Ballot Background

Although Amphi Recall Targets Downplay The Effort, Past Election Results Show Their Support Is Weak.

GIVE THE MEMBERS of Amphitheater Public Schools Governing Board's ruling majority this much: they publicly don't give a damn that a recall and recent voting patterns show their days are numbered.

All three targeted members, Virginia Houston, Richard Scott and Board President Gary Woodard, are clinging to the seats they've held for multiple terms while downplaying the recall drive.

"I have no intention of resigning," said Scott, who is completing his sixth term and 24th year on the board of the district that stretches from Tucson's near northside to Catalina. "If it proceeds, then it proceeds. I am not unique in that regard."

Indeed, Woodard and Houston have expressed similar defiance.

Recall organizers, Scott told The Weekly, "worked long and get just barely enough signatures. They were significantly under their target and that says a lot. The number of signatures leaves questions about what the rest of the world is thinking, the great majority."

Based on voting patterns in Amphi in the last three rounds of board elections, Scott might do better to worry about pluralities -- such as the ones he failed to get in any of the district's 51 precincts in the 1996 election carried overwhelmingly by reformer Nancy Young Wright.

It was far worse for Scott four years earlier, when he scraped by with a margin of just 38 votes for the third open seat.

Young Wright, overcoming establishment attacks that portrayed her as an ill-informed, outside agitator, carried 45 precincts in 1996. Houston won six precincts but only by a combined 97 votes, the canvass of the 1996 elections shows.

Scott dismisses the 5,104 valid signatures filed in December by the recall group Parents and Children's Advocates to force his removal -- either through resignation or through the ballot. Nearly 90 percent of the group's 5,729 signatures collected against Scott were valid.

Four years ago, Scott managed to get only 17,243 votes -- 21.4 percent of the vote. Young Wright, in her first run for public office, cruised with 21,990, or 27.40 percent, according to the 1996 canvass. Houston bagged 18,770 votes, or 23.3 percent.

Amphi's establishment candidate in that race, Alfred C. Strachan, a former high-ranking Amphi administrator, stumbled with 12.5 percent of the vote that year. Mike Bartz finished with 15.2 percent.

Houston's six precinct victories included three she won by fewer than 10 votes. That included precinct 40, a territory between Grant and Glenn roads and Interstate 10 and Oracle Road, where Houston won by a single vote.

Houston's biggest victory over Young Wright in 1996 was in precinct 281, which includes the western half of the unincorporated village of Catalina in the district's north end. Houston took that precinct by a 52-vote margin. Houston had a 16-vote margin over Young Wright in precinct 356, a sort of "N"-shaped area between Blacklidge Drive and Grant Road and Oracle Road and First Avenue.

Houston's other victories over Young Wright that year were limited to a 13-vote advantage in precinct 230, which includes the retiree base in the Friendly Village mobile-home park north of Tucson Mall; a nine-vote margin in precinct 342, which includes the Foothills Mall and neighborhoods to the west; and a seven-vote advantage in precinct 287, in the Oracle-Miracle Mile area, including Holy Hope Cemetery.

Two years later, Amphi's second reformer, Ken Smith, scored a victory that has scared the Amphi majority and its loyalist administration into seeking Smith's removal through a specious legal argument: that his wife's required participation in the district's early retirement program means he is in violation of state law that forbids school board members from having spouses work in the district.

Smith, who is contesting the challenge brought by Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall in Superior Court, won the 1998 vote easily against the entrenched Woodard and his running mate, then-Amphi strongman Mike Bernal.

Smith captured 15,399 votes in 1998 -- 38 percent. Woodard struggled with voters the way he did trying to pound in sign stakes with a sledgehammer. He sneaked back in with 12,932 votes, or just under 32 percent. And Bernal got bounced with his 12,005 votes, a 29-percent showing, the canvass shows.

Smith lost in only three of Amphi's 51 precincts. He tied, with Bernal, in another -- precinct 373 at Grant Road and Stone Avenue, according to the 1998 canvass. He trailed Woodard by 41 votes and Bernal by 25 votes in precinct 162, between Ina and Orange Grove roads and Oracle Road and First Avenue. Smith lost to Woodard by 150 votes and Bernal by 117 in precinct 310 in Oro Valley. In another Oro Valley precinct, the country club precinct of 361, Smith lost by his biggest margin -- 211 to Woodard and 111 to Bernal.

Scott's bravado in the face of the recall belies the struggle he went through to retain his seat in 1992. He barely survived a challenge from Skip Whitley Jr., a progressive candidate and talented lawyer who surely would not have tolerated Amphi's nonstop nonsense. Whitley, whose son was a record-setting basketball star at Amphi High School before going on to Yale, lost by 38 votes -- 10,445 to 10,407, records show.

That canvass also reveals Houston running strong with then Amphi darling Vicki Cox-Golder. Scott followed well back. Cox-Golder, who went on to a disastrous run for the Pima County Board of Supervisors in 1996, was the top vote-getter with 20.2 percent of the vote. But Houston, who won 19.6 percent of the vote, actually captured more precincts than Cox-Golder -- 29 to 21.

Meanwhile, Smith's lawyers, Bill Risner and Anthony Ching, are outlining how the County Attorney's Office failed to show in a hearing last month why Smith should sacrifice his seat. A five-point reply to Deputy County Attorney Paula Wilk says that Wilk failed to refute letters from Amphi personnel and benefits administrators to the Social Security Administration that state early retirees like Smith's wife are not employees and are being paid for past work, not for required 20-day service per year.

In court papers, Risner and Ching also say that Amphi cannot unilaterally change the status of early retirees; that ongoing health and medical benefits are not based on continued employment; that an opinion from a Gila County Attorney is far from legal authority and that the "one-page opinion contains insufficient facts for a reader to discern its reasoning process"; and finally that a claim of conflict of interest is off base. Conflicts of interest are covered by a separate section of Arizona law. A conflict may be declared and avoided with abstention, and the state law, Smith's lawyers say, "does not provide for removal of a board member simply because there may be a conflict."

Smith's Superior Court fight resumes March 27.

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