Small Change

Council Members Consider Modifying The Upcoming Bond Election.

PLANS FOR THE City of Tucson's upcoming $127 million general obligation bond election are falling into place, with most of the issues to be presented to voters on May 16 having been harmoniously hammered out. But that may change when the City Council reviews the list of proposed projects next Monday, January 24.

Two controversial alterations to the draft ballot questions are floating among council members. The first: what to do about the $2 million slated exclusively for recreational amenities in the far eastside subdivision of Civano.

Southside Councilman Steve Leal, who successfully pushed to separate the vote on Civano funds from the $30 million in bond monies proposed for other parks and recreation improvements, would like to see the Civano question defeated so the money could be spent on park improvements citywide.

Leal proposed the split vote over the intense opposition of some council members because, he says, "Tucsonans shouldn't be put in a position of being manipulated" by the ballot. Having a separate bond question on the Civano proposal will allow for a clear decision on the issue.

"Don't let Civano take $2 million of your parks money," Leal says. "If you vote no on Civano, that $2 million will return to create more neighborhood parks and other recreational amenities for those of you who have been waiting years to have your needs met. Let's improve our neighborhoods, not some phony bait-and-switch developer sprawl."

To accomplish Leal's goal of using the $2 million on a citywide basis, some council members are talking about adding a new bond question to the ballot which would simply ask voters: If the bond funds for Civano are defeated, should the money instead be spent on a variety of park projects throughout Tucson?

The other major bond issue likely to come up at next week's council meeting is Ward 3 Councilman Jerry Anderson's proposal to include an additional $5 million to $6 million for a Back-to-Basics program for neighborhood improvements. Anderson wants to see more city money spent in existing neighborhoods; using general obligation bond funds is one way to do it.

Both of these ideas promise to be controversial. City staff will gripe about the price tag and possibility that voters will be confused by the proposals. At the same time, some council members are starting to complain about how the bond process has been handled over the last few months.

After the council tentatively approved a list of bond projects in September, the proposal was turned over to a committee largely appointed by City Manager Luis Gutierrez. While the primary function of this group is to raise the campaign funds needed to promote the bond questions before the election, it has also reviewed the draft list with city staff members.

The committee hasn't recommended substantial changes to the proposed projects, except for those relatively minor modifications suggested by the city staff. But they have managed to exclude the general public from having any meaningful input into the process. Original plans called for the committee to hold a public meeting last week to hear comments on the bond proposals. But the group canceled that plan because, as one City Hall source indicated, "They were afraid of information overload on the public." The committee apparently wants to place the burden of public participation for the bond program on the council and avoid that sometimes messy process.

When the bond projects return to the City Council next week, the general public will have had little opportunity to comment on them. Jerry Anderson thinks this exclusion of people from the process isn't smart politics. "The lack of public participation," he says, "could jeopardize the success of the election."

Small Change is not showing in any theaters in the area.