The Skinny

Church and County

Margaret Kish, the dynamo who ran the Pio Decimo Center with grace, brains and power, has moved to Pima County's Community Services Department. Sister Maggie is a director of the jobs/social service/housing department, and will be paid $76,544 a year. The department director, Hank "Free Country" Atha, is expected to retire from his $100,000-a-year job in December. He's done a good job, as has the department's assistant director, Art Eckstrom, the low-key big brother to former Democratic county supe Dan Eckstrom. Art Eckstrom, a former miner and mining labor leader, has developed innovative programs like Las Artes.

Kish's appointment means this: Dan Eckstrom still has juice.

Intrique in OV

As Oro Valley voters are preparing to go to the polls next Tuesday, May 18, to fill five Town Council seats, a campaign-finance scandal is erupting in the pages of the Northwest Explorer.

OK, bear with us here. The race is particularly convoluted because the council is expanding from five to seven seats. The 10 candidates on the ballot have become a big fat blur for most voters, many of whom are much more concerned about their next tee time.

In simple terms, you basically have five candidates--Ken "KC" Carter, Conny Culver, Helen Dankwerth, Barry Gillaspie and Richie Feinberg--who are complaining that the current council gives too much to developers. Exhibit A: The recent deal that gives a multi-million sales-tax subsidy to Vestar, a Maricopa developer, to build a strip mall at Tangerine and Oracle roads. An effort to reverse that vote is underway, but Oro Valley Town Attorney Mark Langlitz has already said the town won't accept a referendum on the matter.

The five challengers have particularly targeted two business-as-usual incumbents, Dick Johnson and Bart Rochman, complaining that on top of the Vestar subsidy, they've allowed developers to skirt town regs while clear-cutting the desert, and have failed to enforce other town rules.

Props to the Explorer, which has done an admirable job of trying to sort out the candidates and introduce them to their readers. And last week, editor Mark Evans filled readers in on a convoluted campaign-finance story that involved clumsy campaigning, big bucks and a hotshot lawyer from the big city representing a mystery client. It's kinda like Waiting for Guffman crossed with a Jim Thompson potboiler.

The issue revolves around an independent campaign committee, which are all the rage these days, because they allow big wallets to forgo the traditional $340 limits on campaign contributions from any one individual. We've seen the Growth Lobby use them to pour money into recent city and county elections, with varying degrees of success. One of the basic rules for people running an independent campaign is that they can't coordinate their activities with the candidates--or else it would just be a way of ignoring campaign-finance limits.

Well, Oro Valley resident Bill Adler, who's kind of like the George Soros of OV, decided to use the Growth Lobby's weapon against the bulldozers by running his own independent campaign committee, OV Candidates 2004, to boost the campaigns of the five conservation-minded challengers. The committee has spent more than $10,000, which has been mostly used to buy ads in the Explorer and produce some fliers.

But now OV Candidates 2004 is the subject of a complaint filed by Lisa Hauser, a campaign law specialist who blew into town a couple of weeks back to lay down a complaint alleging that the independent campaign was illegally colluding with the candidates. Bringing in Hauser, who doesn't usually work cheap, is like robbing a Quik-Mart with a daisy cutter--a big blast of overkill. Her client in this case has declined to disclose his or her identity, which makes the whole deal a little fishy.

Her complaint, however, suggests that Adler & Co. could well be crossing the line in regards to coordinating campaign activities.

Adler insists that his independent campaign has had no illegal contact with the candidates. But sometimes he might as well be saying, "Who ya gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?"

As Hauser's complaint points out, the campaign propaganda on the candidates' fliers and the independent campaign's handbills is virtually identical. And at a political get-together at a house owned by Celta Sheppard, treasurer of OV Candidates 2004, piles of campaign materials produced by the candidates were available for volunteers to take with them.

Then there's the episode in which campaign workers--for whom, nobody seems quite certain--handed out fliers from both campaigns stapled together. Even more damning was an odd series of stories Feinberg told the Explorer about how the independent campaign got his photo. First, he said he dropped it off for them; then, he called Evans back to tell him he dropped it for Sheppard's design company to do a flier for his own campaign and has no idea how the folks doing the independent campaign--the same design team, by the way--got ahold of the photo.

Feinberg also retracted a statement he'd made to Evans about how he, himself, was distributing material printed by the independent campaign committee; according to Evans' story, "he only had a few, didn't know how he got them and never intended to distribute them."

Yeesh. Talk about amateur hour.

OK, we're not naïve; we know good and well that many of those so-called independent campaigns have quiet contact with the candidate's committee. But generally, they're smart enough to keep from totally bungling the job.

The Pima County Attorney's Office is reviewing the complaint, but investigators could well decide it's all too chickenshit to pursue.

Bottom line? It's looking more and more like either Adler or one of his candidates badly bent, if not broke, some campaign-finance laws. Ultimately, this issue could potentially hurt good, managed-growth candidates in the future. The Growth Lobby is watching what the county attorney and the A.G. do with this case. If those legal eagles let the OV folks slide, why should developers bother obeying the law either?

Deseg Decision?

If Joel Ireland and his 16-year ruling party of the Tucson Unified School District board get their way, the little kids of Keen Elementary School will walk to school next fall, only to be shoved into buses that will take them to far-flung alternatives.

Ireland and his followers want to close Keen--but they're being nice. They're having a public hearing on the matter at Keen on June 4 and will take the official vote on July 6. It's a done deal, politically, but not quite done judicially.

Thus, lawyer Richard Yetwin was back in federal court Monday to defend TUSD while some plaintiffs in the district's 30-year-old desegregation case said the Keen scheme would violate the deseg agreement.

Ireland, ever the big shot, took a seat at the defendant's table, even though he did not have to be there. He sat next to Jane Butler, TUSD's bumbling in-house counsel.

Butler was steaming, mostly because U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury wouldn't bar former Mike Tully, a former TUSD lawyer, from representing Mexican-American plaintiffs in the ongoing desegregation matter.

Tully, who had too much conscience to last at TUSD, told Bury that the Keen closing demonstrated TUSD's abuse of students, parents, teachers and staff.

But for all the chat about one school, Bury refreshingly wants to put an end to the entire deseg lawsuit. He repeatedly asked lawyers if they and their clients were ready to close it out.

Wise move. Bury ordered up comment on the matter by June 3 and told the lawyers to meet, confer and explain why the deseg case cannot die. It has become nothing but a charade and a way for Ireland and the board to milk taxpayers for an extra $62 million a year.