What Are The Chances Paul Marsh Can Hang Onto His Seat?
By Jim Nintzel
THE DAY HE was sworn into office in January 1993, Pima County Supervisor Paul Marsh first voted to fire County Manager Enrique Serna, then made a motion to replace him with "Manoj Vegas."
He was actually talking about Manoj Vyas, who won the newly created post of county administer by a 3-2 party line vote. The next day, Vyas fired six top county administrators and drastically reorganized county government. Vyas claimed at the time that he'd come up with the entire plan overnight, when in fact the GOP majority had interviewed him during secret meetings before they were sworn into office.
The brutal massacre set in motion a lawsuit by the fired bureaucrats that eventually cost the county millions of dollars. (For more on this taxpayer debacle, see "Outrageous Fortune," Tucson Weekly, August 22.) And it's hard to see any cost savings, since the county has passed a record budget and has more employees than ever.
Marsh, who testified in depositions that he wasn't able to pay much attention during the meetings because he was taking painkillers at the time, says he'd put his faith in fellow GOP Board members Ed Moore and Mike Boyd.
"I was banking on a lot of experience from Mr. Moore and Mr. Boyd, who had been in office," says Marsh. "When you bring in a new administration of any kind, whether it's the Clintons or the Bushes or us or whatever, you should have your own people with you. The methodology obviously was wrong. You just don't do things the way it went."
Indeed you don't--which is what six of the fired or demoted bureaucrats proved when they settled a lawsuit against the county for $3.25 million late last year.
Since those rocky days, Marsh has earned a reputation for hard work--he often arrives at the office at 6:30 a.m. and stays late--and was the only supervisor to oppose an increase in the county sales tax. He meets regularly with constituents and makes a point of going to many community meetings in District 4.
Still, those first few months are haunting him these days, as he faces a primary challenge from John Even, a retired real estate attorney who now represents District 4 on the Pima Community College Board. (The boundaries of the county and college districts are identical.)
The husband of TUSD Board member Brenda Even, the 57-year-old lifelong Republican has sterling GOP credentials, just slightly tarnished by a bit of nasty business over his support of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini. He's done a stint as a precinct committeeman and served on the county GOP's executive and finance committees.
The upcoming primary race will most likely decide the seat; because District 4 is overwhelmingly Republican, there's little chance Democrat Craig Runyon or Libertarian Ted Glenn will capture the seat in the November general election. Neither candidate has funding or much political clout.
But if Even is going to unseat Marsh, he's going to have to give people a reason to go out and vote. And when you come right down to it, Marsh and Even really don't differ on too many issues.
Take the $1,500 impact fee the Board passed earlier this month after a long and contentious battle. Marsh has been opposed to enacting the fees and cast one of the votes that ensured the fees were set at $1,550 across the county, even though the county planning staff estimates for an effective fee were more than double that figure in some areas.
Both Marsh and Even oppose an impact fee of more than $1,550. And both would like to exempt Green Valley developers from paying impact fees.
Both would like to see county government do more with less (although supervisors are due to get $10,000-a-year raises beginning next year), both would continue to fund the Copper Bowl and both supported the $29-million spring-training ballpark being built for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox with money from car rental and hotel bed taxes. Even, however, would have voted to build the stadium downtown, where additional costs would have required a subsidy from the general fund.
Both campaigns have found support among developers and land speculators. As of May 31, Marsh had raised $63,702.44 (although he'd once said supervisors should be prevented from accepting contributions anytime other than an election year, he has been an aggressive fundraiser) and still had $44,495 on hand. His contributors include developers Harold Ashton ($270), Chris Sheafe ($250), Bill Estes ($250), Stan Abrams ($250), Alan Lurie ($250) and Don Diamond and his wife Joan ($490).
Even, meanwhile, had raised $48,889, with H. Wilson Sundt ($270), Allan Norville ($270) and John and Maime Kai ($250 each). At the end of May, he still had $30,499 in the bank. Along with developers, Even has collected many contributions from the legal community and many GOP stalwarts.
In the end, it would seem Even and Marsh would carry out similar policies. Which brings us back to those first couple of days in office.
"There are some things Paul has done that bother me a great deal," Even says. "I think being involved in the majority three that fired those people--it's going to cost us millions of dollars. Plus the amount of time and effort that we've had employees of the county sitting in deposition or talking to lawyers instead of doing their jobs trying to defend that case is outrageous--really outrageous."
The bottom line, says Even, is that people should get out and vote for him because "My knowledge and background in the community is just better than his. I think being a business lawyer in Tucson for the last 30 years gave me the ability to understand this community. It's given me an understanding of the legal background and the underpinnings of the community and the state, but also just an understanding of the how the system works."
"I come from a business background as opposed to an attorney's background, and I think there's a distinct difference there," counters Marsh. "Obviously, he looks at it through legal eyes where I don't, but I'm looking at it from a business standpoint to see how we can make this place function better."
Marsh says he doesn't like the idea of meeting behind closed doors any more. But apparently his change of heart comes not because the public's business should necessarily be conducted in public. It's a much more practical reason, which reflects how dysfunctional the board has become:
"My thinking there has changed, because the way to get things done is to work with your department heads, which I have been doing," Marsh says. "As to working with a group of supervisors, whether it's behind closed doors or not, you're not going to get a whole heck of a lot done anyway."
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