The Skinny

MACKO SMACKO: Nearly anyone who's had the displeasure of interacting with Ward 4 City Council aide John "Wacko" Macko knows that he's temperamental and arrogant.

His penchant for shooting off his mouth has now bit him in the ass. His boss, Councilwoman Shirley Scott, has suspended Macko for 30 days without pay following an investigation into his alleged comments about Mexicans, Jews and women. He'll also undergo "sensitivity training," which we're sure will make him a better person.

According to press accounts of the city's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report, which remains confidential, Macko allegedly referred to council members Steve Leal and José Ibarra, as well as Pima County supervisors Raul Grijalva and Dan Eckstrom, as the "Mexican Mafia"; members of the Tucson Women's Commission as "dykes"; and, in perhaps the most ill-considered commentary, legendary land speculator Don Diamond and his business associates as "inbred Jews."

Although her fellow council members say they would have bounced such an abrasive aide, Scott is standing by her man. She owes a lot to Macko, who played a key role in her election to the council in 1994 and has served by her side ever since. Since Macko is a political appointee, Scott is solely responsible for deciding his fate.

Leal clearly smells Macko's blood in the water. In a letter to City Manager Luis Gutierrez, Leal called for public release of the report.

"It is of great concern that Councilmember Shirley Scott has apparently supported for years, through her own indifference, a climate and posture of racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and homophobia to be a part of not only her office; but, to find its way I fear, into votes on issues at the Mayor and Council table that can more easily touch the entire community," Leal wrote.

Leal adds that he fears that city taxpayers could be liable if a Ward 4 staffer were to sue the city, claiming a hostile atmosphere exists in the office.

Ward 6 Councilman Fred Ronstadt, the council's senior Republican and frequently an ally of Scott, makes no apologies for Macko's behavior, but says release of the document may leave the city open to liability should Macko decide to sue the city for revealing personnel matters.

Macko's biggest fear ought to be Diamond, who is planning considerable activity out in the hinterlands of Ward 4. If he decides to flex his political muscle, Macko may soon find himself out of a job.

BALLOT BUSTED: The Legislative Council, a group of state lawmakers charged with writing neutral descriptions of ballot initiatives, has a court fight on its hands.

The council tossed out the description of the Citizens Growth Management Initiative drafted by its own staff and replaced it with a description written by lawyers for Arizonans for Responsible Development, the political committee opposing the initiative with Growth Lobby dollars. (See "Ballot Bucks," page 6.) The new description doesn't even mention the initiative in its first paragraph; instead, it sings the praises of the watered-down Growing Smarter legislation passed at the Capitol earlier this year. Obviously, the development community hopes that'll persuade voters that the legislature has done enough to manage Arizona's explosive growth. We don't know anybody who was fooled by that, besides former attorney general Grant Woods.

Allowing the opponents of an initiative to write a neutral description is absolutely disgraceful--and the Sierra Club, which has contributed the bulk of the financial support to the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, feels the same way. The group is taking the Legislative Council to court to force the writing of a new ballot description. A hearing is scheduled for August 7.

BILLBOARDS GORED: After 13 years of litigation, 14 of Karl Eller's ugly billboards finally must go--and no later than July 31.

A final court order last November had required 11 of the illegal billboards to be gone by the end of December, but Eller finagled an extra seven months by agreeing to throw in three more of the losers. The judgment is now completely final; cannot be appealed; and signed off on by one of the five attorneys in Si Schorr's billboard protection unit at the law firm of Lewis & Roca. Nonetheless, the Skinny wonders whether Eller was just buying time. Now that the hourglass has finally run out, will he try to ignore the court order?

We'll know in a few days. To that end The Skinny now formally deputizes all readers as billboard demo monitors for the following locations: the Circle K at Speedway and Swan; the Losbetos at Grant and Dodge; the McDonald's at Golf Links and Craycroft; Electronic City at Park and 23rd Street; the lot next to the Fort Lowell Postal Station on Grant; and the shopping center at the northeast corner of Broadway and Kolb.

The Skinny also wonders why the mainstream media haven't been telling you about any of this. Since only one other illegal Whiteco/Eller billboard has ever been removed through city enforcement action, you would think it would be big news. Then again, maybe Eller told them that there would be no more looming heads of newscasters or promos for that new-and-impugned Arizona Daily Star on his billboards if they went with the story.

NIX THE ANNEX: Sometime in the near future, the employees who work in the City Hall annex building--better known as the prisoners of Pennington Street--should be free of their hostile work environment. A former department store, the property was bought long ago by the City of Tucson in a sweetheart political deal that stunk for the taxpayers. The building was converted into offices, but the annex has always sucked as a workspace.

The good news is that the employees will be moving to new city offices at Stone and Broadway. The annex is slated for demolition, with the existing adjacent surface parking lot expanding after the building is knocked down.

The bad news is that some city staffers want to see a parking garage with ground-floor retail someday rise on the site. Let's get real. A deserted downtown doesn't need either. What it needs is more housing. Why not try to attract a developer to build some residential units on the property? Once downtown gets more 24-hour residents, the other services will follow.

CAN WE AFFORD THIS GUY? Bob Walkup has substantially increased the cost of operating the mayor's office, expanding his staff to nine people, handing out some high-falutin' titles, and raising the office budget to nearly $500,000. Now he's spending $90,000 to fix up his digs on the 10th floor of City Hall. He'll get a fresh coat of paint, new furniture, and some structural changes for that princely sum. And people wonder why the bus fare had to be raised to $1.

NEW BIDNESS: The Tucson Downtown Alliance (BID), leaderless since the departure last fall of the unlamented Carol Carpenter, has finally signed on a new director. Page Kurtz is a good news-bad news hire. She's got degrees in urban planning from two good schools, the University of Michigan and Michigan State, and she's worked for the admirable National Trust for Historic Preservation, as manager for two Main Street projects. The bad news is a real ouch, though. Her last employer was Thompson Associates, a Michigan retail site selection firm, and her clients included such chain stores as Home Depot, well-known destroyer of communities and small businesses.

Let's hope the plaid-shirted execs at Home Depot, high on their dirty victory at El Con, don't turn this Page to try to move one of their monsters downtown.

At least Kurtz doesn't have Carpenter's conflict of interest. Carpenter was a Tucson city employee who helped form the BID on city time, and then unethically accepted the director's job, getting herself a tidy raise. She lasted little more than a year. Right before the city published a damning audit of the taxpayer-supported organization, Carpenter was seized by a desire to spend more time with her family.