Skinny LET THE OWLS PAY THE OWL TAX: With the latest court delay, the Amphitheater School District's plan to build a high school on the edge of critical habitat for the endangered pygmy owl continues to stall. Amphi will be more than a year behind schedule when it squares off against environmentalists in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in October.

And even if Amphi wins at the appellate court level, nothing's stopping the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity and the Defenders of Wildlife from appealing to the Supreme Court and getting another injunction preventing
construction--which would continue to delay the project. Worse, if the district loses, Amphi would be forced to appeal to the top court for a reversal.

Along with the time lost, the district is also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, additional land acquisition costs and other expenses related to the high school.

Any idiot could have seen this coming--and the Board majority should have cut their losses a long time ago.

Sure, finding a new site would mean that the district would have to sit on the property until a buyer could be found--but that shouldn't bother the district much. After all, the Board spent a million bucks for a warehouse on eight acres along Desert Sky Road back in 1996--and last we heard, there were no plans to use or sell that property either.

Meanwhile, the new Amphi budget calls for a 2 percent tax hike for Amphi homeowners, who are footing the bill for all those site-related costs.

Some of our more conspiratorial friends have offered another theory for Amphi officials' refusal to find a new site: The Growth Lobby types on the Amphi School Board, along with the real-estate consultant who slid this deal through, want the new school on the northwestern border of the district because there isn't much in the way of infrastructure--i.e., roads and sewers--out there now. Building a new high school in the boonies would put the heat on Pima County and other jurisdictions to extend higher-capacity infrastructure at taxpayer expense.

Consider that possiblility the next time you hear it's a matter of "owls versus kids."

THE STALLED CALL: Of course, Amphi taxpayers aren't going to be able to address their Governing Board about those climbing owl costs--at least not until the Board reinstates a call-to-the-audience segment at its meetings.

Despite the grumbling of Amphi residents who turned out in large numbers last month to support returning the call-to-the-audience segment, the Board continues to stall the process. The majority of the Board--with the exception, as usual, of Nancy Young Wright--is relying on convoluted legal advice that they couldn't respond to comments from audience members because they would be violating Arizona open-meeting laws since the potential topics would not have been posted on the meeting's agenda. This is a novel legal theory which is evidently not shared by the numerous political jurisdictions throughout the state which feature call-to-the-audience segments.

Also disagreeing with the notion is Scott Alexander, a former Arizona lawmaker who helped write Arizona's open-meeting laws. Alexander clashed with Amphi in-house counsel Todd Jaeger at a meeting last month when Jaeger explained the Board's unique legal dilemma. To settle the question, Alexander suggested Amphi staffers meet with state attorneys. He also asked to be invited to the meeting.

After a week of hemming and hawing, Amphi staffers finally agreed to the meeting, but it's been put off since. Superintendent Robert "Bubba" Smith--who is now even getting beat up in the local sports pages for his shoddy treatment of legendary Amphi football Coach Vern Friedli--also requested the meetings include Barry Corey's law firm, which often represents the district. So there's some more of your tax dollars floating away while Amphi tries to find an angle to reduce your right to speak.

Meanwhile, an effort to "streamline" district policies is underway, and it looks like call-to-the-audience is going to be formally removed from district guidelines.

Two of the ringleaders of this attempt to squash your chance to be heard--Board members Mike Bernal and Gary Woodard--are up for re-election this November. Remember their creepy moves when you visit the voting booth.

SALIDA DE SAL: Civil-rights activist Salomon Baldenegro will, in fact, have to take another job if he is to stay on the UA campus. Despite an outbreak of meetings Mexican-American leaders held to keep Baldenegro in his job as assistant dean for Hispanic student affairs, UA Prez Peter Likins will move him to a nebulous position. This is a victory for the Hispanic elite, including the UA's Joel Valdez, Jamie Gutierrez and Celestino Fernández.

Likins met with about 60 people from the opposition Mexican group on Friday. Negotiating power evaporated when Max Torres spoke highly of the compromise that emanated from Valdez's office. It got messier still when Likins conceded that he reached his conclusion to move Baldenegro, who held the job for 10 years, after consulting with Tucson's Hispanic leadership. Huh? When did that become a monolith? He refused to name that leadership, which was denounced by activists Friday as "whispering brokers."

