BILLBOARD BULLY: Ah, Karl Eller is certainly a great man and a business genius whose life's work has made our world a better place. How else can you explain why the University of Arizona named its business school for him? We're sure it had nothing to do with a $23 million contribution.

What has Karl done in the business world? Why, he's brought us Circle K, so we'll never be inconveniently far from gas, beer and potato chips. And he's erected many, many billboards so we'll never run the danger of having our skyline ruined by a lack of marketing space.

Now Eller is doing his part with the Just Vote campaign, helping fund the effort to increase turnout at this year's election.

Funny thing is, Eller isn't always happy with election outcomes. Way back in 1985, the people of Tucson voted to ban construction of new billboards.

Since then, the city has, with varying degrees of effort, been engaged in a struggle with the billboard industry regarding whether the companies can repair dilapidated billboards.

Eller's nemesis in these billboard battles has been Mark Mayer, who is singlemindedly determined to topple these hideous monstrosities. Eller has struck out in the courts and struck out trying to pre-empt the city's authority at the Arizona Legislature.

This week, Eller struck back -- with a lawsuit against the City of Tucson. He also named Mayer personally in the suit.

"It's just another high-handed form of political intimidation driven by desperation," Mayer says.

BEND OVER, TUCSON, FOR YOUR GREAT BIG WALLY-MART ENEMA: So Wal-Mart and Home Depot bigwigs are gathering signatures for a citywide referendum in hopes of making this cow town safe for their big box abominations? It's a ploy they've pulled on other municipal victims.

You'll recall the residents around El Con kicked Wally and the Depot in their megaballs when the retailers tried to plop their gargantuan greed ghettos in the middle of one of our town's most charming collections of old, suburban neighborhoods.

Now that the super-discount dorks are collecting signatures in their frenetic, football field-sized stores, will they also allow the opponents of their corporate excess to gather signatures for a counter referendum in those same too-highly trafficked merchandise marts? Fat chance -- it's private property, buster, and opposing opinions and public debate don't mean shit to these big bruisers.

We still think the best way to deal with Home Depot and Wal-Mart is not to shop in their creepy airplane hangers at all.

FIELDS OF GREEN: It is of little surprise that the Pima County Health System, including Kino Community Hospital, lost more than $1 million during the first quarter of fiscal year 1999-2000. For that performance, the interim CEO of the system, Karen Fields, has landed a 60 percent pay raise. A dietician and 20-year county health system functionary who took over when Dr. Richard Carmona was forced to resign July 13, Fields now makes $148,410 a year. That's $71.35 an hour -- for those many hours she sits in meetings like the woe-is-us session the Board of Supervisors conducted Tuesday to once again commit to setting Kino, in trouble for much of its 22 years, on solid footing.

Fields and her rubber-stamping health care commission have adopted a new strategy, one they are getting the Board of Supervisors to follow: Abandoned is the defensive position that Kino and other components were just wonderful but suffered from political interference and attacks. In its place is the whole new attitude of "Yes, we admit, it's all screwed up." The message in both tactics is the same: give us more money.

Contained in the new ball of money is $175,000 to be thrown at this chronic county problem for yet another management/accounting consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers. It wasn't long ago that Peat Marwick Mitchell illustrated a few of the reasons why Kino was losing millions of dollars, including its nearly imbecilic inability to collect Medicare reimbursement.

You'll recognize the new firm. It's a hybrid of Price Waterhouse and what was left of Coopers & Lybrand, which, after getting substantial help (inside bid information) from two close pals of ex-Gov. J. Fife Symington III, landed the infamous Project SLIM contract to tell state agencies how to cut costs.

It's especially nice to see Democratic Supervisor Raul Grijalva follow Symington's lead.

PEDAL PABLUM: For a typical example of what the Star had become under Steve Auslander, check out the paper's front-page banner headline of Tuesday, October 5: "Lack of $50,000 sponsor threatens 2000 El Tour."

Once again, pretend reporter Alan D. Fischer was allowed to write the annual story in which Richard J. DeBernardis, organizer of the big bicycle peddle-fest, bemoans the fact that corporate sponsors are not falling all over themselves to throw money at him and his bloated staff of full-time employees. Boo-hoo.

DeBernardis has whined this same whine every other year or so for as long as we can remember. Most years Fischer, whether claiming a job in Star Sports or Money, phones in the El Tour story like the good little PR flack he is.

Take this lede from the front-page of the Star on May 15, 1996, for example: "Unless public and private financial support for El Tour de Tucson is forthcoming, the city's largest cycling event will disappear, its organizer said yesterday." As opposed to the most recent and somewhat snappier: "Time is running short for El Tour de Tucson."

Now that's "community journalism" at its finest. Of course most of Fischer's PR puffery on behalf of DeBernardis is positive -- quietly rejoicing in his getting sponsors at the last moment, or expressing relief at his snagging multi-year contracts.

What's wrong with that, you ask?

Nothing, if you're into press releases. But instead of publishing the same old same old every year, we'd like to see someone -- not Fischer -- take a good hard look at DeBernardis' claims. Do the charities El Tour serves get the big bucks, as is invariably assumed in Fischer's stories? Does anybody ever get ticked at DeBernardis and his Perimeter Bicycling Association of America? Instead, it seems the Star's supposed editors have allowed Fischer simply to parrot the bicycling baron's claims without any real scrutiny.

For example, Fischer writes that DeBernardis "said El Tour weekend has a $1.5 million economic impact to the city." Perhaps, but where's the proof in The Arizona Daily Star? In 1995, Fischer quoted DeBernardis as saying the event "contributes $10 million to $12 million to the local economy yearly." Instead of the facts, Star readers get just the fax, directly from DeBernardis and without the petty annoyance of actual editors insisting that he prove his grandiose statements.

If what DeBernardis claims is true, you'd think Tucson's hospitality industry would be laboring like a pregnant porker to deliver the cash for El Tour this year.

In 1995, Fischer proudly noted that his own newspaper's StarNet division sponsored the bike ride. Fischer The Flack even threw in a hackneyed press release quote from Larry Aldrich, president of Tucson Newspapers, who said, "I'm very happy about (the sponsorship). This has been a great event for Tucson, and we want to see it continue."

Hey, we've got an idea. Why not tell us what happened to DeBernardis' deal to merge with that California marketing company, as reported in the December 19, 1995, Star Money section? But of course we expect too much. It's only The Arizona Daily Star, after all, and not a real newspaper.

CALL FOR RECALL: The deadline is fast approaching for Parents As Children's Advocates to turn in signatures for the recall effort against Amphi Board members Gary Woodard, Richard Scott and Virginia Houston. The group is gathering signatures from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays at Nanini Library, 7300 N. Shannon Road, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Woods Library, 3455 N. First Ave. For more information or the Amphi recall petition nearest you, call 297-3594.

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