of his son's house.
We know about all the gypsy bureaucrats hired by Tucson City Manager Mike "The Spike" Brown, but Conchola could be our first "gypsy politician."
THE DON'S COUNTY DOINGS: Legendary land speculator Don Diamond is back at work. The Pima County Planning and Zoning Commission, by a 4-to-3 vote, rezoned 92 acres at River and La Cholla for up to 24 apartments an acre, as well as tract houses and commercial use. Once again, the plans are "flexible"--the commission waived the provision that makes commercial property stay commercial by giving Diamond the option to use that portion for more houses.
Suppose we could call it in-fill, but there's another problem. According to dissenting P&Z members, the land is prone to flooding--something that was never even brought up by staff. Which means it will need flood-prevention work, and as yet there is no clarification on who pays.
The item has yet to be come before the Board of Supes, but we'd remind you that it's in Big Ed Moore's district--and very close to land he owns. Let's watch how well Big Ed represents his constituents--and all of us--when he votes on this one.
GRIJALVA FORGETS THE RULES: We don't pick on Supervisor Raul Grijalva very much because, in our opinion, he does most things OK. But he forgot about his stern criticism of his three GOP colleagues for meeting in secret to restructure county government a few years back.
Grijalva's transgression was motivated by something higher than backroom pork--namely, taking a shot at Minerec Corporation for its many environmental transgressions. A worthy cause, but his actions were similar to those he's previously attacked.
Grijalva signed a directive with supervisors Big Ed Moore and Paul Marsh to instruct County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to cut off Minerec's sewer service. Excuse us, Raul, but isn't that an illegal convergence of three supervisors outside a public meeting? If it was illegal for Boyd, Marsh and Moore to take action without a public hearing, how can you, Marsh and Moore take action without a public hearing?
OK, you were in a hurry. Hey, so were they. The statute allows you to call an emergency meeting on 24 hours notice, at which time you could have instructed Huckelberry in front of everybody--and legally. And you could have reminded your colleagues of their past transgressions.
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