Those who fought for Baldenegro noted the irony that Likins is allowing Fernández to write his own ticket as a sociology professor, even though Fernández led that profound failure, the Arizona International Campus experiment. They want the standards used on Baldenegro applied to Fernández. But then, Baldenegro isn't a wealthy, pretty Californian, which is likely what the UA will bring in after a waste-of-money, go-through-the-motions rigged national search.

LIBERTARIAN IN DISTRICT 4? Gay Lynne Goetzke ran an interesting race for Mayor of Tucson in 1991 as a Libertarian, taking about 14 percent of the votes cast. As a staunch defender of property rights and an opponent of governmental intervention in just about everything, she's considering a run at the District 4 seat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors now held by Republican Ray Carroll, who is facing TUSD Board member Brenda Even and accountant Ken Marcus in the September 8 GOP primary. Carroll has drawn her ire by supporting what Goetzke considers "immoral" controlled-growth ordinances.

Goetzke would have to run as a Libertarian again by getting a handful of write-in votes on the primary ballot, which wouldn't bother her too much. But that would probably cut down on her fundraising capability among those hardcore cementheads who would make up her money base.

LAWYERS FOR HIGHER TAXES: It often seems like members of the Pima County Attorney's Civil Division are congenitally equipped to give our elected leaders bad advice, but now they may have gone beyond dispensing lousy legal opinions and fully immersed themselves in the business of policy-making, which, of course, isn't their job.

The Skinny's been told that the civil guys have decided the big Kino Hospital debt--which now amounts to $20 million or so, and which county bureaucrats have shoved around for years--just has to be paid. And, the civil attorneys claim, the only way to pay that debt--regardless of an Auditor General's report that it doesn't need to be paid--is to raise taxes for the county's general fund.

So we now have these rather low-ranking lawyers and pseudo constitutional experts actually telling the people who supposedly represent us that they must increase the sales tax by a half-cent to pay Kino's debt. This on top of the Sheriff Clarence Dupnik's request for a similar tax hike for law enforcement, and another from environmentalists for open-space purchase.

These legal wizards are way off their turf and ought to be sent back to Barbara LaWall with the seat cut out of their pants--and something like that would happen if we had a Board of Supes with any guts.

If these lawyers are correct about the need to pay off the Kino debt, isn't there a chance the money could be found elsewhere--perhaps in the $400,000 worth of raises the County Attorney just handed out?

Maybe it's time for these lawyers-turned-policy-wonks to take a cookie and go back to their room. Certainly the supervisors must have a few other legally available financial options beyond sticking it to the rest of us.

FAULTY PROGNOSIS: The latest attempt to handle that Kino Hospital debt of about $20 million? High county sources tell us the new spin involves recently discovered "accounts receivable" in the amount of $27 million. This is the rationale the current hospital staff and the unelected commission now in charge will try to use to convince the Board of Supes that everything is really OK financially.

One small question. Where the hell were all these receivables and why are we just finding them? Are they're actually trying to tell us that the hospital was owed millions and nobody collected it? And are we to believe that ace administrator Dr. Deputy Richard Carmona just now found all that money owed to the county after he'd been in charge for more than a year?

Give us a break, Rich.

BOTTLE RACKET: One of the more incredible bait-and-switch games we've ever seen is the recent sleazy public relations' job by the Central Arizona Project folks. They have bottles of water in circulation labeled "Central Arizona Project Water," designed--by their own admission--as a PR gimmick. Yep, folks, it's real CAP water all right. Only problem is that it first went through the Phoenix treatment plant, not Tucson's. Which obviously still leaves them with water so crappy that they didn't dare hand out what Phoenicians drink, because the next step was to put this stuff through a reverse-osmosis process, which removed just about everything else from it.

This is the stuff they've handed out to prove to you that nothing's wrong with CAP water. Well, sure, until it goes through the chemical bath at the Tucson treatment plant and gets pumped through decaying pipes, the stuff's great! If any private company did this, they'd get busted for fraud.

We hear the Tucson Water spin-doctors will try again soon, with some phony taste-test publicity the local media is likely to cover as if it were real news and not just misleading propaganda designed to fuel uncontrolled local growth.

Instead of blowing smoke about how good that CAP crap is in Phoenix, they might try distributing a few bottles of that stuff as issued in the capitol city without sanitizing it first, so we can all find out just how bad Phoenix water really is.

HERE'S HENRY: Enrique Serna is returning to Pima County as a member of the Merit Commission, the county's civil-service panel. Supervisor Raul Grijalva appointed Serna to replace Rebecca Hill, who resigned to accept a job in Superior Court. This will give the five-member, unpaid commission, which rules on appeals of employee disciplinary action, a second Hispanic. Smart move by Grijalva to appoint the former county manager, who was fired minutes after Ed Moore, Mike Boyd and Paul Marsh seized control of the Board of Supervisors in 1993.

Serna, a former South Tucson city manager, got no justice, but most of the other 12 top-level executives and their aides who got canned in the Moore-Boyd-Marsh reorganization got plenty of taxpayer jack after they sued.

Serna recently ended a stint as manager of the Maricopa County town of Guadalupe to join Collins-Pina Consulting Engineers. Serna's appointment will anger and scare holdover hacks from the Moore regime--particularly the ones who stabbed Serna in the back. It also will annoy the complicitous County Attorney's Office, a petulant, sore-losing bunch who continue to bleed taxpayers by appealing to Superior Court sound Merit Commission decisions in favor of employees.

FREE TV: State-run television station KUAT should stop giving wanna-be pretty-boy Hank Amos free time, as it did recently, to chat about his annual and mid-year numbers in a big puff piece for his house of cards known as Tucson Realty & Trust. The company has been propped up by legendary land speculator Donald R. Diamond and Boy Hank is a J. Fife Symington III-appointee to the Arizona Board of Regents, which has ultimate control over KUAT. Boy Hank regurgitates real-estate numbers that are prepared by others. If knocked off script even slightly, he seriously falters. Apparently not one for work, Boy Hank recently ordered Board of Regents staffers to boil down reports to a paragraph with a one-line recommendation.

THE STATE BOARD OF MEDICAL EXAMINERS: The docs who make up the state Board of Medical Examiners are not only disgracefully slow in following up complaints, but it appears they tend not to do squat after they've taken a year or more to investigate those complaints.

At least that appears to be the case when it comes to Dr. John Biskind, a 72-year-old Phoenix physician who mistakenly judged a full-term fetus to be at only 23 weeks and tried to abort it. That would be inept enough, but it seems this same doc has performed botched abortions before, and two of his former patients have died. In both cases the medical examiners didn't pull his license, but then that's something they almost never do.

For years the Board has been nothing but a good-old-boys' network for covering bad docs. But check the reaction of the state senator who chairs the Senate Health Committee, Tucson Republican Ann Day: "It tells me they haven't been doing their job at all. This is not the first time I've had complaints about doctors who have done bad things and are still out there practicing."

Duh, no shit, Senator. Did it ever maybe occur to you that it's your job to do something about it--like hold hearings, criticize the Board, and hold their feet to the fire during budget time?

INDEPENDENT THINKING: Former Arizona goober, uh, Gov. Evan Mecham announced a few weeks back that he planned to run for governor again--as an independent. On the surface, good news for Democrat Paul Johnson--until you consider that Mecham did the same thing in the U.S. Senate race against John McCain back in 1992, and McCain beat Democrat Claire Sargent by about 23 points--meaning any vote Mecham got was from somebody so mad at McCain that they weren't going to vote for him in the first place. And the same thing would probably follow for Gov. Jane Dee Hull.

Only Mecham screwed up his latest scheme. Seems they've changed the rules for independent candidates and Mecham didn't notice--you don't file those candidacies after the primary any more, you have to file them the same time as everybody else does. Too bad, Evan. Now you'll have to run as a write-in. And so will anybody else planning to file as an independent. TW

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